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Christmas Music Guru
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Date Posted:05/26/2013 05:00:14Copy HTML



 


One of the goals I had in mind when I first created this In the Spotlight series back in 2009 was to bring attention to Christmas music by a number of recording artists whose Christmas music was either under-appreciated, underrated, or even worse, just sadly forgotten altogether. And therein lies the mission of this particular In the Spotlight tribute.

The artist is Joni James, and the album is her 1956 MGM Records Christmas LP, Merry Christmas From Joni.

In all the years since this message board was created back in 2005, I have never once been asked a question about her or her Christmas album; in fact, her name has never even been mentioned in any post, on any thread -- with the one exception, of course, being my thread where I posted my all-time Top 500, where her album resides in the 2nd Tier, coming in at #146.

Joni had a relatively brief career which started in 1952 and lasted until 1964, when she prematurely retired from the music business to care for her ailing husband, arranger-composer-conductor Tony Acquaviva. However, in that brief career, she had over half a dozen Top 10 hits (including a #1, "Why Don't You Believe Me") and recorded over two dozen albums. Her sudden departure from the music scene while still in her prime is no doubt one of the contributing factors to the unfamiliarity that younger folks have of her today.

Joni's 1956 Christmas LP was first released on CD in Japan in 1992 (although, Amazon incorrectly shows it as being released in 1999, click here) and then in the U.S. on CD in 1995 (click here). Sadly, both CD releases are now out-of-print; however, new and used copies of both are available on Amazon. In addition, a download of the album is currently available on Amazon as well (click here).

The songs that I chose to spotlight for this In The Spotlight tribute are the two original Christmas songs on the album: "Nina-Non" and "Christmas And You." These two songs were actually recorded and released together on a 45-rpm single in 1953 -- three years before the 1956 LP. They are the first two Christmas songs that Joni ever recorded, and I believe they are her very best. In fact, "Nina-Non" was a Top 30 hit for Joni on the Billboard charts, reaching a peak position of #27 on December 26, 1953.


 Click Here ~ "Nina-Non"


Click Here ~ "Christmas And You"



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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/26/2013 02:15:37Copy HTML

Thanks for Spotlighting Joni James Chip,

I had forgotten that she had a Christmas album, but I think it has to do with not being played on the radio over the years.  I am sure I've seen in in your Top 300, but it didn't jog my memory.  I just purchased one from eBay and I hope it is in playable condition as it is listed as VG, but I've seen/heard VG with skips and a lot of scratches.

But if it doesn't skip, I can edit out the scratches with software when I copy the album to my computer.  The Jacket appears to be in excellent condition.

There are many other artists that I have heard but don't always remember them and it takes something like this Spotlight to jog my memory.  I always loved her version of "Little Things Mean A Lot" and "How Important Can It Be?"
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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/27/2013 06:25:17Copy HTML


My pleasure, Susan. Glad to hear that you picked up a copy of the album.

And yes, those two songs by Joni that you mentioned are great; particularly, How Important Can It Be. It's got a great rhythm to it.





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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/27/2013 02:42:42Copy HTML

Thanks again Chip,

I know being the year that this album came out that it is MONO, but were there any "True Stereo" recordings of the songs from this album?  I know that MGM often will add a "e" to the catalog number for Simulated Stereo, which I don't care for.  It is still a MONO recording.  I'm guessing the OOP CD's are Simulated Stereo too, but they probably state "Stereo" on them.

Thanks for the YouTube Clip.  I saw one of Joni singing on a Variety Show and was going to add it to my previous post, but I didn't want to detract from your Spotlight Post.

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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/27/2013 10:00:23Copy HTML


No Susan, the entire album was recorded in pure mono; MGM Records didn't start releasing stereo LPs until the latter part of 1958.

The prefix for the MGM 3000 series of mono LPs (which first began to be issued in 1953) was an "E," hence Joni James Christmas 1956 album which was catalog #E-3468. For the MGM 3000 series of stereo LPs (which first began to be issued in late 1958), the prefix began with an "SE."

