Merry Christmas

Johnny Mathis

Columbia Records, 1958

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Over the past few holiday seasons here at "The Daily Vault," I've occasionally pulled out an album which I grew up with, and I consider to be a true holiday standard. I've talked about the music boxes of Rita Ford, and the jazz stylings of Vince Guaraldi; in time, I'll talk about the Harry Simeone Chorale... that is, once I get an idea of what the actual track listing of The Little Drummer Boy is. (I've seen several copies of that album, all of them with different track listings. It's enough to make a grown man cry.)

Johnny Mathis is an artist who falls into my persoanl "holiday standard" definition. When I was a little boy, my mother had two of Mathis's Christmas albums in the house - my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Sound Of Christmas (which is long out of print) and Merry Christmas, Mathis's 1958 collection with Percy Faith and his Orchestra.

What's interesting about this album is not that it's still available 42 years after its original release... but that it can have so much material which still seems fresh next to material that hasn't aged as well.

This particular album will probably be forever remembered for four songs. The first, "Winter Wonderland," is the one I'll always remember when I think about Christmas. Faith's orchestral arrangement, especially at the bridge, is worthy of the highest praise. Likewise, "Sleigh Ride" is still a lot of fun to listen to. "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)" is delivered with love and tenderness, as if Mathis were singing one of his own songs. And Mathis's version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" probably still makes eyes well up.

Yet Merry Christmas hits a few ice patches along the way. The drawn-out version of "The First Noel" was probably very noteworthy back in a time when Christmas wasn't a marketing department's ultimate wet dream; now, hearing the song performed in its entirety makes it feel a lot longer than the time it takes for the track to complete. Likewise, "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear," "Silver Bells" and "Blue Christmas" are delivered with a melancholy backing arrangement, making these tracks sound a little lazy. I'm not saying that Mathis or Faith should have embraced the rock style which was still in its infancy back then, but "Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride" had exciting arrangements. Why couldn't some of these tracks have been given that kind of treatment?

So does this mean I don't like Merry Christmas? Of course not; it's still very much a holiday standard in my book, and faithfully I dust it off each Christmas and give it a listen, especially when I sit wrapping gifts. But with each passing year, I find this album gets a little older-sounding... and, for a timeless standard, that's not a good thing.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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