Christmas 2013 started out as a sad one for me. It had been a challenging year filled with job insecurity, financial struggles, family strife, the death of a friend and a broken relationship. Although always being a person who loves the holiday season and can find the magic in it no matter how old I am or where I’m at, I found myself in a dark depression, and when I woke up alone in a cold quiet apartment on Christmas morning, I couldn’t help but feel a feeling of disappointment in my heart where the holiday joy should be. Throwing on my house coat, I shuffled into my living space and instinctively grabbed a record from its crate and laid it on the turn table. I’d been pulling from the crate of Christmas vinyl I had pulled out the aptly named “Christmas Album” recorded by teen heart throb Bobby Sherman in 1970. As I drank my Christmas coffee, Bobby’s cheery voice began to fill the room:
“Sing a song of Christmas cheer
Sing it in the morning
Sing a song of Christmas cheer
Sing it through the night
Sing a song of Christmas cheer
Sing it on the mountain
Sing a song of Christmas cheer
Sing with all your might
I’m goin’ home, home
I’m goin’ home, home”
As I listened, I suddenly felt the urge to tell Bobby what I was thinking and feeling. A year or so before, when I was writing for Pop Culture Addict, I had exchanged some emails with him, and I knew I still had his address on file. I sat down at my computer, and I wrote him the following message:
“Dear Bobby Sherman,
So, it’s Christmas morning. I’m a single guy, never been married, have no family. Just a couple of cats and a huge record collection. This morning, I woke up alone, made my coffee and I’m not expected to be anywhere for Christmas celebrations for hours. So, in an attempt to have some sort of celebration I randomly put on a record, and its is the Christmas album you recorded. Soon I’ll be looking at all the social media posts of my all my friend’s holiday photos of their happy family celebrations. Its a moment when most people might feel so alone, but I’m sitting here listening to your music fill my home and it is bringing a sense of joy, warmth and happiness to my morning. Through the Christmas spirit you bring to the music I realized that I really felt loved and safe and secure, and the music of your Christmas album provided a soundscape for what is becoming a fine Christmas morning. It lifted my spirit, and it made me so happy.
I know you recorded that Christmas album another lifetime ago, but I just wanted to thank you for it, and to let you know that it still has a positive impact on people’s holiday enjoyment still today. Thank you, Bobby, for making my Christmas bright, and I’m sending all my love to your and your family and loved ones in 2013.
Did Bobby get my email? I don’t know. I never heard back from him. But its okay. Bobby Sherman had saved my Christmas.
That was ten years ago. Life has changed. I am now married, have a family, live in a happy home filled with love and laughter and still have the cats and large record collection. But ever since that day, Bobby Sherman’s “Christmas Album” is the first piece of vinyl I drop the needle on during Christmas Day. It has become a holiday tradition all its own.
I love Christmas, and I love Christmas music. But, with that said, I realize that the majority of Christmas music is dreadful. Often when someone records a Christmas album it comes off as banal and trite, with under produced canned music and an unenthusiastic performer who is simply phoning it in and trying to get it over with. But every once in a while, a true masterpiece of a holiday album gets released that reflects the true joy of the holiday. Bobby Sherman’s “Christmas Album” is one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of that caliber. Simply put, it is my favorite Christmas album ever recorded. Yes. Even more than Phil Spectors’ “A Christmas Gift for You.” There. I said it.
One of the best pop singers of the early 1970s, Bobby Sherman, with his big hair, bright smile and warm voice, was one of the greatest teen idols in the history of pop culture and, in all honesty, I’ve been a fan of his music for years. I find it fun, bright and well produced. But while his bubble-gum pop hits are delicious earworms on their own, his Christmas album is an extraordinary treasure. Filled with the brand of warmth and joy Bobby Sherman brings to everything he produced, the album is lively and playful while filled with thoughtful moments of sentimentality and emotional pause.
One of the things that makes the album so great is that while Bobby does a number of holiday favorites, including “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” (which contains the sassiest “Ho ho ho” ever recorded at its conclusion), “Christmas Album” is primarily filled with well written original songs which capture the spirit of the holiday while maintaining Bobby Sherman’s signature sound. Although none of them became embraced by the public and melded into the popular modern Christmas cannon, I feel they probably should have been. I think during the holidays we need a little less Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey, and a little more Bobby Sherman.
It’s difficult to not write about all of these great original songs in great detail, but in them bravely attempts to take on different genres and styles with surprising success. “Christmas on Her Mind” is a reflective Glen Campbell sounding country song, while “Christmas Wish” is Bobby’s attempt at doing a holiday torch song. “Amen” has Bobby doing an old-fashioned spiritual, and “Yesterday’s Christmas” has Bobby reflecting about the Christmas of his past while celebrating the holiday of his present in a moody narrative reflective of Johnny Cash’s “Christmas as I Knew It.”
Then there is “Christmas Is (Make it Sweet)” which has Bobby singing a pretty song of celebration with two wobbly voiced young boys, David and Shawn. This track had the potential to be a disaster, but with Bobby’s warm delivery and the gentle and good-natured patter between Bobby and the boys the recording is actually really endearing. David and Shawn are not professional singers, and their voices are cracked, flawed and they miss a cue and blotch a note here and there. But I think that if the producers tried to iron out these flaws, the track would have become disgustingly saccharine. I usually don’t like the sound of tone-deaf kids recording anything, but I find this track honestly irresistible, which probes that it has its own kind of Christmas magic in it. Its very human and very real and has the ability to warm the heart of the most cynical of music hipsters.
