A Laineful Yuletide

When I think of Christmas, I think of love—God’s love when He bestowed a great gift upon the earth—His Son. I include the love of family, home, and livelihood. Christmas is a time for love. Music is the best way to express all this Christmas love.

Christmas Music

Someone once asked Frankie Laine why he had never recorded a Christmas album like several of his contemporaries had. Frankie’s reply was that he indeed had in the form of both a spiritual album and an inspirational album.

I am certain that Frankie had meant that since Christmas is about God and our Lord, those two albums fit the bill, nicely.

My opinion on the matter is that Frankie was never given the right type of Christmas material to record. Frankie was a distinct singer with a unique talent. His style demanded a specialized class of material. Frankie just didn’t sing the lyrics off of the sheet music—he used passion and emotion to interpret what he sang. Knowing this, I just couldn’t imagine Frankie singing “Silver Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” or “Happy Holidays.”

Of course, Frankie was too classy to attempt to record “covers” of songs made popular by his peers. Why attempt to record “The Christmas Song” when Nat Cole had already made it his own? The same goes for several other recording artists’ hits, including Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or Dean Martin’s rendition of “A Marshmallow World.”

Frankie did record a few Christmas songs, released as singles, and he made them his own. They perfectly suited his voice and style: “You’re All I Want for Christmas” and “Tara, Talara, Tala” in 1948—“What Am I Going to Do this Christmas?” and “Merry Christmas Everywhere” in 1950. It is interesting to note that each one of these songs is unique and each stands up to the specialized interpretation that only Frankie Laine could provide. “Tara, Talara, Tala” is more like a lullaby than a Christmas song, but fits either purpose. “Merry Christmas Everywhere” was a message to kids around the world during the Korean War. There just weren’t enough of these gems to make up an entire Christmas album.

In 1952, during Frankie’s string of recorded duets with Jo Stafford, the two recorded “Christmas Roses.” This song is definitely joyful and packed with Christmas cheer.

It was always interesting to me to have one of my Laine favorites, “Snow in Lover’s Lane,” recorded in 1952, most times associated with being a Christmas song. I guess it is as much of a Christmas song as “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells.”

Frankie’s spiritual album Frankie Laine and the Four Lads, recorded in 1954, has always been a favorite of mine. I agree with Frankie: It is very fitting to play this album at Christmas. The same goes for his 1965 inspirational album release I Believe.

I will now segue to Frankie’s 1953 best-selling recording—“I Believe.” This song exemplifies the true meaning of Christmas. Frankie always equated the song as being like a prayer. When I conducted my first interview on audiotape with Frankie in 1985, I asked Frankie to name which inspirational song, among all he’d recorded, was his favorite: “I think I’d have to say ‘I Believe’ would be the top. It was the top for ever so long until 1968 when Marty Robbins wrote ‘Lord, You Gave Me a Mountain’ for me. Slowly, that has come to mean as much to me as ‘I Believe.’ I’d have to say they are my two favorite inspirational songs now.”

Besides the 1948 and 1950 Christmas singles recorded by Frankie, he did record and release another: “(My First) Merry Christmas Without You” in 1987.

There were a couple of Christmas CDs released later in Frankie’s career. These have become favorites of mine. The first CD is actually another single, as there are but two songs. Frankie Laine teamed up with the Salvation Army Kids Singers in 1997 and recorded “When You Hear the Bells” and “The Power of Music.” Frankie worked tirelessly devoting special time to these kids to help them purchase musical instruments. This collaboration has true meaning because it interconnects the kids with their benefactor to create a musical work of art.

The other CD, Christmas Wishin’, from 2001, is actually an album comprised of both old and newer releases from Frankie’s career. I love this, because for the first time, the early Christmas singles are available in a digital format and part of an album with his other Christmas-related songs.

Frankie’s Christmas Gift

Frankie gave us all great music. This is his gift. For Christmastime, he gave us recordings from his heart. His few Christmas songs are special because they reflect his unique style. We wish there were more Christmas songs by Frankie, but we do have the inspirational and spiritual recordings he made. These songs really do exemplify the true meaning of Christmas.

Sadly, Frankie is gone now, but definitely not forgotten. We remember him just like we remember all of the singers who are no longer living. We hear them sing their Christmas classics during this special season of love: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Vaughn Monroe, Perry Como, Eartha Kitt, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Jimmy Boyd, Karen Carpenter, and the list goes on.

The world becomes a better place when we can relax and listen to our favorite music—especially Christmas music at Christmastime. Although Frankie didn’t record a lot of Christmas music, he did record several songs that inspire the listener to a greater good. And that is what Christmas is all about.

As I mentioned at the beginning, when I think of Christmas, I think of love—God’s love when He bestowed a great gift upon the earth—His Son.

And with this thought, just like Frankie sang—“I believe.”

 

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.