Christmas Tunes From The Tire Store

Originally posted December 24, 2009

For about five years in the mid-1960s, in the early weeks of each December, my dad would stop off at both the Goodyear and Firestone tire outlets here in St. Cloud. He’d gab a bit with the managers or owners of the two outlets, asking about their businesses, their families, their golf games and maybe their January plans for ice fishing. He might even ask about the tires he’d eventually need for his old 1952 Ford.

And then he’d pick up a LP from a display rack, pay for it and head back out into the cold, with that year’s album of Christmas music gathered in. Firestone’s series was called Your Christmas Favorites, and when Dad’s record collection came to me a few years ago, I found four volumes of that series, released between 1964 and 1967. Goodyear called its series The Great Songs of Christmas, and Dad gathered in five of those albums, Volumes Four through Eight. They aren’t dated, but I’d bet that the first one dates from 1963; my memory, which is generally pretty good, is giving me faint hints that we got the first Goodyear album a year before we began collecting the Firestone albums.

I may be off by a year or two, but a look at the various artists presented on the albums makes it clear that we’re talking clearly about performers who were utterly traditional; if there was a whiff of popularity, it was popularity that was firmly ensconced in the middle of the musical road. The first Firestone album we got featured performances by Broadway stars Gordon MacRae and Martha Wright, opera stars Franco Corelli and Roberta Peters, and the Columbia Boychoir. The next year’s record eased up a bit, featuring Julie Andrews and Vic Damone, but also presented performances by opera performers Dorothy Kirsten and James McCracken, as well as by a group called the Young Americans, which Wikipedia calls the “first show choir in America, mixing choreography with choral singing.” Sounds to me like an early version of Up With People.

A look at the two earliest Goodyear anthologies I have – and I think they’re from1963 and 1964 – show them to be similarly conservative and safe: Volume Four of The Great Songs of Christmas has performances from Mary Martin, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Robert Goulet, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Percy Faith, the Brothers Four, Mahalia Jackson, Isaac Stern, Doris Day, the New Christy Minstrels, Mitch Miller and his Group and André Previn. The next year, Volume Five featured Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra again, and added Andy Williams, Andre Kostelanetz, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Maurice Chevalier, operatic tenor Richard Tucker, the duo of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Dinah Shore, Diahann Carroll, Danny Kaye and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Two other Christmas records came to me when I got Dad’s collection: During those same years in the mid-1960s, RCA Victor issued its own series of Christmas records, and in 1964 and 1965, Dad and I stopped by the bookstore annex of Fandel’s Department Store – where one could also buy stereos, radios and televisions – and picked up the current year’s RCA holiday record. I won’t list all the names of the performers, but some of them were Chet Atkins, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, the Norman Luboff Choir, Perry Como, the Ames Brothers, John Gary and Mario Lanza. Like those on the Goodyear and Firestone series, the performers were traditional and safe.

And for years – from the mid-1960s through Dad’s last Christmas in 2002 – those records were the ones we heard during the Christmas season, and then, during the later years, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day during our celebrations at home on Kilian Boulevard. I don’t listen to them anymore, although I imagine I should take some time during the next year and create digital files from them, just for posterity. (And my sister might like that.)

I said yesterday, as I have in years before, that there are really only two songs connected with Christmas that I listen to these days. I shared one yesterday: Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” And today, I’ve got two covers of what is without doubt my favorite song of the season.

May your day and season be filled with peace, joy and love and whatever else you may need to be complete.

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by the Moody Blues from December [2003]

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by Sarah McLachlan from Wintersong [2006]

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