Lost or Forgotten Christmas Records

A very long time ago, radio stations put occasional Christmas records into the rotation in December, but that’s a thing of the past.  A few stations began playing Christmas music full time on some weekends, and their ratings soared (this is long before streaming made it easy to hear whatever you wanted).  It wasn’t too long before we started getting wall to wall Christmas music on some stations as soon as Thanksgiving, and this year it started up as soon as the Halloween parties ended. SiriusXM radio even has Christmas music on at least one channel all year long.

While the expansion of Christmas music may sound like a good idea, that isn’t quite what we got.  Instead of stations playing hundreds of different Christmas records, we get what seems to be the same ten songs by various artists over and over and over. And over.

Sure, it’s nice to hear George Michael sing Last Christmas again (even though the label says “Wham”), but a half hour later we hear the song “performed” by the Glee crowd or Ariana Grande or even Taylor Swift.  Then here comes Little Drummer Boy by Joan Jett or Justin Bieber or the Temptations or somebody else at least once per hour.  Lots of cover versions of the Christmas Song (“Chestnuts Roasting”), White Christmas, Blue Christmas, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and maybe even a few politically incorrect versions of Baby It’s Cold Outside (and, sadly, a few newer versions that have new lyrics that are politically correct — sigh).  I can barely stand to listen for even an hour thanks to the endless repetition.

It didn’t take long to make up a list of songs that have been “misplaced” and no longer seem to be on the air.  The hard part was winnowing down the list to a manageable number.  In no particular order, here are a few songs that might help you remember a Christmas past:

Whatever Happened To Christmas by Frank Sinatra. This 1969 song was on the Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas album. The actual surprise is that Jimmy Webb wrote the song.

Christmas Mem’ries by Rosemary Clooney.  Rosemary sang and danced her way through the movie White Christmas in 1954 (which was a remake of 1942’s Holiday Inn, renamed because of the popularity of Bing Crosby’s biggest record). Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote this version of memories of the past, and Don Costa put it to music by 1975.

This Time of the Year by Brook Benton.  A 1959 television performance of Brook lip-syncing the song, one of the 67 records that Brook got onto the Hot 100 pop charts.

Old  Toy Trains by Roger Miller. While he may have continued climbing the Country charts for a few more decades, this record came near the end of Roger’s success on the pop charts.

Christmas Night In Harlem by Louis Armstrong.  At about the midpoint of his career, Louis recorded this Christmas song in 1955.  The original hit version of the song was by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra in 1934, but that version contains some lyrics that aren’t exactly acceptable in these modern times.

Snowy White Snow and Jingle Bells by Vaughn Monroe.  From 1945 to 1952 Vaughn usually had 4 or 5 hit records each year. The only exception was 1950, the year he released this Christmas song.  Perhaps the present Santa left under his tree was the three top ten records he had in the next five months!

It’s Gonna Be a Lonely Christmas by The Orioles.  This 1948 release by one of the first doo-wop groups shows much of the promise that bloomed later in their career (you are most likely familiar with their biggest hit, Crying in the Chapel, which Elvis later covered).

The Marvelous Toy by the Chad Mitchell Trio.  Tom Paxton wrote and recorded the song. He briefly joined up as a member of the group, but the group dropped him when his voice apparently didn’t blend in well enough.  Other members of the group also included Harry Belafonte and John Denver, but Chad Mitchell, Mike Kobluk, and Joe Frazier were in the group for this single in 1963. Many other versions have been recorded since then, but the radio ignores them.

Merry Christmas, Baby by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers.  This is the original 1947 version of the song that features vocals by Charles Brown.  The 1962 version that Charles recorded as a solo record didn’t get much traction, but the two different versions of the record recorded the next two years and a later third version went into heavy rotation at Christmas and all the modern covers followed that last version.

The River by Joni Mitchell.  Few Christmas songs get released in June, but this entry was on the album Blue, which Joni released that month in 1971.  Many consider that album her best.  It appears Joni wrote The River about her breakup with Graham Nash (of the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and it is one of the saddest of the Christmas songs. In 2019, Elle Goulding released her version of the song and it topped the charts in the UK.

A 5 Pound Box of Money by Pearl Bailey.  I really don’t need to hear Santa Baby once an hour by Ertha Kitt or Madonna or Glee or Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift or… hmm, isn’t this list starting to sound familiar?  Here’s a similar plea from Pearl Bailey from 1959 that concentrates on one simple gift request.

A Howdy Doody Christmas by The Fontane Sisters and Howdy Doody.  Once upon a time I got to sit in the Peanut Gallery, so how can I ignore Howdy Doody’s 1957 entry into the Christmas Hall of Fame?

May Every Day Be Christmas by Louis Jordan.  If we stop the radio from playing Baby It’s Cold Outside by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, perhaps the record Louis cut two years later can gain some traction.

Santa’s Beard by the Beach Boys.  The Beach Boys Christmas Album in 1964 contained their most played Christmas song, the Little Saint Nick and a stack of covers of classic Christmas tunes. This song about searching for the real Santa Claus seems all but forgotten.

