I have an embarrassingly large CD and record collection – spread across two flats (not both mine, in case you were wondering) and occupying everything from shelves to suitcases. Courtesy of YouTube, I thought I’d share some of the choice items – particularly some of the less well known ones.  Think of it as a slowly evolving, digital mixtape...

There’ll be a new song most days (at least that’s the plan) so keep checking back and please post your comments and suggestions as well.

Like I’ve Got To Keep Me Warm, this isn’t really a Christmas song but is frequently co-opted as one.  There are lots of truly terrible versions – and some brilliant ones.  Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Ella and Louis (Jordan this time) and Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming are all worth checking out depending on your taste.  I’m rather fond of Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer, partly because they let the song do the work instead of using it as a vehicle for shtick – but also because her (vocal if not actual) primness contrasts perfectly with his Southern (not quite) gentleman persona.

In one sense, this version is the naughtiest of the lot with Jo Stafford trying – and failing – to evict all four male Starlighters from her apartment.  One shudders to think what happened next.  In keeping with its not-quite-Christmas-song status, it hails from an album of winter (rather than Christmas) themed songs called Ski Trails.  Very precise our Miss Stafford.

The Starlighters started life as a group with flexible membership called at various points Three, Six and, finally, Four Hits and a Miss.  In case you hadn’t guessed, the one consistent thing about the line-up was that it only ever contained one woman. Andy Williams was briefly a member but left shortly after they became The Starlighters and was never heard of again.

 

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle for Andy Williams’ popular TV show and appeared on his first Christmas album in 1963.  It wasn’t released as a single at the time but has gone on to become one of the top 10 Christmas songs thanks, in part, to air play – and probably because, along with Johnny Mathis’ version of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, it seems to pop up with greater regularity than anything else on those Christmas TV trailers.

Pola and Wyle also have the distinction of penning two (albeit minor) hits for Doris Day – I Didn't Slip, I Wasn't Pushed, I Fell and I Said My Pajamas (and Put On My Pray'rs), classics both.

The Man With The Best Hair In Jazz recorded both Wonderful Time and A Lot Like Christmas (you really don’t expect me to type that lot out again?) on his third Christmas Album, What A Night!, In 2008.  I love the way he’s gently recast the former – something of a specialty of Connick’s who’s made a habit of casually mixing jazz, pop, R&B, funk and other styles of music without ever making it A Thing.  Such cross-fertilisation has always existed in popular music but artists seem to do it much more self-consciously nowadays – perhaps because critics have started to note it as though it’s some kind of innovation.  Harry just gets on with it – as well as acting, writing and appearing in Broadway musicals, raising a stack of money for Katrina-beleaguered New Orleans – and patenting a computerised 'system and method for coordinating music display among players in an orchestra'. 

If he weren’t so darned nice it would be irritating.

 

We’re stepping away a little from the brief (Christmas classics with a twist) with this one.  This Time Of Year, June Christy’s only Christmas album was, particularly for the time, unusual in being a collection of original material rather than the same old holiday standards.

All the songs are by husband and wife team Connie Pearce and Arnold Miller. I can find very little information about them except what appears in Todd Everett's sleeves notes for the CD reissue.  They started out as half of a vocal group called the Double Daters and met Christy through her husband Bob Cooper.  She recorded one of their songs, Night Time Was My Mother, on 1958’s The Song Is June and This Time of Year came along three years later.  The songs are excellent and it’s a mystery as to why this was easily the highest profile gig of their career.

Christy was an underrated singer whose Something Cool is often credited with kick starting the trend for ‘cool’ jazz singing also popularised by the likes of Chris Connor and Helen Merrill.  While Connor had peerless intonation and Merrill extraordinary versatility (her recordings include albums of Italian, country and Beatle’s songs) Christy had more passion and colour in her voice than either (at least in their younger days) and, despite a complete lack of histrionics, some of her recordings are almost too heartbreaking to listen to.  She struggled with alcoholism for most of her adult life, which also took its toll on her voice, and died at only 64 years of age.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the material on This Time Of Year is bittersweet or downright sad - but here is the (relatively) optimistic closer.

Christy’s secret weapon for much of her career was arranger Pete Rugolo who was as sympathetic to her needs as was Riddle to Sinatra.  She had the chops to negotiate his deceptively complex arrangements which, alongside Marty Paich’s work for Mel Tormé, were more obviously jazz based than those of most of the other great arrangers of 50s vocal albums.

 

This if from Lou’s first Christmas album which went by the splendid title of Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! – definitely one from a more innocent time.  If Ludacris ever records a seasonal disc he’ll be mighty pigged off that Lou got there first with that one.

The arrangements are by H. B. Barnum who worked with everyone from Basie to The Osmonds via Gladys Knight (Help Me Make It Through The Night).  He is best known in some quarters for possibly the worst Sinatra recording of a good song* – Some Enchanted Evening from the LP The World We Knew.  You might think such notoriety unjust after listening to this. I couldn’t possibly comment.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? usually enjoys lushly sentimental readings with the line ‘maybe it’s much too early in the game’ implying that a first date is, perhaps, out of the question – whereas Mr Rawls seems to be after charming the babe he’s just met into a booty call.  There are, I’m sure, worse ways to spend New Year’s Eve than tucked up with Lou.  Play your cards right and you might even end up his Lady Love...

*Footnote: i.e. Mama Will Bark and (God help me) Winchester Cathedral don’t count.