Frequently during my youth, my family of seven would pack into the van and brave the hour-long trip from Fort Wayne to Wabash where two sets of grandparents and sundry other relatives awaited. Five kids, one hour, no hand-held electronic games. During the holiday season, this intolerably long drive was tempered with Christmas music via an 8-track and later a hungry cassette deck. Chuck Mangione reigned as king during the rest of the year but at Christmas he graciously stepped aside for John Denver And The Muppets (A Christmas Together) and the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. In a futile attempt to get this crusty old curmudgeon into the Christmas spirit, I recently purchased the 2-CD set Treasury of Christmas and this review is my festive way of making said purchase a tax deductible business expense. Ho ho ho!
The first few seconds took me back in an instant: Perry Como crooning "Home For the Holidays", although I didn't remember him jazzing things up so much: such are the selective memories of youth. Then came the definitive edition of "White Christmas", sung by none other than Bing Crosby. Andy Williams treated me to "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" (they really knew how to make long song titles back in those days) and Gene Autry did his best with "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." Of course everyone remembers the world famous Harry Simeone Chorale and their stirring rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy". Never one to back down from a challenge, the Robert Shaw Chorale rejoinder is their medley version of "Carol of the Bells/ Deck The Halls", although it ends up being spookily reminiscent of the theme music from The Omen. Judy Garland demands that you "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and the obligatory Burl Ives joins in with "Holly Jolly Christmas", without which no holiday music collection is complete. There were a number of songs on this 45 song collection that I didn't remember, probably resulting from the fact that even at a young age, the Hoffman boys were ruthless music critics. "NOT THIS SONG AGAIN!" our cheery, grating voices would squeak every time Julie Andrews dared beseech God that those Merry Gentlemen should rest or Lena Horne would thrice invoke the coming of snow. But now I am just a smidgeon more tolerant and can appreciate these classic jewels for the memories and tradition they represent. Should you brave the recently warm weather (where's Lena when you need her?) make sure you don't pick up the bowdlerized version which is also comprised of two CDs but could have been put onto one. A scant twenty-four tracks grace this version which is "based on" the original "as seen on TV" set (always a good sign) and also contains a number of what one can only politely call substitutions. Luciano Pavarotti singing "O Holy Night" in place of Perry Como and Alabama sawing through "Tennessee Christmas" are but two of these aberrations: you've been warned. If you're buying the album for nostalgic memories, you want to make dad-blurned sure you get Fred Waring And the Pennsylvanians and their jazzy take on "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" so hunt down the complete 45 song version. Anything less just wouldn't be Christmas.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, December 2001.