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Spiking a Christmas Song

I was going to mess with an ancient Christmas song involving eating pig heads—surely you’ve heard of “The Boar’s Head Carol”—but that may have to wait for another day, ideally after everybody’s already had Christmas dinner.

No, this morning I want to write about something I learned just yesterday, about another Christmas song that Carol and I both like. We’ve never heard it on the radio, and we wouldn’t know about it at all if it weren’t on our very favorite Christmas CD: Christmas Portrait by the Carpenters (1978). The song is the medley “It’s Christmas Time/Sleep Well, Little Children.” It’s on none of our other numerous Christmas CDs, and my assumption has long been that Karen and Richard wrote it themselves, as it’s a little bit whimsical and in spots a little bit goofy.

I got curious yesterday and looked it up. The song was actually written by four men: Alan Bergman, Al Stillman, Victor Young, and Leon Klatzkin. It’s not new; in fact, it was first recorded in 1953. And when I read who first recorded it, I laughed out loud. It was Spike Jones!

Ok, I suspect young people will wonder who that is, and why his name made me laugh. Short form: Spike Jones (1911-1965) was the Weird Al Yankovic of the 1940s and 1950s. He took popular songs of other artists and recorded them in his own satirical style, with manic voices, gunshots, whistles, cowbells, hiccups, and other “special effects”. I came upon Spike Jones and His City Slickers when I was quite young; probably five or at most six. In that era my folks had a creaky old record player and a cabinet full of 78RPM records, including a few by Spike. His best known spoof song is probably “Cocktails for Two.” Note that the linked YouTube item is not a video of Spike and his band performing the song. It’s a sort of primordial music video, with Spike playing a bartender with many of the sound effects done by tipsy men at the bar. I’m sure sophisticates will roll their eyes, but when I was six I thought the song was hilarious.

So when I went looking for Spike’s version of “It’s Christmas Time” on YouTube, what I found is a cut from Spike’s Christmas album—and on this cut at least, Spike himself is notably absent. The song is played straight, with no silly sound effects, but rather a nice choir and lots of harmony. I imagine it’s Spike’s City Slickers band playing in the background. There’s a little bit of goofiness in some of the other cuts from that album, but for the most part it’s just Fifties Big Band vocals playing Christmas standards. Several are on YouTube; listen to a few if you’re interested.

I have to wonder what Spike thought of rock and roll, and what he might have done with it (or to it, more likely) had he not smoked himself to death at 53. He wasn’t a filker (like Bob Rivers of Twisted Christmas) and I wonder if he had imitators. If he did, I’ve never heard of them.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for reading me in whatever form, and putting up with my occasional Spike Jones-ish metaphors like the Base Four Martians in my assembly language book. Have a fun Christmas, with good food, good wine, good friends, good music (even if it’s a little goofy in spots) and an occasional glance to the heavens, and a word of thanks to God, who gave us the ability to laugh and be silly as we make our way through His beautiful and extravagant creation!


  1. I’ve always loved Spike Jones…but then, most of the other music I love is from that same era: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, etc.

    I would have thought that Spike’s most famous recording would be either “The William Tell Overture” (with Doodles Weaver announcing the horse race in the last half) or “You Always Hurt The One You Love” (which Scott Hamilton famously skated an exhibition to at the 1984 Winter Olympics).

  2. Lee Hart says:

    I too am a fan of Spike Jones. Hearing his songs always makes me smile. I would have guessed his most famous song was “Der Furher’s Face”, but I ain’t no kind-of-sewer of grate musak.

    Happy holidays, one and all!

  3. RH in CT says:

    Nothing like Spike Jones, but PDQ Bach’s Consort of Christmas Carols certainly deserves recognition. One copy on youtube: Originally on the album “Portrait of PDQ Bach”.

  4. Bill Buhler says:

    Ah! Spike Jones, I was introduced to him by a program on the local college classical music station when I was in my early teens (around ’92). My brothers and I loved it, particularly his version of Carmen murdered, singing the female parts in falsetto and going back and forth with each other. His Pal-yat-chi routine was also fun to sing along with:

    I hope you had a great Christmas, and thanks so much for the laughs / walk down memory lane.

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