Continuing the series of music discs thematically tied to their rerun video programming, Nick at Nite now presents two compilations of holiday classics, semiclassics, and songs obviously created specifically as studio production numbers. But what is most striking about these recordings is that they are—to quote from a popular contemporary commercial—“whiter than white.” As WASPish as TV was the other 11 months of the year during the ’60s, December only heightened the illusion of America as a nation devoted to homogenized eggnog and indomitable fruitcake. Looking over the 28 tracks, I saw only one name—Harry Belafonte—likely to appear at a Kwanzaa celebration. On second glance, I noted Johnny Mathis’ name as well, but in this context, neither fellow adds much diversity.
Faced with such a lineup, I fed this question into my computer: Who is the whitest: Andy Williams, Perry Como, Pat Boone, Robert Goulet, Doris Day, John Davidson, Dinah Shore, Jim Nabors, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Dean, Bobby Vinton, or Slim Whitman? After whirring and grinding painfully for nearly seven hours, the hard drive melted. But I had the answer all along: Mike Douglas! To listen to the sternly precise pronunciation in his rendition of “Silver Bells” is to understand the true meaning of “uptight.” But that’s outasight—as is Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark’s cover of the coy Frank Loesser song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Doris Day’s dreamy “Toyland” and Mitch Miller and the Gang’s hearty “Jingle Bells” provide an ivory warmth. Pat Boone sermonizes “White Christmas” (of course), while John Davidson gives his usual wrongheaded Vegas-funk treatment to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (Yeah!). However, when Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” merriness is the farthest thing from one’s mind. The pain in her reading of the line, “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,” is no call for revelry. Fittingly, it is the last track on the TV Land disc.
Though the traditional (?) Hawaiian Christmas song, “Mele Kalikimaka,” is credited to Arthur Godfrey and All the Little Godfreys, apparently Art decided to stick with his ukelele, for the only Godfrey heard is an underinspired woman. It was disappointing not to hear Mr. G’s deeply burbling voice. Surprisingly, the most effective performances are by Neil Diamond, the only artist to appear on both discs. His “Silent Night,” with its understated orchestration, sounds as if he really means it—further explanation, perhaps, for his inclusion in The Last Waltz.
Since all my Xmases of this vintage were purely white, I was soothed by the sounds—for the most part. (Was that a threat or greeting in Dan “Hoss” Blocker’s voice on “Merry Christmas Neighbor”?) Christmastime has long been a highly manufactured, self-delusional fantasyland—ever since all that annoying religiosity was abandoned. But we keep falling for it every year because, Virginia, we want to. Yules and TV Land effectively recall an imaginary world some of us used to think we lived in. With enough eggnog, it’s not a bad place to revisit.