The animated Holiday special was a relatively new phenomenon by 1964. In fact, the first successful one–in terms of ratings–had come only two yers earlier, with Mr. Magoo’s Chistmas Carol, which had a full song score, and got good ratings for NBC and for its sponsors.
In 1964, the big animated holiday special was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, inspired by the Johnny Marks song, which had already been a big hit or Gene Autry (Columbia 38610) back in 1949 – which had become a nice annuity or Mr. Marks and his family.
Johnny Marks had writen a full song-sore for he special, which was sponsored over NBC by General Electric, pushing their newfangled “toaster oven”. The jewel of the score was “A Holly Jolly Christmas”, which got as much push as anything that year.
The November 22nd, 1964 issue of Billboard, in their ‘review’ secition, made Decca 31695, A Holly Jolly Chrismas “as sung by Burl Ives”, a “spotlight pick”. The Ediors must have thought this would add another to the string of hit records that Burl Ives had already cut for Decca..
This erstwhile folk singer, who had been known in the late 1940’s as ‘The Wayfaring Stranger”, had shown an ability to sell to both adult and teenage audiences, with a string of Nashville-produced item, such as “Little Bitty Tear”, ‘Funny Way Of Laughing’, snd “Call Me Mr. In-Between”.
Decca Records promoted the holiday disc, along with At Last One Another, with a two-page ad in the next issue of Billboard. The record was not a hit at the time–but his studio version of Johnny Marks’ latest yuletide ditty, is the one that is heard in every other department store and restaurant, during the period between Black Friday and New Years Day. The song-as peformed by Burl Ives–has become beloved. It’s also another annuity for the Johnny Marks estate.
We should note – beating the famed Burl Ives recording to the record stores by a few months – was this November 1964 release of the tune by The Quinto Sisters.
While we are at it, the only other notable cover of the song during its inaugural decade was by the infamous Arthur Godfrey in 1967.
For more about Rankin-Bass’ Rudolph on records – read this 2014 post by Greg Ehrbar. In the meantime: Happy Holiday’s everyone! (Yes, I know its only May, but what the hey… )