For the Holiday Music Fest, I like to find little-known, but wonderful holiday songs -- or at least well-known songs that have unique arrangements. This sort of blends both worlds -- totally unknown, yet hugely-well-known and wonderful. How can that be, I hear you ask??! (Well, those of you who don't recall this from last year are asking. The rest might remember.) I'll explain.
This is a song from the musical, Here's Love, by Meredith Willson, who of course wrote "The Music Man." It's based on the classic film, Miracle on 34th Street. The show wasn't terribly successful, though didn't flop and had a respectable run of 334 performances -- just under a year -- in 1964. The score is inconsistent, but half of it is quite wonderful. (I've actually tried to get a TV production of it made for several years. I think it would be a terrific Christmas special. Hey, who knows, maybe next year NBC will do it live...)
As you might imagine, there are a lot of songs from the show that would fit here. But this one leaps out as the best place to dive in with. The song is called "Pine Cones and Holly Berries," sung by Laurence Naismith who plays Kris Kringle. It's very charming and makes a lovely Christmas holiday song, though is unknown.
But that's not the whole tale.
As you may recall, Meredith Willson loves counterpoint. He used it a great deal, to much good effect in The Music Man, most notably with "Lida Rose" sung counter to "Will I Ever Tell You?", but also famously with "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a Little," sung in counterpoint with an already-existing song, "Goodnight, Ladies."
Well, he used the technique again in Here's Love. He created "Pine Cones and Holly Berries" to be sung counter to an already existing, very famous Christmas song -- but here's the thing: this extremely well-known Christmas song (I think most people will be shocked to learn) was written by...Meredith Willson himself. When I say it's very famous and completely well-known -- trust me on this. And yes, it's written by, of all people, Meredith Willson. I won't tell you what it is, but let you have the fun of discovering it when it comes in halfway through.
The counterpoint, famous song is performed by Janis Paige and -- are you ready? -- Fred Gwynne! Though he utterly hated being typecast in the role, since it almost ruined his career (I worked with him on the movie, Pet Sematary, and we briefly talked about), I feel compelled to identify him in this context for the sheer incongruity of it, as yes, 'Herman Munster,' whose TV series came along soon thereafter.
So, here then is a lovely, sweet Christmas song you don't know, sung in counterpoint to a famous one you do, both by Meredith Willson.
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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