It took some time to embed all the videos I had listed last year, and I also had to find a replacement for one video that got taken down, so I didn’t make a new list for this year… Next year for sure!

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Everybody, Everywhere!

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1964 Jan and Dean – Drag City

1964 Jan and Dean – Drag City 

The first of seven hit songs that Jan and Dean had in 1964 was based on an earlier hit they had, Surf City. That single was written by Jan Berry and Brian Wilson and produced by Jan and topped the Hot 100 in 1963.

Roger Christian helped Jan and Brian write Drag City, and Jan once again produced the record. It touched the top ten of the Hot 100 in January 1964. Surf City probably eclipses Drag City, keeping it from getting much airplay.


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1964 The Dixie Cups – People Say

1964 The Dixie Cups – People Say 

 Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich wrote the song Chapel Of Love for Darlene Love. She recorded the song in 1963, but her version disappointed Phil and remained unreleased until 1991. The Ronettes recorded the song and released it on an album in November 1964, but did not immediately release the song as a single (it eventually ended up on the b-side of the reissue of Do I Love You).

The first recording released came from The Dixie Cups, who topped the Hot 100 with their single in the Summer of 1964.

Sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson grew up in New Orleans and started singing together in school. They called themselves The Meltones and began appearing professionally. Joe Jones, who reached #3 on the Hot 100 in 1960 with the single You Talk Too Much, became their manager in 1963. He worked with them for five months before taking them to New York City. They auditioned for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who signed them to their new Red Bird Records label. 

Jeff and Ellie worked with the group and helped produce their version of Chapel Of Love with Jerry and Mike. After a few lyric changes and a finalized arrangement from Joe, the song was released as the first single on the Red Bird label. All the hard work paid off; the single replaced the Beatles at the top of the Hot 100 chart in 1964. The group performed the song on Hollywood, a Go-Go backed by what has to be the most unusual performance ever by the Gazzarri Dancers.

The group’s follow-up single was written by Jeff and Ellie and produced by the same team as their first single. People Say peaked at only #12 on the Hot 100 and #7 on the R&B chart in 1964. The group’s next two singles did not fare well, reaching only #38 and #50 on the Hot 100.

James “Sugar Boy” Crawford wrote and recorded the song Jock-a-Mo in 1953 about a parade collision between two Indian tribes at Mardi Gras. The record did not chart, but the song became a local favorite in New Orleans. While in a recording studio, the three women in the Dixie Cups were playing around with the song while accompanying themselves with drumsticks on an aluminum chair, a studio ashtray and a Coke bottle. Unbeknownst to the trio, the session was being taped, and the group’s producers later cleaned up the recording and dubbed on more drums, a bass line, and some background vocals. Red Bird released the result as the song Iko Iko. The single reached #20 on the Hot 100 in 1965 and became the group’s last successful recording.

The group recorded a few songs for ABC Records, but their recording career ended by 1966.

The Hawkins sisters have continued to perform as the Dixie Cups with a series of replacements for the third member of the group. The current third member is Aaron Neville’s sister Athelgra.


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1964 Marvin Gaye – You’re A Wonderful One

He had 41 top forty singles on the Hot 100, so radio stations have a LOT of records to choose from when they want to play something by Marvin Gaye.

His first four singles in 1964 all peaked between #15 and #19, but he ended the year with the top ten single How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. The year began with the release of the single You’re A Wonderful One, which reached #15 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart.


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1963 Kitty Kallen/Sandy Stewart – My Coloring Book

1963 Kitty Kallen/Sandy Stewart – My Coloring Book 

Two artists with similar backgrounds but very different careers recorded the song My Coloring Book and had nearly identical results.

Kitty Kallen was born in 1921 and began singing professionally on the radio before she was a teenager. She sang with Jimmy Dorsey band beginning in 1942 and the Harry James band beginning in 1945.

Kitty had thirteen top ten singles between 1943 and 1954. She had four four number one records, including It’s Been a Long, Long Time in 1945 and Little Things Mean A Lot in 1954.

Kitty lost her voice after a performance at the London Palladium in 1955 and stopped performing for four years. Her career never fully recovered.

In 1962, her single of My Coloring Book was a surprise hit that entered the charts the third week of December. The single reached #18 on the Hot 100 and #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart in early 1963. It was Kitty’s last single to reach the Hot 100.

Sandy Stewart was born in 1937 and began singing on the radio when she was only nine years old. She moved to New York City in the late fifties and began singing on a wide variety of television shows. She got work dubbing vocals for actresses in films and also sang on jingles. She sang on the Perry Como Show periodically from 1961 to 1963.

Sandy appeared on the Kraft Music Hall television show October 31, 1962, and sang My Coloring Book, probably before Kitty had even recorded the song. The response from viewers led to the release of Sandy’s first charting record. The single first charted the last week of December and peaked at #20 on the Hot 100 and #8 on the Adult Contemporary chart in early 1963. 

They nominated Sandy’s version of My Coloring Book for the 1962 Grammy Award for the Best Solo Performance, Female, but the award went to Ella Fitzgerald. 

