When boomers were young, they listened to whatever holiday music their parents played on the family record player, or radio station to which they happened to be tuned. Consequently, for most boomers in the early days, holiday music was a steady diet of singers popular in the 1940s and early ’50s, like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Patti Page, Perry Como, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, to name a few. As boomers received their own transistor radios, they began to have some choice in their selection.
Unlike today, radio stations usually began playing holiday songs interspersed with their regular playlists on the day after Thanksgiving, starting with one song per hour and working in more each day until Christmas Eve. Boomers had the chance to hear music they claimed for their own, and not just their parents’ holiday music. There had been a tradition of Christmas songs by blues musicians for years, and rock ‘n roll musicians were beginning to add their own touch of modernity to the mix. Many are now classics in their own right, such as: Brenda Lee’s version of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1959); Chuck Berry’s Run, Run Rudolph (1958); Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me and Santa Claus is Back in Town (all from Elvis’ Christmas Album, 1957 — all of which were reissued as singles in 1964). Popular bands of the 1960s began releasing their own Christmas singles or albums: The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964) gave us Little Saint Nick; The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965) echoed their surf-guitar sound; James Brown Sings Christmas Songs (1966) was truly like no other; and, what many people consider to be the quintessential Christmas album of the boomer era, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963). This album alone gave us the now classic versions of Frosty the Snowman by the Ronettes and the ever-popular, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love.
Nevertheless, most radio stations still played a healthy dose of the same music listened to by the parents of boomers, in all its sentimental, schmaltzy glory. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that by 1968 — fifty years ago — a good portion of new holiday releases were by artists more in tune with our parents’ taste than our own. A case in point is Robert Goulet’s 1968 release, Hurry Home for Christmas.
Yet there were some touches of the rock and pop age to be had that year as well, though most are now all but forgotten. Among the highlights of holiday music released in 1968 that were more relevant to boomers were:
• Back Door Santa by Clarence Carter (released as a single from the album, Soul Christmas, that same year)
• Christmas Blues, an album by Canned Heat; that same year, the band released a Christmas boogie song with Alvin and the Chipmunks!
• A Christmas Wish, an album by Bobby Goldsboro
• My Favorite Things from the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album
Mister Boomer’s family was probably like most other boomer households in that his mother had her favorite Christmas albums, and dominated the holiday music playlist for the house. Brother Boomer, the primary buyer of rock ‘n roll in the household, didn’t pay much attention to holiday music. Mister B can’t think of a holiday single or album that he brought home. So, the annual tradition for Mister B and his sister — Brother Boomer being out and about by then — was his mom asking him to cue up her Christmas albums on the family record player in the living room. Her favorites included, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas albums. Mister B’s sister added the single of Snoopy’s Christmas vs. the Red Baron (1967).
What holiday music was playing in your house, boomers? And what did you like best?