ANIMATION SPIN
December 9, 2014 posted by

Rankin/Bass “Rudolph” on Records

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the landmark stop-motion animated TV musical, here is a look at the holiday soundtrack that’ll go down in history.

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Rankin/Bass Present
RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

Original TV Soundtrack & Music from the Videocraft Musical Spectacular
Decca Records DL-34327 (Simulated Stereo) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1964)
Vinyl Reissues: MCA-147 (1965), MCA-15003 (1980)
CD Reissue: MCAD-22177 (1995)

Album Producer: Milt Gabler. TV Special Producer: Arthur Rankin, Jr. Co-Producer: Jules Bass. Director: Larry Roemer. Musical Directors: Maury Laws (Soundtrack), Herbert Rehbein (Studio Versions). Running Time: 37 minutes.

Voices: Burl Ives (Sam the Snowman); Billie Mae Richards (Rudolph); Paul Soles (Hermie); Stan Francis (Santa Claus); Janet Orenstein (Clarice).
Soundtrack Songs: “Overture/A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Jingle Jingle Jingle,” “We Are Santa’s Elves,” “There’s Always Tomorrow,” “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” “Silver and Gold,” “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.
Studio Instrumentals: “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “There’s Always Tomorrow,” “Jingle Jingle Jingle,” “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” “Silver and Gold,” “We Are Santa’s Elves,” “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year,” A Holly Jolly Christmas,” ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Christmas Medley (“The Night Before Christmas Song,” “A Merry, Merry Christmas,” “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Johnny Marks.

The longest-running holiday TV special ever created just turned 50 a few days ago and is still racking up the ratings (just as “The I Love Lucy Christmas Specialjust did to the surprise of none of its fans). No amount of high-end technology or budget could improve on the charm of the original “spectacular,” first seen on the NBC Fantasy Hour in 1964.

The details of the animated hour and its rich history is better told by Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt, author of several books including a Rudolph “making of” tome. The only non-audio comment to be made here is that the lettering font of this special, attributable to Production Designer Tony Peters, has become the go-to lettering almost everywhere you look during the holidays.

As a one-hour TV musical, Rudolph offers as many songs as most animated features, but being a compact 52 minutes or so, the bulk of its songs are short. So Decca only presents 16 minutes of soundtrack material on Side One, with 21 minutes of Herbert Rehbein’s instrumental versions (recorded in Hamburg, Germany) filling out the album.

Most Rankin/Bass soundtracks were released in their entirety on vinyl records, including The Hobbit, Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town and Frosty the Snowman. However, RCA Victor released an album of music from Cricket on the Hearth rather than the complete soundtrack—but the music was not only recorded so that it could stand alone, there were also selections created just for the album to lengthen its playing time. It would have been nice (and would still be nice) to have the whole soundtrack on one disc or download).

The original vinyl album was released in mono and stereo, but the stereo was not always genuine. You can hear full separation in the overture and other sections, but there are moments, such as in “Jingle Jingle Jingle” and “We’re a Couple of Misfits” in which the stereo cuts out when the characters sing. Having never heard the mono edition of the Decca album, I cannot say whether the music on that disc is free of any processing.

Rudolph_cd-275My guess is that, aside from the stereo parts (including Burl Ives’ vocals), most of the Side One was originally in mono. It was made to sound like stereo using a simple technique by which a single mono recording is duplicated, one mono track is placed on the left channel and another mono track is placed—slightly out of sync—on the right channel. It’s like 3-D. The two recordings are out of sync just enough so that your ears put them together and they sound stereophonic. This was the way the sound effects tracks were done on the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack album. On the Rudolph album, you can tell the vocals for “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” are quickly bounding from one channel to the other if you listen carefully.

One of the most renowned names on the Rudolph soundtrack album is that of the record producer: Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Milt Gabler. Billy Crystal has written and spoken extensively about visiting jazz recording sessions helmed by his Uncle Milt, and watching legends at the microphone. Among Gabler’s many milestones was signing Bill Haley and the Comets to Decca, producing records for Peggy Lee, The Ink Spots, The Andrews Sisters and many others. Gabler’s involvement with the Rudolph album is likely connected to Side Two, because he also produced Bert Kaempfert records in Hamburg for Decca.

