Poster Goodyear's Great Songs of Christmas
Vol. 5 of Goodyear's "Great Songs of Christmas" came out in 1965.

Goodyear’s 'Great Songs of Christmas' albums still have lots of good tread

Those of us born between 1960 and 1964 hover in a gray area. We’re not quite old school enough to fit in with the vintage baby boomers from the ‘40s and ‘50s, but certainly too old to even be considered as part of Generation X. Boomers II (aka Generation Jones) was thrown out as a peace offering for the 1955-64 crowd but, like the USFL, AfterMASH and Vanilla Ice, it doesn’t seem to be catching on. Somehow, I’ve managed to move on.

Or have I?

1962 to 1969 were my first eight years on Earth. I don’t remember much about them, but certain things have stuck. I vividly recall one of the first days of kindergarten in the autumn of 1967. I was afternoons with Mrs. Olsen and one day, after consuming our graham crackers and boxed milk, Clipper Carlson, for reasons not fully clear, became overcome with excitement and barfed a big one directly in the center of the classroom for all to see. It was the first of many witnessed in-school vomits. When the custodian sprinkled the magical puke powder (that’s how it was done back then) on the festering mess, the combined sight and smell of it reduced Craig Beebe and me nearly to tears as we fled for the oversized, red, cardboard bricks in the corner of the classroom, built a fortress and hid for the better part of 20 minutes.

The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was consistently playing somewhere in my house, so 1968 always comes into focus — maybe not 20/20, but a good chunk of it is there. Some of it is vivid. You don’t forget two prominent assassinations just two months apart. Or the daily visuals from some place called Vietnam. There was North and South and Cambodia and Laos — and, somehow, the United States was involved, but nobody seemed to be winning and everybody was pretty upset about it. And a lot of people were dying.

And it was hard to watch.

I remember being sprawled out on greenish-blue shag carpet, staring at TV coverage of the chaotic Democratic National Convention in Chicago with my Grandpa Don, as Dan Rather (awkwardly wearing a headset/microphone contraption the size of a Pontiac) was shoved around on the floor of the hall, trying to do an interview. Even Cronkite called them “a bunch of thugs!”

I recall the night we watched Bob Beamon soar through the air over 29 feet in Mexico City at the Olympics, splashing into the sand, and then elegantly hopping out of the pit as if he was pretty sure he had just done something unworldly.

He had.

Maurice Chevalier
Maurice Chevalier
AFP via Getty Images

As 1968 came to an end, the first picture of planet Earth arrived — a mind-boggling stocking stuffer for the world, sent back from the crew of Apollo 8 while orbiting the moon. It was Christmas Eve. How do you top a gift like that — a gift to the entire planet? Sorry, Santa — the reindeer are cool and everything with the flying and the roof landings, but they ain’t a Saturn V. This was the slam-dunk setup to keep a soon-to-be 7-year-old deep into Tang, space bars and everything Apollo, rocketing up to the ultimate ‘60s memory for us GenJonesers: June 1969 — the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and back. To this day, I look up at that big ball of cheese and marvel.

I am glad I was alive to see somebody actually walking up there.

Think about it. Maurice Chevalier was probably somewhere in Paris, looking up at the moon just like me.

“Maybe we’ll be able to see the lunar module from here. Maybe?”

Now wait a minute. Huh?

Why would a 7-year-old kid on a farm in Nebraska think Chevalier might also be watching the moon landing? How does a 7-year-old kid in Nebraska even know about Chevalier? (And, no. For the last time, you cannot see the lunar module from Earth).

Chevalier was a French singer, actor and entertainer, perhaps best known for his signature song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” featured in the 1958 Lerner and Loewe musical comedy smash Gigi, which won all the Oscars. He also had quite an interesting and complicated personal history.

But I remember Chevalier as a kindly, old French grandfather type who made two contributions to the Goodyear’s 1965 Great Songs of Christmas album.

In the 1960s and 70s, both Goodyear and Firestone sold Christmas records at their stores around the country, hoping to bump up tire sales before the holidays. Somebody in marketing probably got a raise, because it worked — for both companies.

Goodyear's Great Songs of Christmas
Vol. 6 of Goodyear's "Great Songs of Christmas" came out in 1966.

My dad would make the 12-mile trip south to York sometime around Thanksgiving, and he’d usually come home toting the new Goodyear or Firestone Christmas album — or maybe both! But it was Goodyear’s Great Songs of Christmas that stole my 7-year-old heart — specifically No. 5 from 1965 (shown atop this story) and No. 6 from 1966.

During the holiday season of 1969, I spent an appreciable amount of time parked on my bum, next to our mammoth “hi-fi” stereo, which was nestled in the northeast corner of my mother’s thoughtfully nurtured living room. This stereo phonograph console was like furniture, although all the other chairs and tables in Mom’s favored room would boldly stick their noses in the air when it came to any kind of interaction with the ol’ girl. Adding to its plight, our Zenith model was to high fidelity as cold cuts are to a 12-ounce rib-eye. But when I stacked the ‘65 and ‘66 Goodyears on that turntable, and the arm clumsily dropped the first record down in place (minus any whiff of finesse), I was good to go for the next hour or two.

