Holiday Music Countdown: Numbers 5 and 4, with waltzing and romancing

Another day clicks by and we draw ever nearer to Christmas — and to the end of the countdown of my favorite holiday songs. (Find previous holiday countdown posts here.)

5. The Christmas Waltz (Nancy Wilson)

“The Christmas Waltz” is another beautiful song that not a lot of artists seem to take on. I can’t figure out why — unless the waltziness of it frightens them. It is indeed a waltz, “in three-quarter time” as the lyrics say. How lovely and timeless those lyrics are:

Frosted window panes,
Candles gleaming inside,
Painted candy canes on the tree.
Santa’s on his way.
He’s filled his sleigh
With things,
Things for you and for me.

It’s that time of year
When the world falls in love.
Ev’ry song you hear seems to say,
“Merry Christmas.
May your New Year dreams come true.”

And this song of mine
In three-quarter time
Wishes you and yours
The same thing too.

Frank Sinatra recorded a stellar version of this, and if you know the song you probably know it from him.

I prefer Nancy Wilson‘s interpretation. (Of course I don’t mean Nancy Wilson of the band Heart. I mean the song stylist, “Fancy Miss Nancy.”) You can find it on Ultra-Lounge’s Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails, Pt. 2. Nancy’s version sticks to the waltz tempo a bit more, so one could dance to it if one wanted. I’m content to sit and listen to how her warm voice and crisp delivery capture the song perfectly.

4. Baby It’s Cold Outside (Dean Martin, Brian Setzer and Ann-Margaret)

Why do I like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” so much? There are many reasons not to like it. It’s quite retrograde: Who today would say “there’s bound to be talk tomorrow,” “neighbors might think,” or especially “my maiden aunt’s mind is vicious”? One friend of mine called it “the date-rape song” because of the line “hey, what’s in this drink?” There’s talk of smoking, too. This is not a politically correct song in our enlightened times.

But I do love it. It’s a mini-musical of courtship. I love its flirtiness (“your eyes are like starlight now”). And it’s funny and sharp. “Think of my lifelong sorrow … if you caught pneumonia and died!” I know I’d laugh, and then I’d stay for at least a few minutes more.

Here’s the song’s original movie performance, from 1949’s Neptune’s Daughter. Yes, that’s Ricardo Montalb├ín serenading Esther Williams. Dig his swanky apartment with panoramic view and built-in, well-stocked bar, and her nifty fur cape.

UPDATE: The clip is no longer available, I’m sad to say. You can see a snippet of the number in the trailer for Neptune’s Daughter, along with a parallel version by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett from the same movie.

For recorded versions of this song, I’ve always liked Dean Martin’s, mostly because he’s such a smooth-talking charmer. The song fits his persona to a ‘t.’ The girl in the recording is nameless, just some studio singer. The way the song is produced she sounds like a chrous of girls, a whole roomful of long-stemmed babes that Dean is trying to date at one time — and apparently succeeding with.

An alternative is provided by the version with Ann-Margaret and Al Hirt. (Find it on Yule B Swinging Too.) Ann-Margaret is in full-on kitten mode, purring at Hirt’s velvety seductions. They’re not sparring at all; they’re both looking for ways for her to explain why she’s clearly not leaving.

And then there’s the Brian Setzer duet with Ann-Margaret on Boogie Woogie Christmas. I’ve come to like this one best. Ann-Margaret is a whole lot sassier and no less sexy, and Setzer is awfully ardent and persuasive. Who’d want to go out in the cold and leave behind someone so warm?