Tuesday, December 16, 2008

L'affaire Santa

Have you voted yet for your favorite songs from the 2008 blogging year? Don’t let others vote out your favorites! Here's what you need to do about it.

When I wrote last February about my discovery of ten-inch 78-rpm records, I mentioned that I learned how Columbia 78s were constructed when one of my two Jimmy Boyd 78s broke. I didn’t talk about who Jimmy Boyd was at the time, because I had scheduled a discussion of him for today. The 78 that broke? “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (Columbia 39871).

Sure, you know the song. John Mellencamp did a ragin’ Cajun version of it. The Ronettes recorded a Spectorized version. Darn near everyone who has coughed up a Christmas album has recorded this evergreen. Spike Jones took it into the Top Ten, and Molly Bee squeaked into the Top Twenty, both in 1953. The 4 Seasons took it onto the Christmas chart in 1964. That’s it for chart action, except for thirteen-year-old Jimmy Boyd, who enjoyed two weeks at #1 in 1952 with this top-notch example of what my friend Seana’s father called “Christmas schlock.”

Never mind that Mr. G., Seana’s father, called “Silver Bells” and “Winter Wonderland” Christmas schlock as well. I love “Silver Bells,” partly because we sang it for our Christmas show when I was in the fourth-grade choir. I am nostalgic enough about that one that I found the original sheet music and took the time to arrange my own version on my keyboard. And as for “Winter Wonderland,” the absence of that song from Christmas would mean no Annie Lennox version, so forget deleting that one.

But “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” doesn’t strike me as the greatest stroke of genius ever to leak from Tommie Connor’s pen, nor was its sequel, “I Saw Mommy Do the Mambo with You Know Who.” Or “Binky Bonky the Old Gray Donkey.” Or even “The Biggest Aspidastra in the World,” which is amusing. No, I would have to give the most credit to Tommie’s rather large corpus of Ireland-related songs, but there’s some bias there.

If you haven’t heard Jimmy Boyd’s debut version of this song, you have the chance to do so now. Jimmy sounds young enough to believe that Santa and Mom are smooching, though by age thirteen he should be expressing concern about Mom’s infidelity, or at least he should be shocked into silence by the fact that Santa is really and truly in his house. Instead, he’s simply amused and wishes Dad could check out the spectacle. Never mind that Santa might go to the Great Sleigh in the Sky if Dad caught him.

Five-year-old caithiseach wasn’t as uptight about this song as I am now, but I still preferred the B-side, “Thumbelina,” to this one. Something I notice now is the terribly awkward chord progression starting through this part: “Oh what a laugh it would have been/If Daddy had only seen/Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.” One time, I heard a recording where someone had revamped the progression and made it sound listenable (of course, I don’t know who did that one), but I wince every time I hear most versions.

Jimmy Boyd is, I would say, an acquired taste. But in 1952, he was all that. He was from Mississippi, but his family moved to California when he was two. When Jimmy was seven, his brother talked a country dance band into letting Jimmy sing and show off his guitar work. The crowd went nuts. He was given a weekly gig at $50 a pop, 200 times what his father had made each day when he was a Mississippi cotton-picker. Music fans of all ages went nuts over Jimmy.

When he recorded today’s song, he sold 2.5 million copies in the week it was released. He was as big as Miley, and, undoubtedly, as talented as any kid star of any time. Ed Sullivan loved him, had him on five times, and bumped adult guests to make room for Jimmy. Jimmy recorded hit duets with Frankie Laine and Rosemary Clooney. He wound up working with an incredible number of music legends, most of whom came to him for the privilege.

Then he did television, and films, and Broadway, and he married Yvonne Craig. Dang. All that, and a song (today’s hit) that was banned in Boston. They thought little Jimmy had brought sex into Christmas—what about the fact that the song featured a fictional character who detracted from the main message of Christmas? Hmm.

So, Jimmy has had quite the career. All told, he has sold sixty million records. Now, he can sell CDs, because The Best of Jimmy Boyd is available via Collectables Records. The collection doesn’t include “Thumbelina” or the other two sides I had on 78, but you can’t have everything.

A quick aside: Thanks to the West Virginia Surf Report, I discovered the perfect Christmas present for YOU. It’s a website that allows you to take any YouTube video, paste in the video ID (beginning after v=), and the site will show the video and attach to it the Benny Hill version of “Yakety Sax.” I could not find anything more bizarre to share with you than the Benny Hillifier. It’s much fun. Go here: http://james.nerdiphythesoul.com/bennyhillifier/. Feel free to regift this one.

The next two posts will be about songs I owned on LPs when I was a kid. For Saturday, I’ll bring you a song I remembered primarily because of an angel on the LP cover. See you then, and don’t forget to vote in the Great Vinyl Countdown.

Jimmy Boyd, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus


jb said...

If you're wondering why the baby boomers turned out the way they did, the Freudian subtext of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is your explanation.

Postscript: I was not aware that Jimmy Boyd--a goofy-lookin' dude if ever there was one--married Batgirl. This world is empty of justice.

Anonymous said...

An interesting analysis from jb, and one I'm hard put to disagree with. It only made me feel a twinge of guilt when I found my foot tapping along to Jimmy Boyd. Thanks! W.