This Nat King Cole article was written by Jessica Otterwell, a GIGsoup contributor
It’s somewhat of an odd choice to ask someone who thinks the only decent Christmas song is Fairy-tale of New York to write a festivealbum review but, since it is Christmas….
Nat King Cole’s album of traditional Christmas carols and Christmas standards are for most, the go to for classic Christmas songs and there have been several versions of The Christmas Song complete with additions and subtractions as times and styles changed, since its first release in 1962.
Stand in a shop for more than ten minutes from the start of November and you’ll have probably been treated to at least five plays of The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas), with its evocative line, ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, before you’ve even reached the tills.
That’s just the thing though; The Christmas Song represents a very particular view of Christmas. It’s a Christmas belonging to the affluent American family, gathering round a large Christmas tree with their expensive and exquisitely wrapped gifts. It’s as though, in the 1960s, this was the version of Christmas that the advertising men (because, yes, most of them were) wanted to sell you. The lyrics may well have just been changed to ‘consume, consume for a merry Christmas’ and ‘we don’t like you if you’re poor’. This is a Walt Disney version of Christmas and so saccharine it will make your teeth ache far more than any box of Quality Street. What makes it so sugary sweet is the choir, who seem to pop up on every single track whether they are welcome or not.
Christmas Song makes for a slightly strange mix, veering as it does from glossy, fireside croon of The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas), with its emphasison turkey, mistletoe and family, to O’ Come All Ye Faithful, with its strong religious message about worship and devotion. As a listener, it somehow feels there should be middle ground between the two before launching into God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. This may have been on the minds of the record company, as the track listing was updated to include Santa Claus is Coming to Town, complete with harsh jazzy trumpets and festive frivolity.
That being said, Nat King Cole’s velvety burr enriches these songs like brandy butter on a Christmas pudding, and for many it seems he is almost the king of Christmas. There is a mix of swing and jazz here, on Deck the Halls and a decent interpretation of O Tannenbaum but it’s the traditional carols, such as Silent Night and O Holy Night that seem to work best and showcase Nat King Cole’s expansive and impressive vocal range the best. If you’re looking for something to set off your Christmas party, you could do worse than play this, especially if your Nan is popping round. Now, where’s my lump of coal?….