Andy Williams’ “O Holy Night” led off the ‘65 album, and it quickly became my signature piece. I would sing out and never — never — back down from joining in with Andy. We’d lean into that final high G, dreaming that Claudine Longet was waiting for us in the sound booth with gaudy new Christmas sweaters, delectable hot cocoa, perhaps a cigarette (for Andy!), and with any luck, at least a few of the Osmond Brothers.

Anna Maria Alberghetti offered up “Caroling, Caroling” and “The Star Carol.” But of greater interest to me was being able to simply gaze at her picture (sandwiched between slices of Andre Kostelanetz and Eugene Ormandy) on the ‘65 cover — the only woman on the top row; and, as far as I was concerned, quite a woman! It was the only image I would ever see of the Italian actress and singer for years to come, but who cared? The birth of Zuckerberg was still 15 years away. In 1969, my future wife had already been found. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Anna Maria Alberghetti (a name so fun to say it must always be referenced in full) was only a year younger than my mother — kind of a deal breaker, I guess. And, yeah, waiting in the wings there was also Lesley Ann Warren, a decade younger, who also sang and was Cinderella on CBS every year in the late ‘60s.

Oh, the trials and tribulations of a 7-year-old boy in Nebraska.

I was never a big Santa kid, but when I listened to Maurice Chevalier talk/sing “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” the Big Kringle suddenly became very real. Chevalier’s take on this piece was spot-on for any small child willing to take a two-minute break from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Spirograph or Matchbox cars and just sit and listen. The Frenchness of his delivery was utterly charming:

Johnny wants a pair of skates;
Susy wants a sled;
Nellie wants a picture book (or as Maurice would say, “… a peeecture booookuh”)
Yellow, blue and red;
Now I think I’ll leave to you
What to give the rest;
Choose for me, dear Santa Claus,
You will know the best.

While some adults in the room might have dismissed this track as overly saccharine, it was pitch-perfect for any kid with even a speck of Christmas spirit. So pardon me for wanting ol’ Maurice to be staring at the moon with me.

I’d be remiss not to mention a few other highlights of the ‘65 version of Great Songs of Christmas. Sammy Davis Jr. goes full rat pack with a mash-up of “Jingle Bells” and “It’s Christmas Time All Over the World.” Fifty-four years ago, what kid didn’t fully appreciate the pleasures of a loosened black tie, a Marlboro in one hand and a mic in the other, while effortlessly crooning across the globe with a backup chorus of kids? This kid certainly did.

Whoa, the snow’s really coming down — and look over there! It’s Steve and Eydie — and they’re in a horse-drawn sleigh! “Sleigh Ride” is one of the show stoppers from Side 2, and I was always right there, nestled between those crazy kids, smack dab in the middle of Currier and Ives. The engineers get special recognition for all the sound effects. And while some might question Steve’s excessive use of the whip at song’s end, one has to appreciate his enthusiastic approach to steering horses and keeping an eye out for Eydie, while never missing a note.

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Look out! C’mon, Eydie!”

Now if you’re looking for something a bit more serious, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra show up a couple of times for “The Little Drummer Boy” and “We Three Kings.” There’s a stirring rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” by the great Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Tucker, who takes that final high A by the throat and brings it to its knees. (I guess that wasn’t a very “Peace on Earth, Good Will to All” kind of reference — but you know what I mean.)

The legendary Pablo Casals makes an appearance on the ‘66 album (Goodyear No. 6) conducting an unnamed chorus and orchestra.

Quoting the notes on the back of the album: “The 89-year-old made an unusual trip to New York just to record Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring for this album. His royalties from this album will be used to establish two scholarships for promising musicians.”

There’s that good will we were looking for.

For that hard-to-shop-for, goosebump-loving person on your Christmas list this year, check out Track 7 on the ‘66 album. When the great tenor Jan Peerce switches from Latin to English for a final, thrilling verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” a quick glance of the arms indicates that all hairs are, indeed, standing up. And for the record, he also reduces another high A to rubble. It is a frothy pint of pure Joy.

I still have these albums and will never part with them. I can pick one up today and within a minute or two, I’m 7 all over again. YouTube houses pretty much every track in some form or other, and a few entries even include that satisfying sound of the needle dropping down on the LP and the crackle leading up to the first notes.

This holiday season, I’m shouting out to all the GenJonesers out there. Stand up. Be proud. Sure, we might be a tad shy of fully grasping the magnitude of Sputnik and Khrushchev and JFK. And, yeah, maybe we weren’t quite hip enough for Nirvana or Reality Bites. But, by God, we were there when Nixon got elected and The Brady Bunch debuted.

“One small step for man”? That’s our wheelhouse, baby. As kids, we jammed on the Jackson 5 and the Archies. And when it came to holiday time, we musically navigated the season with compilation albums our elders purchased at — tire stores.

So go ahead, kick the tires on those LPs. They’ve held up well. Great mileage. Perhaps a little wear. But they’ve been rolling down the holiday highway for over half a century now, with tread to burn for years to come.

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