Retro Dee writes about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s on this site. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Hello folks, it’s Retro Dee with Part 2 of Keeping The 50’s Alive At Christmas!
In this post, I’ll be talking about some of the greatest Holiday classics to come out of The Best Era Ever.
The 1950’s are known for being the era in which Rock n Roll was born. But in addition to all that great early Rock, there was also no shortage of Christmas music.
Many Christmas Carol Classics originated in the 1950’s when they were heard by the Holiday-loving public for the very first time. Some songs were Rock n Roll songs, proving that Rock n Roll could be festive too and was not just a passing trend! Other songs and albums that were recorded contained classic carols written way back, even before the 1950’s, and were sung by such greats as Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Perry Como.
Let’s have a look at some of the fantastic yuletide hits that debuted back in the Fabulous Fifties, starting with the year 1953…
“(Everybody’s Waitin’) For The Man With The Bag” by Kay Starr (1953)
Written By Irving Taylor, Dudley Brooks, and Hal Stanley
This is probably my favorite Christmas song! Not only do I love hearing it, I also enjoy singing it. Kay Starr was an amazing performer who recently passed away in 2017 at the age of 97.
This fun, upbeat jazzy tune celebrates the joy of waiting for Santa (the man with the bag). Not only is it a great song, it has a special meaning to me. This was my “crazy cat lady” routine song with my late boy Jelly Bean. He seemed to recognize it when it came on the radio. Jelly Bean was a cross between a cute little bundle of white fluff and The Cat From Hell. I used to try to calm him down by talking, singing, or anything that might possibly work. If he had a decent behavior day, I’d say to him “You were extra good today!” So when I heard this song for the first time in 2011, the line that goes …“If you’ve done every thing you should/ been extra special good”… reminded me of praising Jelly Bean. So I scooped him up in my lap and sang it to him. It was a tradition for the next few years until he went to Rainbow Bridge in 2014.
I still think of it as “Jelly’s song” and when I found out it was originally from the 50’s, that was the icing on the cake. Like most great songs, it has been covered. There’s a Vonda Shepard version from 2000 (which I believe Jelly Bean also liked), a version by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, a pretty good version by Jessie J. and a show-stopping version by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
“I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevy (1953)
Written by John Rox
This song is cute and annoying at the same time and has become a favorite for some people who like that sort of thing. It’s not the usual Christmas carol, but heck, I prefer it to “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (which I can’t stand). “Hippopotamus” was recorded by 10-year-old Gayla Peevy (who would be around 75 by now) and has been a classic ever since… Ironically, hippopotamuses are actually some of the meanest, most dangerous creatures on Earth. Well… if Santa had actually brought little Gayla that hippo, at least it would have made a good guard dog.
“Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt (1953)
Written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer
The original Eartha Kitt version of this song is definitely news to me. I have heard the Marilyn Monroe version, the Madonna version and the Mariah Carey version. But I must say that my favorite version has to be Miss Piggy’s. Yes, it’s become a bit of a Diva Classic, with the world’s sexiest and most materialistic women viewing Santa Claus as a kind of Sugar Daddy. Now that I know how far back this song goes, it’s what I call a “retro shocker”, a bit like Peggy Lee’s version of “Fever” that came out in 1958. If I didn’t know, I’d have guessed these songs were way too suggestive for folks back in the 50’s. All this time I figured they came out in the late 60’s, around Austin Powers’ time. Oh, behave!
“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (1957)
Written by Joe Beal and Jim Boothe
The most classic Christmas song that came out of the 1950’s has to be Bobby Helms’ original version of the beloved “Jingle Bell Rock” that first hit the charts in 1957. I love how it pays tribute to the classic “Jingle Bells”and introduces the new phenomenon of Rock n Roll. It even mentions the Jingle Hop! Both the concept and lyrics are great, and there are a million versions that have been performed throughout the years.
One of the funniest blog entries I ever read was Tough Pigs Roundtable: Muppet Christmas Music in which the writers of a popular Muppet fan site choose their favorite Muppet Christmas songs. Tough Pigs’ own Ryan Roe picked The Electric Mayhem’s version of “Jingle Bell Rock” as one of his favorites. He says that the original version “does not rock…at all” He also notes: “Maybe it did in the 50’s, but today the original recording comes across as more like ‘Jingle Bell Leisurely Stroll’”…
This cracked me up so much, I must have laughed for an hour. And it’s true! Now every time I hear the original song by Bobby Helms I say “Oh, hey! It’s Jingle Bell Leisurely Stroll!” Not to say I don’t love it regardless. Besides, the cool thing is that there were many versions of the song to follow that did, indeed, rock (yes, including The Electric Mayhem’s version in “A Muppet Family Christmas” in 1987) Then there’s the Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell version from 1962 and the Hall and Oats version from 1983. There’s even a Randy Travis version from 1992 that’s more like “Jingle Bell Country” but I like it none-the-less.