As for the 1992 (Japanese) and 1995 (American) CD reissues of this album, no, they were not electronically enhanced for re-channeled (simulated) stereo; both CDs contain the album in its original mono form.


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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/28/2013 02:22:59Copy HTML

Thanks again Chip,

I believe you have mentioned this before about a specific cutting head or needle being invented, for doing Stereo records, but I believe it was in the late 1950's.  I don't remember the specific year, but I know it was after 1956.  I am not the expert, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any albums that were done in Stereo until late 1958.

Thanks for reminding me that MGM used SE in their catalog numbers for Stereo in late 1958.

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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/29/2013 07:16:45Copy HTML


Susan,

It was the introduction of the Westrex cutting head in 1958 that finally enabled the record companies to mass-produce Stereophonic vinyl discs and make the commercially available to the public for the first time. MGM Records acquired their first Westrex cutting head in mid-1958 and was releasing Stereo LPs to the marketplace by late 1958.

By the way, several of the major record companies (including Columbia, RCA and Mercury) actually began recording selective sessions (usually instrumental music) in 2-track and 3-track Stereo as early as 1954. However, these early Stereo recordings were only available to the public (beginning in mid-1955) in the form of consumer-grade 2-track reel-to-reel Stereo tapes until 1958, when the Westrex cutting head was introduced and finally enabled the record companies to release previously recorded 2-track and 3-track Stereophonic recordings on vinyl LPs. In 1959, three-track Stereo recordings became the industry standard for the record companies.



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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/29/2013 03:28:07Copy HTML

Thanks for refreshing my memory Chip,

I do remember that Stereophonic sound was available, though it maybe wasn't referred to as that way, prior to when records were being released on Stereo.  I have a few 4-Track Stereo Reel-to-Reel tapes, but they are actually like a record album, with two sides, so even though there are 4 tracks on the tape, only 2 are being played at one time and then the tape recorder plays in reverse and plays the other two tracks.

I could never understand why the recording industry used the 3-track method for recording, when they have to mix the 3rd. track into 2 for Stereo.  I remember when I worked as a secretary for a Professional Sound Company, we had a 16 track mixing board, and would output it to 4 tracks for the final mix and then when the final tapes were done and sent to a record pressing company, they were converted to 2 tracks for Stereo.

8-Tracks tapes were similar to 4 tracks, but basically there were four rows on the tape where the 2 channel head would be on the tape and then the metal splice would move the head down to the next 2 tracks until the entire tape was played.

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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/30/2013 01:09:05Copy HTML


Susan,

The word "Stereophonic" actually dates back to 1927, when it was first introduced by Western Electric. However, the phenomenon of Stereophonic sound didn't really gain national prominence until its pervasive use in widescreen motion pictures beginning with the 1952 film, This Is Cinerama.

Other notable big-budget widescreen epic films made with Stereophonic sound that followed were The Robe (1953), Demetrius And The Gladiators (1954),
The King And I (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956), Around The World In 80 Days (1956), South Pacific (1958), Ben Hur (1959), How The West Was Won (1962), Cleopatra (1963), Camelot (1967), among many others.


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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/30/2013 05:02:19Copy HTML

Thanks Chip,

I wasn't aware that "Stereophonic" goes back to the 1920's.  I to remember something that you could look at 2 photographs with this hand held device and it made the 2 images look like they were, for lack of a better description, 3D, but I believe it was referred to as Stereoscope.  My Grandparents had such a device and looking at some of their very old pictures was interesting using this device.  The pictures were very thick and felt like cardboard.

I can't think of the movie, but I want to say it was Ethel Merman singing a song and there was the words "Stereophonic Sound", and each time she sang them, they made it echo.  I am not certain that it was Ethel Merman, but that is all I can think of right now.

