The light-hearted fun of the Christmas season lent itself to the recording of several novelty tunes. In 1958, Liberty Records released The Chipmunk Song – Christmas Don’t Be Late by David Seville and the Chipmunks. He had used the technique of recording voices at a slow speed and playing back at a higher speed in his novelty recording Witch Doctor the year before. In 1959, Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous released the similarly themed novelty record Happy Reindeer.
Earlier in the decade, eleven-year-old Gayla Peevey’s I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas made the top-twenty in 1953 and seven-year-old Barry Gordon sold two million copies of his top-ten hit Nuttin for Christmas in 1955. Harry Stewart called himself Yogi Yorgesson to record his top hits I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas and Yingle Bells.
Stan Freberg’s bitingly satirical Green Chri$tma$, was a merciless attack on merchandising. The parody of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ had Scrooge as the head of a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Although tame today, at the time it was extremely controversial.
Here are my favorite Christmas novelty songs recorded during the 1950s, Christmas 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll songs, and new Christmas Carols written in the 1950s. (See also 10 best EASY-POP Christmas songs from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s)
Four Best 1950s Christmas Novelty Recordings:
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Recorded by Jimmy Boyd in 1952. Music and lyrics by Thomas P. ‘Tommie’ Connor
Fathers have dressed up for years in white beards and red suits at Christmas to make their children think that the real Santa Claus has arrived. Twelve-year-old Jimmy Boyd recorded a version of this catchy little song of naiveté that sold nearly 2 million copies the first year. Zany Spike Jones recorded a popular version too.
The Chipmunk Song – Christmas Don’t Be Late
Recorded by David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian) and the Chipmunks in 1958. Music and lyrics by Ross Bagdasarian
Armenian-American actor, Ross Bagdasarian, calling himself David Seville created the three ‘Chipmunks’ named for Liberty Records executives Alvin Bennett, Simon Waronker, and Theodore Keep. Recording voices at slow speed and playing them back at higher speed gave the chipmunks their sound.
Recorded by Eartha Kitt in 1953. Music and lyrics by Joan Javits, Phil Springer, and Tony Springer
Sultry siren Eartha Kitt purred her sensual, materialistic Christmas wish list to a sugar-daddy Santa Baby. With orchestral backing by Henri Rene, it was a top-five hit in 1953 and it was the biggest hit in the career of this bluesy American-born singer.
(Im Getting’) Nuttin’ for Christmas
Recorded by Barry Gordon with Art Mooney & his orchestra in 1955. Music and lyrics by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett
The highest peaking of the five recordings of Nuttin’ for Christmas was released by Art Mooney & His Orchestra, with seven-year-old Barry Gordon as lead vocalist. Barry Gordon’s version became a million seller. It was also recorded by Ricky Zahnd & the Blue Jeaners with Tony Mottola Orchestra.
Three Best 1950s Christmas Rock ‘n’ Roll Recordings:
Jingle Bell Rock
Recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957. Music and lyrics by Joseph Beal and James Boothe
Jingle Bell Rock was written one hundred years after James Pierpont’s 1857 Jingle Bells. New England public relations man, Joe Beal, and Texas advertising writer, Jim Boothe, collaborated on this unique best-seller for 21-year-old rockabilly singer Bobby Helms.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Recorded by Brenda Lee in 1958. Music and lyrics by Johnny Marks
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is another Johnny Marks holiday favorite. In 1958, rock ‘n’ roll was affecting even Christmas-in a “new old-fashioned way”-and Brenda Lee’s joyful, catchy recording was a top-twenty hit for ‘Little Miss Dynamite.’
Recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957 & 1964. Music and lyrics by Bill Hayes and Jay Johnson
Unrequited love is a familiar theme to country fans and Christmas gives it a poignant twist. Blue Christmas was written in 1948 and country singer Ernest Tubb made it a hit that year. Elvis Presley, the Browns, and Hugo Winterhalter had popular fifties versions.
Four Best 1950s New Christmas Carols:
Mary’s Boy Child
Recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956. Music and lyrics by Jester Hairston
Folksinger Harry Belafonte popularized Mary’s Boy Child, written by his friend Jester Hairston in the idiom of the West Indies. Based on Afro-American spirituals and folk material, Mary’s Boy Child, is the story of Jesus’ birth made vivid in its calypso rhythm. The pop group, Boney M, released a rousing version of Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord in 1978.
Little Drummer Boy
Recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958. Music and lyrics by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone
Fred Waring’s conductor-assistant, Harry Simeone, co-wrote The Little Drummer Boy. A poor shepherd boy makes his way to the manger in Bethlehem to present his simple song as a gift to the infant. The gentle boy’s drumbeat accompanies the whole touching carol.
Recorded by David Whitfield in 1954. Music and lyrics by Dick Manning, Belle Nardone, and Al Hoffman
Popular British tenor David Whitfield had a top-ten hit recording with Cara Mia and a top-twenty hit with this Merry Christmas song in 1954. The accompaniment was by Stanley Black and his Orchestra. Patti Page also had a popular recording of the song.
I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day
Recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1958. Music by Johnny Marks, words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sitting at his desk after his wife’s tragic death, listening to church bells peal, librarian Henry Longfellow recognized the promise of Christmas. Johnny Marks adapted the poet’s words of hope and provided the modern musical setting. In addition to Harry Belafonte’s hit, Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Frank Sinatra recorded versions.