June Christy: “The Merriest”
Although June Christy has not been remembered with the same clarity as some of the other great female jazz vocalists of her era — say, Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday — she was among the leading lights of the “vocal cool” singers. She is known for juxtaposing the light and skittering vocals of that jazz style with moodier subject matter than her persona might have you expecting. When she decided to record a Christmas album in 1961, titled This Time of Year, she opted not to record her own versions of the same Christmas standards that time and again were recorded by other singers. Instead, she recorded a selection of new songs written for her as a winter concept album–not always exactly Christmas songs, and not always so merry.
You can see that just by looking at some of the titles: “Seven Shades of Snow,” “Winter’s Got Spring Up Its Sleeve,” and “Sorry to See You Go.” Not necessarily your standard “fa la la la la”-type Christmas ditties. But there was one that is more typically upbeat and that has become a Christmas jazz standard: “The Merriest.” It has been given new life in recent years thanks to its inclusion in the Christmas Cocktails series some years back, which features lounge-a-licious arrangements of Christmas classics by well-known and less-known singers/crooners from the best of the Rat Pack years. But even without that help, I think it would still be getting play on the best streaming Christmas stations. It’s a swinging number that makes a nice companion to Kay Starr’s “The Man with the Bag,” which I featured at this time last year. Christy’s husky tones give the song a potency often missing from your typical Christmas carol, and the jumping melody line wiggles its way into your brain with ease — original or not, this song will become a classic in your own mind simply based on the number of times you find it running through your head after hearing it. I love the rhymes that it features to rhyme with “merriest”: “cherriest,” “ordinariest,” “debonairiest,” and “compariest”! And a glance at the lyrics show that while upbeat, it hasn’t forgotten the downbeat:
Sun for the mopers
A laugh for the criers
Luck for the hopers
To the strange and the ordinariest
Me to you, the Merriest!
It will certainly do its own little part in making your holiday the merriest it can be — and that reminds me: “Merry Christmas!”