I do realize that Stereo was used in the movies in the early 1950's, but I was very surprised to find that the movie "White Christmas" the music is in MONO according to IMDB.com  Under the Specs, it shows "MONO (Western Electric Recording)"  I know you can't trust everything on the Internet.  On my Blu-ray, it shows MONO also.  I can't find any information about the sound on my DVD of the movie, but you would think being this was filmed with a new technique VistaVision, where the film runs horizontal through the camera instead Anamorphic/vertical.
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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:05/31/2013 05:40:27Copy HTML


That is indeed correct, Susan: Stereoscope is the name for that device which you were alluding to in your post.

As for the 1954 motion picture White Christmas, unfortunately only monaural prints of the film still exist today. Sadly, the few stereo prints of the film that were made and released
to selective movie palaces and theaters across the country no longer exist. What's worse is that audio production elements that could have been used to assemble a complete stereo print of the film were lost in a fire, and all that remains is a hi-fi monaural music master.

And lastly, regarding the song that you were trying to think of, it's called Stereophonic Sound. It was written by Cole Porter for the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings and was sung in the movie by Janis Paige and Fred Astaire.





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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/01/2013 04:36:24Copy HTML

Chip,

Thanks for giving me the correct movie and singers of "Stereophonic Sound"  I've seen the movie when I was much much younger, and even while going through channels or heard the song one of those programs where they show highlights of different Classic Movies and this particular song was being shown from the movie, but I didn't remember the name of the movie or the artists.  It might have been "That's Entertainment", but that is just a guess right now, due to the lateness of the hour too.

To show you how my mind works, just now a movie with Betty Hutton popped into my head, The Song is "The Sewing Machine" from the Paramount Picture "The Perils of Pauline" 1947, but she was doing a scene, that may have been in a mill of some type and there were a lot of women using sewing machines and she started singing a song.  I'll try my best to remember the lyrics, but she also sang it with a Brooklyn Accent I believe it is referred to when someone says "Moider da bum in Joisey.  I don't know if I spelled it correctly or not.  But anyways, she is dancing and singing "A sewing machine a sewing machine. A girls best friend.  I don't remember the next verse, but part of another verse is "I wouldn't have time to woik" meaning Work.  Anyways, I can remember certain things, without having to look them up, but other things I have trouble with and also with the accuracy of them.

It's a shame that the Stereo prints of "White Christmas" no longer exist and the audio production elements that could have been used to create a Stereo print were lost in a fire.  I guess even if they tried to do simulated stereo, that would ruin the High Fidelity of the Monaural print.  It might have been possible if Rosemary Clooney wasn't under contract with Columbia Records.  I don't know off the top of my head what record label Danny Kaye was contracted with, but I do have his LP Hans Christian Anderson, but not immediately available to check what label it is on.

Thanks again for the clip, I haven't seen "Silk Stockings" in a very long time, but I do remember this scene.
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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/01/2013 09:45:55Copy HTML


Susan,

The clip of Stereophonic Sound was in 1994's That's Entertainment! III.

As for the 1954 motion picture White Christmas, there was Stereo enhanced version released on VHS (but I wouldn't recommend it):
Click here. And regarding Danny Kaye, he was primarily a Decca Records recording artist; however, he later recorded for Columbia, Capitol and London Records as well. His album Hans Christian Andersen was released by Decca Records in 1952; and then later reissued on Decca's successor label, MCA Records.

And lastly, yes, Betty Hutton's Sewing Machine song and routine from the 1947 motion picture The Perils Of Pauline is a classic. I loved Betty Hutton and I loved what Bob Hope used to call her: a vitamin pill with legs.





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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/01/2013 03:18:58Copy HTML

Thanks Chip,

As I mentioned, I'm not sure which record label my Hans Christian Anderson album is on because I don't have immediate access to it.  It could be the DECCA release, but I just can't say for sure.  I can sort of picture it in my mind, but can't focus in on the label.