Sandy continued releasing singles through the sixties, but like Kitty, she never reached the Hot 100 again.


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1963 The Routers – Let’s Go (Pony)

1963 The Routers – Let’s Go (Pony) 

In 1961, guitar player Michael Z. Gordon formed two groups that began producing records using a combination of regular group members and studio musicians. 

While members of the Starlighters, brothers Lanny and Robert Duncan wrote and recorded a demo for Let’s Go (Pony) in 1961. A few of the Routers recorded a version with the help of some studio musicians, and that became their first single in 1962. Let’s Go (Pony) peaked at #19 on the Hot 100, but that was hardly the end of the tune. UK Soccer teams began using the hand-clapping featured on the single followed by the chant of, “Let’s Go,” and before long cheerleaders everywhere followed suit.

The bass guitar player, who also did vocals on some of their recordings, was Scott Walker. Scott became the lead singer for the Walker Brothers in 1964. The group moved to the UK and had two number one records in the UK which became top twenty hits on the Hot 100 in the US in 1965 and 1966.

The group lineup kept changing as they recorded with a rotating group of session musicians. The regular line-up changed to Michael on guitar, Leon Russell on piano, and Hal Blaine on drums. Sting Ray also featured rhythmic clapping, but the single only took the group back to #50 on the Hot 100 in 1963. Different line-ups of the group continued releasing music through 1973, but the Routers never again reached the chart.

The other group Michael formed in 1961 was The Mar-Kets. The group later changed their name to The Marketts. That group also utilized session musicians (again, including Hal) and primarily created instrumentals. Their biggest hit came in 1964 when the single Out Of Limits reached #3 on the Hot 100. Michael co-wrote over sixty songs and eventually transitioned to producing television and film projects.


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1962 Billy Vaughn A Swingin’ Safari

1962 Billy Vaughn A Swingin’ Safari 

Bert Kaempfert topped the Hot 100 in 1961 with the instrumental Wonderland By Night, a song written by Klaus Günter Neumann. He continued to record and release music, but never again achieved that level of success. He wrote several songs that charted in 1961, none of which got any higher than #31. The year wasn’t a total loss; Bert auditioned and hired an unknown group in Hamburg to back up Tony Sheridan on the album, My Bonnie. The group was the Beatles, and Bert also produced the Beatles playing two songs on their own, Ain’t She Sweet and Cry For A Shadow (an instrumental written by John and George). Those became the first commercially available Beatles records. Brian Epstein first heard about the Beatles when a man came into his record store and tried to buy a copy of My Bonnie, and that led to Brian becoming their manager. 

In 1962, Bert wrote and released the single A Swingin’ Safari, but it completely failed to chart. Music experts point to a lot of similarities between the recording and The Tokens’ hit from that year, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but I don’t hear it. Billy Vaughn released a nearly identical cover version of the song later that year and reached #13 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

When the television show The Match Game premiered in late 1962, it used the Billy Vaughn version of A Swingin’ Safari as its theme song for the pilot episode. Beginning with the next episode, the show switched to the Bert Kaempfert version. A new theme song replaced it from 1967 to the end of the show’s first run in 1969. Copies of fewer than a dozen episodes of the show from 1962 to 1969 still exist, so it’s unlikely you ever saw them use A Swinging Safari on the show unless you saw the show live in the sixties. They wrote yet another theme song when they rebooted the show in 1973, and that is the theme song most viewers are familiar with.


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1961 The Tokens – Tonight I Fell In Love

1961 The Tokens – Tonight I Fell In Love 

The Linc-Tones were a quartet that formed in 1955. The group consisted of Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin. The next year, Eddie was replaced by Jay Siegel and the group recorded and released their first album on Guest Star Records. Neil wrote While I Dream and sang lead on the song, which was credited to Neil Sedaka and the Tokens. The single didn’t chart nationally.

In 1957, Cynthia left the group and Neil left to pursue a very, very successful solo career. Jay took over lead vocals. Hank and Jay released Picture in My Wallet using the group name Darrell & the Oxfords. They recruited brothers Phil and Mitch Margo in 1960 and went back to using The Tokens as their name.

The group wrote and recorded Tonight I Fell In Love for Warwick Records. The single peaked at #15 on the Hot 100 in 1961 and sold over a million copies. The sales, airplay, and publicity from performing on American Bandstand helped the group record The Lion Sleeps Tonight for RCA Records in 1962. That single topped the Hot 100 and, thanks in part to Disney, the song continues to be familiar to almost everybody.

The group formed their own record company (B.T. Puppy Records) in 1963 and began producing records for other artists. Some of their notable singles include He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, Denise by Randy & the Rainbows, See You In September and other singles by the Happenings, and Candida, Knock Three Times, and Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn.

The Tokens released a string of singles throughout the sixties, but only two others even reached the top forty on the Hot 100, I Hear Trumpets Blow in 1966 and Portrait Of My Love in 1967

The group eventually split in two, and there have been two sets of Tokens performing live for decades, Jay Siegel’s Tokens and The Margo Brothers’ Tokens.


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