Flashback Friday – Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song

Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright,
Tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh,
And ev’ry mother’s child is gonna spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.
And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although it’s been said
Many times, Many ways
Merry Christmas to you.

For as long as I can remember, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” has been a part of my holiday season. It does not feel like the holiday season to me until I hear those first few bars of “The Christmas Song.” Even in the midst of the season’s consumerism, I still enjoy the music the most.

“The Christmas Song” was introduced to Nat in May 1946 by singer/songwriter Mel Tormé. Nat loved the song and wanted to record it in a larger setting than his trio but Capitol Records was very reluctant about having strings on the recording. Nat convinced Capitol (aka “The House That Nat Built”) to let him record “The Christmas Song” with strings. The song was released in November 1946 and reached #3 on the pop and R&B charts. Capitol reissued it every holiday season for the next 7 years, and each year it would chart in the top 5. In 1953 Nat recorded it again, this time with Nelson Riddle conducting, and, of course, with many more than the four original strings. This version was reissued for the next 8 years. Then, in 1961, Nat recorded the stereo version, with Ralph Carmichael conducting. This was the last time he recorded it, and to the present time, this is the rendition that Capitol reissues regularly.

The Christmas Song, the album, came to life in 1960 but not without some resistance. Nat was very happy with just having “The Christmas Song.” He did not want to compete with the other popular holiday music of the day. He finally gave in to Capitol’s persuasion and recorded the album which we love today. I have always been fanscinated by the rich orchestrations and the 20 angelic voices that accompanied Nat’s honey-toned baritone voice. The album was reissued in 1999 and includes “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” which were never previously issued. It also includes the carefully engineered duet on “The Christmas Song” with his daughter, Natalie, which features a host of strings and other wonderful instruments from the London Symphony Orchestra. Dick LaPalm, who traveled with Nat for 13 years, provided the excellent liner notes for the reissue which were my personal history lesson about the making of this classic album. Enjoy your music.

10 Responses to “Flashback Friday – Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song”

  1. mwanji says:

    I don’t have this album, but isn’t the duet with Natalie the one that sparked lots of controversy?

  2. Zenitra Gee says:

    Mr. Cole’s velvety smooth rendition of “The Christmas Song” stands out in my mind as the one song that “all” people look forward to hearing during the holidays. (An example of crossover music at its best!) It has such a calming affect while still putting is in the Christmas mood by painting such a lovely picture of the spirit of the season. There’s been no other like Nat King Cole! Thanks for this post “J”, I didn’t have “The Christmas Song”, the whole CD.
    Mwanji, I think that the controversy occurred with regards to “Inseparable”??
    Zen Gee

  3. kevinrscott says:

    excellent history in this entry. i love it!

  4. Gee says:

    Love it, love it! Peyton and I listened to it this morning.

  5. lashundra says:

    i want nat’s well that song i love to hear him singing that.
    are you all ready for christmas? have you gotten my gift yet? *lol*
    happy monday to you j!

  6. James says:

    This album has also served as a reference for me. In high school, when I was studying German, we had to learn “O Tannenbaum” and I would listen to the album repeatedly. My parents tried to get me to sing it for them but I was too shy. In later years, when I was preparing to sing “O Holy Night” for the first time, this album came to my rescue again.

  7. ronn says:

    Thanks James! Like you, my Xmas must include this song.
    That and the Temptations rendition of “Silent Night.”

  8. Joey says:

    Nat King Cole – what a great voice! All those fake duets with Natalie annoyed me, though.

  9. Bernard says:

    I love the flip side of “The Christmas Song” on 45rpm… “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”… let me reach into the collection and pull out my handkerchiefs too.

  10. Leslie says:

    You know that’s a Christmas standard at our house. Sitting by the fire listening to Nat is definitely a family Christmas tradition. Speaking of good music, do you know when or if Donnie (The Colored Section) is coming out with anything new soon?

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