I sort of got something right for a change, lol, I did think "Stereophonic Sound" was shown in "That's Entertainment!", but I didn't have that it was "That's Entertainment! III"

Yes, I remember Bob Hope referring to Betty Hutton as "A Vitamin Pill With Legs"  I really liked her  She died on what would have been my mother's 81st birthday.

I can't say for sure, but I believe I have seen all of the movies with Betty Hutton, but don't have time to go list all of them.  But 2 that come to mind are "The Greatest Show On Earth" and "Annie Get Your Gun" and of course the aforementioned "The Perils Of Pauline"  There are other's, obviously, but I don't have to look them up right now.


I wouldn't want the Stereo Enhanced version of "White Christmas" on VHS, not even for $1.65.  It just wouldn't be worth ruining the High Fidelity of the Monaural Soundtrack.

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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/01/2013 08:16:23Copy HTML


Yes Susan, they are the two movies that Betty Hutton is most famous for: Annie Get Your Gun which is by far her signature movie; and The Greatest Show On Earth which was directed by the great Cecil B. DeMille and won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The other two great movie triumphs in her career were
the hilarious The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek which was directed by the great Preston Sturges and the very delightful The Stork Club.


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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/04/2013 02:19:36Copy HTML

Chip,

My Merry Christmas From Joni arrived today, and for it's age, it was in better condition then the vendor described and I listened to it in it's entirety.  It is such a beautiful album.  It's hard to believe she was only 26 when this album was released.

Also, being a MONO release, the sound quality is excellent.  I am glad that I have added this album to my ever expanding collection.  Slowly but surely, lol.
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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:06/04/2013 05:22:44Copy HTML


Glad you are pleased with the album, Susan.


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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:07/04/2018 03:59:57Copy HTML


Hello Chip,

Once again your fantastic Top 500 playlist has brought to my attention another great gem from the Golden Age of Christmas, in this particular case a Christmas artist that you highlighted in your In The Spotlight thread noted above, the tremendously gifted and underrated Joni James.

Residing at number 146 on the Second Tier of your Top 500 is Joni James heartfelt and truly splendid "Merry Christmas From Joni" album. Interestingly enough, Joni's remarkable holiday album rests two notches below my other recent discovery on your Top 500, "Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas" album, which has recently become one of my very favorite female Christmas albums of all time with its stellar orchestral and choral arrangements by the legendary Ralph Carmichael.

I recently picked up the Taragon Records twofer CD issue of Joni's elegant Christmas album from 1956, paired with her absolutely lovely holiday album for Easter, "Give Us This Day." Both albums feature fantastic remastering with Joni herself overseeing the process, along with her personal sound engineer, Tom Perry, as well as a remastering engineer from the the famed Capital Records Tower Studios, Charles Paakkari. Wow, when an artist takes an active role in the reissue process, you can often get a quality product and this twofer CD has great liner notes and beautiful full page cover shots of the original albums. The back page has the beautiful full color artwork of her iconic "Merry Christmas From Joni" album on the back of the booklet so you can just flip it over and it will display on the front of the CD cover. 

I just love these fantastic full orchestral Christmas albums form the Golden Age of Christmas with some of the greatest vocalists of all time doing their greatest interpretation of some of the greatest secular and sacred Christmas material ever written, like Joni's splendid versions of "White Christmas," "O Holy Night," and "Ave Maria," which is actually a highlight on her gorgeous religious album that is part of this twofer collection. I also love the two original songs that you posted above that were actually her first attempts at holiday music.

I have a couple of questions for you, Chip. Firstly, I am wondering if you would consider her "Merry Christmas From Joni" album to be one of the very first full fledged efforts of an iconic full orchestral vocal album from a female artist that represents the truly iconic period of the Golden Age of Christmas music that really begin right around this time period? I cannot really think of another female artist of any magnitude, other than perhaps Kate Smith, that put together such a fully realized orchestral album that is sonically a masterpiece so to speak. I think even Kate Smith's greatest effort at this full orchestral sound would come later in the 1960's with her second Christmas album, which is obviously and deservedly one of the most beloved and revered Christmas albums in history.

