We have a longer version of the Fest today. Bear with me a bit and let me explain. I've posted this all before and I find it a fun story of sorts to repeat.
When the movie musical Scrooge was released in 1970, I remember reading an article about the film's composer-lyricist-screenwriter (and executive producer) Leslie Bricusse (who earlier had teamed with Anthony Newley to write the stage musicals Stop the World - I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint - the Smell of the Crowd, and the next year would write the score to the movie musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). In the piece, Bricusse said that they'd done research and discovered that among all the Christmas carols written, there had never been one actually titled, "A Christmas Carol." So, he wrote one, which begins the film over the wonderful opening credits by the great artist, Ronald Searle (who also did the credits for, among other films, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.)
I mention all this, though, for a specific reason. Bear with me.
Here's that song first, however, and those wonderful opening credits.
As I said, I mentioned all of that above for another reason entirely.
It's that as good a film as Scrooge is, Bricusse's research staff was lousy. Because 14 years before, in 1956, there was a live TV musical version of A Christmas Carol that was called The Stingiest Man in Town and starred the legendary film actor, best known as playing Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone as Scrooge. And the very first song in the show was called -- yes, you guessed it -- "A Christmas Carol."
The music for the show was written by Fred Spielman, with lyrics by Janice Torre. It's not remotely distinguished or memorable, but has quite a few very nice things in it. And there, right at the top, first thing, is a song, "A Christmas Carol." A live musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol on American television doesn't seem like a terribly challenging thing to track down for a research staff working on a movie musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
So, continuing our holiday theme of unknown Christmas songs from musicals, here is the earlier song, "A Christmas Carol," sung by The Four Lads. It's short, less than a minute, but whatever its length the name of the song is "A Christmas Carol." That the researchers couldn't find. But we think you fine folks deserve better... Which is why this also isn't the end of the post here. Because there's another one coming. And it's a joy. But here's that other song first --
Note: Though the person posting this put up a screen shot that say's "A Christmas Carol," it is from The Stingiest Man in Town.
And yes, there's more...
In 1959, which is only 11 years before the movie musical Scrooge was made (and three years after the TV musical above), the wonderful Tom Lehrer released his classic comedy album, An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer -- which included a song titled...yes, you guessed it -- "A Christmas Carol."
And again, Tom Lehrer was not remotely an unknown entertainer and songwriter. It fact, as popular as An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer was when it was released, he was probably around the height of his popularity in 1970 when the film Scrooge hit the theaters. His huge hit album, That Was the Year That Was had been released in 1965, only five years before Scrooge. So, how on earth those researchers missed these two songs -- and for all I know there are more, and even high-profile ones -- I have no idea.
Happily, we have this song to enjoy, as well...
As I mentioned earlier, our Holiday Music Fest also includes a few little-seen TV specials from the past. This one tonight wasn't a standalone special per se, but instead was the Christmas special episode for the weekly Julie Andrews Hour, and they went all out to make it stand out. This is from December 20, 1972, and the cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Joel Grey, Mama Cass Elliot, Carl Reiner, Steve Lawrence, Sergio Franchi, Dan Dailey, Alice Ghostley and Rich Little.
(Side note: For those who don't know his name, Dan Dailey had a successful movie career in the 1940s and 1950s, including many musicals, and even got an Oscar nomination as Best Actor for When My Baby Smiles at Me. I saw him on stage at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago as 'Oscar' in a 1966 production of The Odd Couple, which also starred Richard Benjamin as 'Felix,' who so often played nervous, neurotic characters and was memorably picture-perfect for the role. And years later I got to tell him that when I met him and his wife Paula Prentis at a Northwestern alumni party which was held before the football team played in the Rose Bowl in 1995. And yes, he was stunned. And pleased.)
(But I digress.)
The special is very well done. Carl Reiner even has a solo song, and does a nice job on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Jimmy Stewart is the main guest, and travels around with Julie Andrews – and just when you think that that's pretty much all he'll get to do, later in the show he actually gets a solo number with "Away in the Manger" -- then sings a bit on two duets, including one with Julie Andrews, which in the singing world is the definition of courageous.
What's also fun is that Alice Ghostley sings one of the little-known Christmas songs I've posted here the past few years from the TV musical The Stingiest Man in Town. For that matter, they also perform yet another little-known song I post here every year -- “A Christmas Carol” from the movie Scrooge. And are a couple of fun short sketches between Jimmy Stewart and Rich Little. The special also includes the original commercials which adds some whimsy.
(Note: for some reason, this may open at the 1:48 mark, but I think I've finally gotten it to begin at the start. If not, though, you can just click on the scroll bar at the bottom of the video to get it all the way back to the beginning.)
From the archives. The contestant is Ivan Plis from Washington, D.C. Like the contestant, I didn’t have a clue what the hidden song was, though I could sort of hear it. Nor could I get it on the second go-round even knowing the composer. I did finally get it fairly quickly on the third pass but that’s only when composer Bruce Adolph pulled the song out more, so it doesn’t count for points, though for relief. It’s pretty hard. As for the composer style, it’s one that I always think could overlap with several who I find somewhat similar and I’m not knowledgeable enough to pick out the differences.
I can’t believe for all the years of The Holiday Music Fest posting wonderful, little-known holiday material that I didn't included this. Fortunately, that oversight was finally corrected last year. Growing up, I used to like the comic strip Pogo by Walt Kelly, and every holiday season I would always especially love his inclusion of the characters’ version of “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie” in the strip -- a song that actually got recorded, and the classical music station WFMT would play at Christmastime on their Midnight Special show. But when my pal Mark Evanier posted this video in 2022, it reminded me of it, and after slapping my head and thinking, “How in the world could I have forgotten this??!” I’m so glad to include it here where it rightly belongs, as a wonderful, little-known and adorably lunatic holiday song.
Mark is one of the world’s great experts on Pogo – quite literally, he’s helped edit and put out eight seriously-impressive volumes of the collected Pogo strips. As for the song itself, he noted that “Every year around Christmas in his strip, his lovely characters would debate the correct lyrics to their favorite carol.” This particular video does a wonderful job setting the apparently-correct lyrics (according to one of the characters) set to panels from the strip.
From the archives. The contestant today is Claire Nalven from Waltham, Massachusetts. This is a very florid piece, and the song is extremely well-hidden – and to my shock, I got it. And while I came close on the composer style, it was two people I find similar, and I guessed the wrong one.
I've posted a lot of videos here of the wonderful Tom Lehrer, including some rare material that he wrote and performed for his fellow professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz which fortunately got privately recorded. (Lehrer had taught political science at MIT, and later went to UCSC to teach mathematics -- and even also taught a class in musical theater.) But a couple weeks ago, my pal Mark Evanier had a rarity on his site -- a TV performance by Lehrer with a song I'd never heard before. And it's a lot of fun.
The number is in the spirit of his song "New Math." He was appearing in England on one of David Frost's TV shows (I don't know which one, nor does Mark), and he performed a song he wrote for the occasion. He explains how to convert the old British pounds/shillings system to the new decimal currency, like in the United States, that they were going to be changing to in 1971.
You can find the song here on Mark's website.
And as a bonus, for the folks who like to compare, here is that aforementioned song, "New Math," from his great albums That Was the Year That Was.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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