Several years ago I was hunting down Al Green’s Christmas album. I know what you’re thinking; hunt? Just search “Al Green Christmas” and boom. Didn’t work out that way, though. I found what I thought were 5 different Al Green Christmas albums each with its own cover art. I also found out that Al Green has released one Christmas album, 1983’s White Christmas; the record company was just re-releasing the same 9 songs on 5 different “albums” hoping us dummies would buy them all.
This got me thinking about Elvis Presley; 2 Christmas albums, 20 songs but look at how many “Elvis Christmas” collections are out there. The record companies may add the odd previously unreleased song to the existing tracks, change the artwork and the title and then unleash this “new” collection on the unsuspecting public. A lot of people will look at this new art and think it’s a new album and that they need to add it to their collection when in fact they already own most or all of the music on it.
I conceived of a PSA-type post I was going to call “Caveat Emptor or You Already Own That” and that would feature several artists. The purpose of this post was going to be to spell out plainly just how much Christmas music this group of artists released and then compare that to all the collections on the market. Problem is, when I began to research this by looking into Frank Sinatra’s Christmas releases, it soon became apparent to me that I would have to break this imagined post into many posts, each highlighting a single different artist.
To the best of my ability, with much help from Discogs, iTunes, Amazon, and Wikipedia, I hope to list all of the Christmas albums released by each artist in this series and highlight some of the better compilations. Discogs lists each and every “version” of any given album. “Version” in this case can simply refer to the record company changing a number, it could refer to different formats like LP/CD/8-track/cassette but it can also refer to what we’re talking about here; adding or deleting songs, changing cover art and titles, hoping to create the illusion of a brand new and/or unique release. So, 29 versions, 98 versions as you’ll see below does not necessarily mean they’ve used 100 different titles for the same music but I think what it does do is help to make my point that the record companies will endlessly mine a small batch of recordings and repackage them in many ways trying to get the most out of them. The “business” part of show business.
Let’s kick things off with the first batch of Christmas Caveats by looking at the Christmas releases of the Chairman of the Board and I’ll try to suggest the most efficient ways to own his Christmas music.
Frank Sinatra released four albums of Christmas music, one for Columbia, one for Capitol and two for Reprise that were recorded with others.
Christmas Songs by Sinatra
29 different versions 1948-1994, 3 different titles, 8 songs, at least 8 different covers, recent CD version contains bonus tracks previously unreleased
Now, the original Christmas Songs by Sinatra contained only 8 songs so over the years Columbia has fleshed things out by adding some previously unreleased tracks that were recorded for the troops on V Discs. If you’re a completist, pick up the CD version with the cover featured above on the left; the other two versions shown are budget releases that Columbia put out to compete with Frank’s new Christmas record of 1957. Collecting Frank’s Columbia Christmas music is not difficult as the CD suggested above is easy to find — the budget releases were only released on vinyl anyway.
A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra
98 different versions 1957-2017, 2 different titles, 12 songs, 3 different covers, cassette had only 9 tracks
Often the record company will delete certain original albums because later editions or other compilations will render them obsolete. You can still buy A Jolly Christmas from although quite often you’ll see it with the title and cover on the top right; that’s the one I have. Why would they change the cover from one of great class to one of great lameness? All I can think of is – like putting colour images on the DVD case of a black-and-white movie – this new cover makes it look less old fashioned. The songs on Jolly are about all the Christmas tunes that Francis recorded at Capitol so either of these versions is all you need.
12 Songs of Christmas
with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians
25 versions 1964-1980, 3 different titles, 5 songs featuring Sinatra, 3 different covers
Frank recorded two albums with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians; 12 Songs of Christmas and America, I Hear You Singing, both in ’64, both often overlooked. 12 Songs is only available on vinyl from sites like Discogs and it has never been released on CD. From a personal standpoint, these two albums were among the last I had to buy to own all of Frank’s albums; America is on iTunes and 12 Songs is one of the few records I’ve bought by mail. Don’t worry about collecting the 5 Frank songs from this fine album as they have been compiled on other collections, as we shall see.
The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas
20 versions 1969-2009, 1 title, 5 songs featuring Sinatra, 1 cover
Actually a very nice album; Nancy has a song on it that is devastating. It was finally released on CD in 1999 but it seems to be rare in that format; I’ve seen it on disc listed for $20 and $200. If you can find it on vinyl, great, but I see it’s on iTunes for $7! Again in this case, the songs featuring FS have been released on compilations.
If you own all of the above-mentioned albums, you win. You own (basically) all of Frank Sinatra’s Christmas music. Now let’s look at some compilations. If you’re looking to start a Frank Christmas collection, you’ll have to decide out of these what you want to start with.
The Sinatra Christmas Album (2003) — ridiculously given the same title as the Jolly Christmas from reissue, this contains all of Frank’s previously released Christmas music from the Reprise era; all his tracks from 12 Songs of Christmas, all his tracks from Sinatra Family as well as two sides of a nice Christmas single from 1975, “A Baby Just like You” b/w “Christmas Memories”. I own this CD and can vouch for it.
Frank Sinatra Christmas Collection (2004) — contains all of Frank’s songs from 12 Songs of Christmas, and all of his songs from Sinatra Family. Also contains “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” from 1961’s Ring-a-Ding-Ding! (not necessarily a Christmas song), 3 songs with and without Bing Crosby from the 1957 episode of The Frank Sinatra Show, Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank, and a rare “Silent Night” from 1991.
Ultimate Christmas (2017) — contains a lot. It starts off with 1954 Capitol single versions of “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Waltz”, it also contains 7 of the 12 tracks on A Jolly Christmas, all of Frank’s songs without Bing Crosby from 12 Songs, all Frank from Sinatra Family, the 1975 single and the “Silent Night” both mentioned above.
Avoid the two pictured below; they are perhaps interesting oddities but they are basically redundant. The iTunes review for Christmas states that the songs are from the Capitol era – and then promptly mentions the presence of the Jimmy Joyce Singers, vocalists who backed Frank up on the Family album on Reprise. It is an unnecessary mish mash. The Classic Christmas Album? That’s a bold-faced lie. This compilation was never an album and is not classic. It is not even entirely Christmas. What we have here is Columbia Christmas recordings fleshed out by gospel songs Frank cut with the Charioteers in 1945. Weird.
Well, I hope that helps. Here’s the thing, though; if you’ve been collecting Frank’s music for awhile, releases like Ultimate Christmas – while great – can be frustrating. You already own the bulk of the music but there may be a track or two you don’t have. So, do you buy it? And this is where the record company has got us. Sure, they seem to be saying, we are simply releasing the same music over and over but because we’ve added a couple of gems you can’t get anywhere else, you really should consider buying this. It will be all you ever need; until we release the next compilation with the addition of some other recordings we found in the vault. It’s up to you whether or not – or how – you want to play ball.
Stay tuned for more Christmas Caveats and happy hunting!
Hi Gary, just catching up on a few posts. Fascinating stuff as usual. The reissue and re-packaging of catalog material reminds of a quote attributed to Louis B Mayer, who said this of movies but the logic is the same for music; “Movies are the only thing that you can sell, and yet still own.”
Yes! How true – and sell over and over again. And if you can find ways to make people think your product is new when it isn’t, all the better!