Secondly, Chip, and this question is really an obscure one to ask you, but if anybody would know the answer to this question about Joni's fantastic Christmas album, I know it would be you. In Joni's great version of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)," Jodi changes the lyric in the refrain "So I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two" to "So I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-one." As another reviewer on amazon noted, this change from saying "ninety-one" instead of "ninety two" actually stops it from rhyming with the next line in the song that ends with "Merry Christmas to you," so she obviously did this lyric change for a reason and with purpose. I was wondering if she might have had a child around that age or something when she was recording the album as she even repeats the line that way twice.

Best regards,

Steve


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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:07/05/2018 02:50:49Copy HTML


Yes Steve, Kate Smith's greatest effort at a full orchestra backed Christmas album was her 2nd (and by far best) Christmas album from 1966, which comes in at #18 in my Top 500 -- and also happens to be the highest ranking female vocalist Christmas album in my entire collection.

But as to your question of what was the first full-fledged effort of an orchestral backed Christmas album by a female vocalist, the earliest were Jo Stafford's 1955 Christmas album (which was backed by hubby orchestra leader Paul Weston), Patti Page's 1955 Christmas album, and Gisele MacKenzie's 1957 Christmas alum. Even though Jo, Patti and Gisele's respective Christmas albums rank higher in my Top 500 than does Joni's album, Joni had a larger string section backing her up.

As for why Joni changed the lyrics in her version of "The Christmas Song," I've always though the change to be nothing more than poetic license on her part. Even though by changing the lyrics there's no rhyme anymore between the lines "And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two" and "Although it's been said many times many ways Merry Christmas to you," there is a new rhyme of sorts within that first line itself with "And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-one." It's cute, but probably not as effective as the original lyrics by Mel Tormé. But Joni's so gosh darn sweet, I'll cut her some slack on that one.



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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:07/05/2018 05:22:36Copy HTML


Oh man, Chip, I jusI love that Kate Smith Christmas album that Peter Matz arranged. Her huge range and powerful voice is just spectacular and was truly built to sing those amazing carols and songs. Because of consulting you, I was able to secure a hard to find copy of the original BMG version of that album with the original full cover art without that God awful blue border that they added when they re-released it as a CD-R.

I also love that fantastic Jo Stafford Christmas album that blends her first iconic Christmas album with her second winter inspired collection. Wow, her husband was a great orchestrator as well and her perfect pitch singing is phenomenal. I am so thankful for your historical knowledge on the history of these great albums as its next to impossible to sort all this out without your expertise.

I was absolutely amazed by that huge orchestra that is featured on Joni James very underrated and spectacular Christmas album. The sonics and quality of the recording on her album is amazing. I actually thought I was listening to a stereo CD for awhile and I kept researching and re-reading your great threads to make sure it was not. The velvet vocals and beautiful, but not overdone, reverb on her Christmas album reminds me very much of those great sonics that were captured at the Capitol Tower recordings of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra's best albums.

Yes indeed, I think you nailed it once again about Joni rewriting "From kids from one to ninety-two" to "Kids from one to ninety-one" as probably just her thinking it made more sense to rhyme it in the same sentence than the following one. I agree with you too that it probably sounds better as written, but nevertheless, I find it endearing that she personalizes it in her own her way. It makes it her song so to speak. She just seems like such a beautiful lady and the way that she quit the business to take care of her husband just impresses the heck out of me. My gosh, she is still alive too, if I recall right. What a lady!

Thanks again for all the great info, Chip, you are the man!

Steve
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Re:Joni James: Nina-Non & Christmas And You

Date Posted:07/05/2018 08:35:35Copy HTML


My pleasure, Steve; and yes, Joni definitely puts her unique and charming stamp on the song with that revised line.



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