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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Follow the bouncing ball

Through the miracle of eBay, I have been reunited with one of the Christmas albums that used to get played around my house when I was a kid: Christmas Sing Along with Mitch, by Mitch Miller.

Mitch was the musical director at Columbia records back in the '50s, and he scored some major recognition when he and a "gang" of singers appeared in the infant medium called "television" in the early '60s. The program was called "Sing Along with Mitch," and as Mitch led the group in song, viewers were urged to do just that, while the song lyrics were being flashed along the bottom of the tiny, black-and-white TV screen. As I recall, the graphics in those days were done via a "tel-op" machine -- a huge contraption that required an operator to slide trays of printed words into it, to be photographed by a TV camera and superimposed over the pictures of the singing group. With all those lyrics going in and out, I wouldn't be surprised if several tel-op men were required for a Mitch show.

The Mitch Miller Gang's music was incredibly corny. Think "Toot Toot Tootsie" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad." Rock and roll and jazz were exploding all around, but Mitch, with his tacky goatee and three-ring sign in each hand, tried to keep America croaking out "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." Frank Sinatra despised the material that Miller made him record when he was a young man, and as soon as Blue Eyes could get out of the Dodge, he bolted for Capitol Records. Tony Bennett, who stayed with Columbia, no doubt suffered some of his low periods singing along with Mitch.

Like all the Mitch albums, the Christmas effort is a cheapie. The singers -- God forbid Mitch should allow them to be named anywhere in the credits -- perform largely a capella. They do a great job with some very traditional harmonies, and the lyrics to the dozen or so Christmas hymns are set out on a half dozen lyric sheets included in the gatefold album cover.

Mitch, Andy Williams and Phil Spector -- these are the definitive Christmas albums for me and my siblings. When a burst of nostalgia is called for in the Christmas season, they are proven performers.

Comments (1)

Mitch's TV show was slightly before my time, so my parents had one of his Christmas albums, but not this one (yes, there were two). The one we had was much more secular, including "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and, my favorite, the immortal "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." Much later I was scouring the record bins in a used shop and found this album. After buying it, I was sorely disappointed to find that Mitch had put out two Christmas albums, and I had bought the wrong one.

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