This is an easy-to-find album that is sold everywhere at holiday time, but I prefer the original cover to the less special–looking CD. The CD also programmed the “Christmas Medley” in a different place, probably so that two Rudolph tracks would not follow each other. The CD notes also omit Gabler’s name.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Overture & Christmas Medley from “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
The main title begins this selection, blending five songs from the TV special’s score. It’s followed by a medley from Side Two of the Decca album, featuring four previous Marks songs worked into the background music. You have to really listen for some of them, so I won’t spoil the fun, except to reveal the easiest one: “A Merry, Merry Christmas” is heard over the “Rankin/Bass Present” credit at the beginning. This song was also sung in an NBC animated special with Janet Waldo called “The Tiny Tree.”

10 Comments

  • Greg:
    It would have been nice if they had included the song “Fame and Fortune” on the soundtrack album,or added it as a bonus track on the CD issue! I guess the only ones to care about that would be the Rudolph completists.And i suppose I’m one of them,.but thanks for sharing! I’ve got the original version on VHS that included the rare footage in the program!

    • Hi Andy,
      “Fame and Fortune” was written and recorded to be on the rebroadcast of “Rudolph” because General Electric wanted to vary it in some way. CBS continued to show the “Fame and Fortune” version for many years until the restored version was establish (with Rick Goldschmidt’s input). So “Fame and Fortune” was either not available to Decca in 1964 or GE did not want it released to the public that early.

      Very often a piece of recorded music is not licensed to be used on a record or CD. In order to add it on, the record company has to pay fees that can’t be justified by potential sales. That’s why some soundtracks are reissued on CD or download at their original, relatively short, playing times. Adding anything on means adding on fees which could be very high.

      Yes, sometimes the powers that be (or the middling powers that be) don’t care and cannot see what the big deal is about such things, but they’re usually outnumbered by people with common sense who speak up for what consumers want. But unfortunately, not every situation is easy to solve. And there’s always a possibility, with the rapidly changing ways people buy music and need for content, even on previous releases, that the circumstances could change.

      In other words. there’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.

  • I have the CD and 8-track tape of this album. I love this album, but my only problem with it is that they rerecorded Burl Ives’ vocals for “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You can hear his original vocals for those 2 songs on the “Rudolph, Frosty and Friends” CD.

  • “No amount of high-end technology or budget could improve on the charm of the original “spectacular,””

    … but it didn’t stop them. The version currently circulating has had extensive digital cleanup, including removal of the wires and stands and stuff that were visible in the original version.

    I distinctly recall the first time it aired in HD, pre-cleanup, and all that stuff was obvious to the point of distraction. Man I wish I’d had the old DVHS machine rolling.

    I’ve also gotta mention the Quinto Sisters here. Their wonderful Christmas album, released in 1964, contained three original songs from the Rudolph special, including the “original hit” version of “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. Whether they actually recorded it before Burl Ives did is a subject of debate, but there’s no doubt that their 45 hit the stands a year before Burl’s did.
    http://www.quintosisters.com

  • I just checked my 2004 DVD copy of Rudolph and completely forgot about the bonus CD included. It was by some group called Destiny’s Child co-produced by someone named Beyonce Knowles. Sounds oddly familiar somehow. Oooh! It still has merchandise booklet! Mmmm. Brach’s marshmallow reindeers, drooool.

  • Although I own this on CD, I wasn’t aware of its release until about 2000. As I had never seen a copy on CD until then, I thought it wasn’t available because of the material on side 2 which was recorded for Deutsche Grammaphon (sp?). Since I had a Bert Kaempfert CD (from 1996) which was made by Polygram Special Products (Not DECCA/MCA the original issuers of the material), I thought that the Side 2 material, as with Bert Kaempfert’s recordings, had reverted to Polygram and therefore could not be issued by MCA. (I wonder how MCA could have hold of the Rudolph tracks but not the Bert Kaempfert recordings). In any case, I grabbed it as soon as I saw it on CD to replace my old mono vinyl copy.

  • A clarifying note to my previous post in that Polygram owned Deutsche Grammaphon at that time and was not affiliated with MCA until a recent merger.

  • An expanded Rudolph soundtrack with the background score sure would be nice. Surely the tapes still exist?!?

  • Side 2 of the album was pretty much the background music of the special as it also included other Johnny Marks Christmas tunes as part of the “Christmas Medley” which were songs not composed specifically for the special, while everything else (outside of the title song) was.

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