However, if I had to pick only ONE version of “Jingle Bell Rock” to enjoy each year, my loyal, foolish heart still has to go with the original 1957 release by Bobby Helms. After all, it’s the one that started it all and it’s from the Best Era Ever. 🙂
“Run Rudolph Run” by Chuck Berry (1958)
Written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie
Unlike the so-called “Jingle Bell Leisurely Stroll,” this song REALLY rocks. It’s a true Rock n Roll Christmas song, and because of the elements in it and the time period, probably the very first. It’s Chuck Berry so you get it all and you get it in the biggest, best Rockabilly way. (I bet the older folks of the era hated it!) Chuck Berry was a genius and this song is no less amazing than his regular non-holiday themed hits. In my opinion, “Run Rudolph Run” should have never been remade, (and it has been recurrently remade) because the original was perfect.
Although I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t wish Buddy Holly did his own version of it. Now that I mention it, I also wish Buddy Holly did a version of “Jingle Bell Rock” because he would have KILLED it. And he would have worked in a killer guitar solo too. So much for the leisurely stroll! Okay. I’m done. Almost.
Seriously, getting back on topic, “Run Rudolph Run” is probably my second favorite Christmas song. It’s got it all as far as the best of the 50’s go.
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (1958)
Written by Johnny Marks
Here’s another Christmas classic that has the word “ROCK” in the title. But like “Jingle Bell Rock”, it doesn’t really rock all that much. There are, however, elements of early rock in the song, complete with the signature nifty-fifties sound. And, also like “Jingle Bell Rock”, it mentions dancing at a Holiday hop. Traditionalists at the time didn’t take to it right away. Although it was released both in 1958 and 1959 by Decca Records, it did not become a hit until the early 60’s. As Brenda Lee’s popularity rose, so did the popularity of the song. It ended up being another Holiday favorite that was remade several times by several artists too numerous to mention.
“The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” (1958) by The Chipmunks
Written by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. (aka Dave Seville)
This famous novelty song hit the charts in the late ’50s. And once again, I mis-dated it in my musically challenged little mind. I always thought it came out around a decade later in the late 60’s, I’m not sure why. It just seemed like the time Alvin, Simon and Theodore might have made their debut. But, once again, I was wrong. I was, however, pleased to find that it was a 50’s song! It was a huge hit for Ross Bagdasarian Sr. or “Dave Seville” as he called himself. He created the chipmunk voices by varying the speeds of the tape, something unique and different at the time. The public went crazy for it. And I will always recall that at 4 years old, it was my absolute favorite holiday tune. I still remember my favorite line: “I still want a huuuula hoooooop!”
Kids throughout the ages have all loved The Chipmunk Song. Although, I kind of wonder what the Legends of Rock n Roll thought of it when it came out. Was Elvis laughing or shaking his head in disbelief? Was Buddy Holly saying “What in the hell is this?” Were their managers asking them to step it up a notch because they were sharing the charts with a bunch of chipmunk voices? Probably not. I’m just surmising that three furry creatures singing out their Christmas wish list was not the norm back in the 50’s. But that’s not to say people didn’t respect it. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it!
If you want to listen to 50’s music during the Holidays, there are a lot of super-swell compilations you can buy, as well as some full albums like Perry Como’s 1956 album “Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music” and Elvis’ FIRST Christmas album called simply “Elvis’ Christmas Album” which was released in October of 1957. (Elvis also had other Christmas albums in the 60’s and 70’s that weren’t as good)
But personally, I think a compilation with all the great hits from the era is the best way to go if you want all the retro classics in one place. There are a lot to chose from on Amazon et. al, such as the one at the top of this entry and the one you see below.
Thanks for reading! Please stay tuned for Part 3 of “Keeping The 50’s Alive At Christmas” which will be the most spectacular, yet challenging entry of the series: “Decorating Retro 50’s At Christmas”.
Voting closes Saturday in the final round of our eighth annual Grooveyard Great 88 survey. Pick your 15 favorites in each of the three polls, covering songs that were hits in 1957 and earlier, 1958-1960 and 1961-1963. You can vote daily through December 9 at 10 PM. Results will be announced during a special five-hour edition of “The Grooveyard” on December 28 starting at 7 PM.
Listen to “The Grooveyard” following “Rick’s Redneck Ranch” each Saturday night at 7 PM on 88.1 FM on Long Island, by clicking the 88.1 FM link on wcwp.org or via the TuneIn app. or the 88.1 FM button on the WCWP app for Android or iPhones. You can also follow us on Twitter.
Join us for the Greatest Hits and Forgotten Favorites on. . .
…Where Oldies Come Alive!