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.
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 Special” just 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.
My 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.”