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Andy Williams - Merry Christmas

1965's 'Merry Christmas' was Andy Williams second seasonally themed LP and the good times were showing no evidence of flagging. The album came 2 years after his first effort and while it didn't contain anything as game changing as 'The Most Wonderful Time of The Year' this album more than matched 'The Andy Williams Christmas Album' in offering genuine Christmas thrills. As you expect from an Andy Williams' Christmas album the production, by Robert Mersey, was lush with each one of the 12 tracks laden with strings and other orchestral devices to bolster that velvet croon of his.

Things couldn't have gotten off to a better start than with 'Sleigh Ride', that despite appearing on countless other albums just sounds ecstatic when given the Andy Williams treatment. At just over 2 minutes long it whizzes past with the efficiently of Santa Claus on his way to that first chimney. 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' starts off with the sounds of a wind up musical box, it's a nice touch that sets up the rest of the song as it settles into a groove of piano tickles, female backing cooing and that genuinely affecting Williams' voice.

'Merry Christmas' wasn't without its odd selections, most pertinently on 'My Favourite Things' which was a cover taken from the Sound of Music soundtrack. In the end and in the context of the songs that surrounded it 'My Favourite Things' fits in perfectly. Such was its success that it quickly became a seasonal favourite for other artists such as the Supremes who used it to great effect on their own Christmas album (also called 'Merry Christmas').

While it might not match Dean Martin's original 'Let It Snow' (minus two let it snows!) still has a heavenly glow, an elaborate swing and offers up an excellent alternative to the definitive version. The backing singers are worth the admission price alone and give 'Let It Snow' a uniquely traditional feel. 'Christmas Holiday' was one of several originals on 'Merry Christmas' and feature Williams' in particularly ebullient form. All around him there is fantastic array of musical devices and vocal backdrops to give the song the feel of a brightly coloured amusement park covered in a thick layer of lumunious snow. It proves to be a wonderful end to Side One (in vinyl speak!).

Things go much quieter as Side Two opens with the reflective hymn 'Some Children See Him'. And that number signals what was to follow as the brash excitement of the first half of 'Merry Christmas' is replaced with thoughtful renditions of 'Do You Hear What I Hear' (which features a little drummer boy on percussion) and 'Silver Bells'. The latter is particularly impressive, as much for the orchestral parts as Williams and his backing singers, offering a warm feeling that will always find an audience at this time of the year.

The longest song on 'Merry Christmas' is also its most hushed. At almost 5 minutes 'Little Altar Boy' never outstays its welcome and affords Williams the chance to showcase his vocals as the orchestral theatrics are kept to a minimum. Although not that well known 'Little Altar Boy' has been covered by plenty of well known artists including the Carpenters, Glen Campbell and Vic Dana. 'Mary's Little Boy Child' is certainly in keeping with the reverential mood of the second half of the album. Again Williams version is a complete triumph of minimalism, no special effects are needed when his voice soars towards the heavens. 'The Bells of St. Mary' closes 'Merry Christmas' in the best possible way as it builds to a crescendo of voices and the natural emotive energy dispelled by a chorus of bells.

Such was the popularity of 'Merry Christmas' that it charted every year in the Billboard charts from 1965 to 1970. It may have been bolstered by the Andy Williams Christmas specials that ran on TV over those years but listening in now, almost half a century later, it is hard not to marvel at the wonder in these recordings. When we talk about traditional Christmas albums, the ones that inform our impression of what a Christmas album should sound like, 'Merry Christmas' is up there with a handful of other classics. To date Andy Williams' 'Merry Christmas' has sold over 1 million copies in the US alone, marking it out as one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time.

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