Meanwhile, the biggest bubble-gum moment on the album is “Love’s What You’re Getting for Christmas.” This song is pure uncut Bobby Sherman in its purest form. It’s all of Bobby Sherman’s hits saturated in holiday sweetness and was the single from the album that I’ve heard out in the wild beyond my own stereo during the holiday season on rare occasions, which probably makes it the best remembered original song from the album. But I’ll admit that it is probably my lest favorite song on the album. While the album seems to have a surprisingly amount of maturity within it, this is pure kid’s stuff. If the producers were pushing things at all, this is the one song where they go over the top and begin to lay on the holiday sweetness way to thick.
But the best song on the album is, without a doubt “Goin’ Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer).” This was the single released on the album, with the B side being “Love’s What You’re Getting for Christmas.” However, for some ridiculous reason some albums listed the song as “Prologue” which made it a big confusing for listeners and could potentially be the reason why the B-side has gotten more attention. Now I’ll officially say it here. If I had to pick one Christmas song written in the last 100 years as my all time favorite, it’d be “Goin’ Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer).” Yes. Even more than “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “The Christmas Song.” There. I said that too.
Truth is, I’ve loved “Going Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer)” long before I ever heard this album. When I was in high school, I started programming at the local radio station in Peterborough (Trent Radio CFFF-FM) and I found a CD in their archive titled “TV Family Christmas.” It was a compilation of Christmas deep cuts featuring stars from vintage TV series including Howdy Doody, Danny Thomas, The Monkees, The Partridge Family, the cast of Bonanza and so forth. Although I was a depressed teenager with cynicism burning on his lounge who was obsessed with The Doors and David Bowie, this CD was pop culture gold, and I recognized the best track on the CD was, without a doubt, “Goin’ Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer).” It took my over dramatic teenage heart and made it grow three sizes larger. I basically ignore CDs and don’t believe they are at all collectable, but “TV Family Christmas” is one of only a few CDs I have ever gone out searching for, and one of the very few I’ve kept over the years.
Written by Tom Bahler, who was a member of Capital Records house vocal group The Ron Hinklin Singers, and one of the founders of the LA based pop group The Love Generation, which provided the original sound for The Partridge Family, “Goin’ Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer)” is the upbeat and high spirited declaration of excitement for the holidays sung by a man who is traveling home from where he came from for family festivities. Halfway through the song he slows it down and breaks into a meaningful verse of “Silent Night” before launching back into the poppy horn section and continues on his journey. It’s not deep nor profound, but its full of joy, full of life and a powerful Christmas banger. It even has a good beat and is easy to dance to (I give it a 9.8, Dick). It’s the right combination of high energy bubble-gum pop, sentimentality and Christmas spirit and probably best reflects the way I feel about the holiday season in music.
But the other thing I love about the Bobby Sherman Christmas Album is that it never tries to be anything but what it is. Bobby Sherman knew he was a bubble gum act, and he knew who his audience was. He knew he wasn’t creating high spiritual art, but he also seems to care enough about final result of his product to make it sound really great. As a result, Bobby Sherman does what he does without a hint of pretention and with a complete sense of good-natured sincerity. This is what makes Bobby Sherman great in all of his pop hits, but it really shines through on the final track of “Christmas Album” when Bobby takes a crack at Beethoven’s “Song of Joy.” With lyrics written by Ross Parker and a soaring arrangement by Waldo Des Los Rios, Bobby’s does the best he can at it in what is possibly his strangest recording of his career. Honestly, whoever thought this would be a good idea was either an idiot or a genius and, while it could have gone very very wrong, Bobby Sherman once again creates Christmas miracles by making it work for him. Look, this is Bobby Sherman. He’s not Andrea Bocelli. He is not a classically trained singer. He’s a teen heartthrob with a big smile, a great head of hair and a likeable non offensive voice. He doesn’t hit all the notes and it’s a bit wobbly at times. But Bobby’s recording of “Song of Joy” is honest and it has heart which makes it beautiful in its own way.
This year I found the ultimate Christmas gift when I discovered a video of Bobby Sherman from the Ed Sullivan Christmas Broadcast performing both “Goin’ Home (Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer)” and “Song of Joy.” I never knew this performance even existed, but its Bobby Sherman at his coolest singing the two best tracks on this beloved album. Its pure Christmas magic.
But let me give you one more piece of history about Bobby Sherman’s “Christmas Album.” Take a look at the cover, which contains an image of Bobby’s face looking through a Christmas wreath. I’ve never felt it was the most inspired album cover of all time, even by Bobby Sherman standards. But don’t underestimate it. The cover was designed by Craig Braun who was the mastermind behind the designs for two of the most famous albums covers of all time – The Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” featuring Andy Warhol’s now iconic banana, and The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Finger” with that provocative zipper. If that doesn’t give Bobby Sherman’s “Christmas Album” a little bit more rock n’ roll cred, I don’t know what ever will.
Christmas music is not everybody’s bag, but if you swim through the muck, you will find those gems in every pile of seasonal album. No matter how you spend your holidays, and what you celebrate and believe, even if you choose not to believe, I want to wish a Happy Holiday to your household from my household. May 2024 be full of music, joy and filled with vinyl. But let’s give the final word to Bobby Sherman, and the wisdom he gives to David and Shawn at the conclusion of “Christmas Is (Make it Sweet)”:
“If we remember that all gifts we give are given in love, we’ll have a very Merry Christmas. Peace.”