I didn’t recall knowing Frank Sinatra’s classic “The Christmas Waltz” as a kid — my parents didn’t own his first full Christmas album, 1957’s A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, and for some reason if I heard it on the radio it didn’t make too much of an impact on me. But the more I’ve heard it over the years, the more that its gentle waltz tempo (natch!) and beautiful melody has wormed its way into my brain’s Christmas must-hear list. And “must-have” too: this song was the primary reason that I bought the album a few years back, and I’m glad I finally did — it’s a thoroughly excellent Christmas listen all the way through, which many people would have of course told me years ago if I’d only have thought to ask.
As for the song’s back story: “The Christmas Waltz” was written for Sinatra by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1954 in response to a request from Frank that he wanted a Christmas song. He had already released a version of “White Christmas,” but that was a cover of a song that had already been a hit for Bing Crosby in the early ’40s. He wanted one of his own, and Cahn and Styne, one of the more successful songwriting teams of that era, were up to the task: they had written the Christmas classic, “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” back in 1945. So write one they did, and “The Christmas Waltz” was released as the B-side to a new version of “White Christmas” that Sinatra recorded for A Jolly Christmas from…, chalking up another classic to be heard again and again for decades of holiday seasons to come.
If I have one gripe about the recording, it’s the somewhat lame-sounding “Merry Christmas!” that Frank intones at the song’s end: it doesn’t help him any to hear his comparatively nasal-sounding speaking voice right after his amazingly smooth singing voice, plus, to be frank (ba dum bum), it doesn’t sound like a very sincere “Merry Christmas!” It sounds more like Frank was acquiescing to a suggestion by his producer, and didn’t really put a lot of heart into the effort. But it’s a minor quibble — and for anyone who feels the same, there’s an alternate version on newer versions of the album that leaves that part off (in addition to having a somewhat more sparse orchestral arrangement). Either way, though, it’s a gorgeous song that always gets me picturing the white Christmases of my Northeast childhood.