I just started off my Christmas morning by listening to a record I haven’t heard since the mid ’80s, though it was an ENORMOUS part of my annual Christmas experience throughout my childhood. Disney Christmas Favorites: The Mouse Concert and Other Yuletide Favorites (1973) was one of the first records I ever owned. And much like Goofy Greats, which I wrote about here, man, I ABSORBED this record. To my shock, after all this time, every little nuance came back. As quite a young child I memorized this record, the lyrics, the tunes, the arrangements, the jokes.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Disney Christmas Favorites was a repacked version of the 1957 album Walt Disney’s Christmas Concert, produced by Toots Camarata, who headed up Disneyland Records. Side One is the Mouse Concert, conducted and performed by “Ludwig Mousensky and the All Mouse Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.” The “mice” are of course singers and actors with sped-up voices, plainly deriving from the popular mouse characters in Cinderella (1950). I’d like to be able to blame Alvin and the Chipmunks as well, but guess what? The Chipmunks’ first record didn’t come out until 1958, after this Disney record initially appeared (though certainly before the 1973 reissue I knew it as, so we definitely connected it with the Chipmunks). I confess to having found these sped-up voices very funny when I was a kid. Like Spike Jones records, and portions of Disney’s own Fantasia, the arrangements feature all sorts of surprising twists and turns and musical jokes, often mock-pompous and ridiculous, with the added bonus of comical dialogue between numbers. The effect is not dissimilar to, well, watching an animated cartoon. After we get our toes wet in the secular holiday tunes “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland”, the concert rather shockingly (and irreverently) next goes into the devotional Christmas songs “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, and “O Come All Ye Faithful”. There’s something kinda “not right” about hearing these pretty church songs sung in silly sped-up cartoon rodent voices.
Thankfully, Side Two abandons the mouse conceit, and we get a variety of artists and approaches. First, there is a sort of corny, squeaky clean sounding version of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by the Mike Sammes Singers. This group of English back-up vocalists proves to be more interesting and edgy than you might expect however. They’re those weird background voices on The Beatles “I Am the Walrus” (1967) (“ho ho ho, he he he, ha ha ha!”). They also did some vocals on the White Album and Let it Be. Sammes did the comical bass voice on Olivia Newton-John songs like “Let Me Be There”, and employs the same effect as Santa Claus in “Rudolph”. Cliff Edwards does two tracks: a sly little number called “Kris Kringle”, and a recitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (real title of the poem: “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). The latter he performs in character as Jiminy Cricket, an effect that naturally evokes Dickens Christmas story “The Cricket on the Hearth”. This is followed by a pretty chorus singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”, accompanied by chiming church bells. I found this track very beautiful as a child. I often moved the needle straight to it when I got tired of the funny songs. Then comes the great Louis Prima (later to voice King Louie in The Jungle Book) doing a stereotypical Mex-rock thing called “Señor Santa Claus” which looks forward to Herb Alpert, and backward to Cisco and Pancho. Then the record caps off with one of my favorite things, as much Halloween as it is Christmas: a song called “Jingle Bones”, an extremely fun, spooky twist on “Jingle Bells” with giggling hags. It is purportedly performed by something called “The Witches Three” , who are clearly just some Disney session singers.
The thing flies by. The whole play, both sides, is about 25 minutes. If you wanna get in the spirit. listen to it here.
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