Friday, December 20, 2013
A Frank Sinatra Christmas Carol
“Oh by gosh, by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly.”
That lyric comes from the song, “Mistletoe and Holly” which was originally recorded by Ol’ Blues Eyes, the renowned Chairman of the Board himself, Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra. What few people realize is that this delightful ditty also marked Frankie baby’s debut as a composer.
In the pre-Beatle days of the 1950s, when the head Rat Packer recorded his self-penned Christmas song, it was not yet standard practice for performers to pen their own material, and Frank was no exception. Frank’s precious pipes relied upon such composers as Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen for the hits with which he wowed the bobbysoxers and the mobsters who comprised his audience.
Frank also relied upon other lyricists and tunesmiths when he was hit with writer’s block when trying to write the first line. Frank’s always reliable gut told him that “Oh by” and “By golly” were absolutely essential words with which to open the song, providing as they do, a “hook” that reels in the listener, but no matter how often he scratched his head for inspiration, one word remained elusive. “Oh by (something), by golly” just wouldn’t do, so Frank, a man with much clout as a result of his standing in the entertainment world, as well as his wiliness to perform horrible acts of violence on anyone who displeased him, called in professional help.
An army of songwriters descended upon Sinatra’s Palm Springs retreat where, 72 hours, gallons and gallons of coffee, scotch, bourbon, vodka, rum, and whiskey, several thousand cigarettes, and hundreds of head scratches later, the elusive word that would complete the opening line of Frank’s Christmas carol was collared. It was, if the legend is, indeed, true, Sammy Cahn who, in the 72nd hour, woke from a vodka induced stupor and shouted out the magic word: “GOSH.”
Sinatra’s servants were notified, and the Chairman of the Board, whose only contributions to the session were some profane threats accompanied by his trademark snapping of the fingers, was awakened. The song, now complete, was forever preserved on wax in a hastily arranged post-midnight session at Capital Records in Los Angeles.
It is a tribute to Sinatra’s artistry that the drama that preceded the recording is not evident in the finished product which is as smooth as the remark Frank made to the studio security guard who, failing to recognize the legendary crooner, hesitated before letting him enter the building: “I’ll kill you, you #%@^&*%$# bastard!”
There was only one Sinatra (unless you count Frank, Jr., Nancy, Tina, and the rest of his brood), and there’s only one Sinatra penned Christmas song. So this year, loosen that bow-tie, snap those fingers, light a Lucky (or a Camel, if, like Mr. Sinatra, that is your preference), and celebrate the holidays by singing along with Frank.
Brian W. Fairbanks
© 1996 Brian W. Fairbanks.
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