Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I’m going to take a look at “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” a beloved holiday classic that children everywhere especially enjoy in their joyous anticipation of the man in the big red suit coming to visit. The song was written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie. It was first performed on the radio show of Eddie Cantor in November of the same year. In Cantor’s original performance of the song he actually added additional lyrics to the song that encouraged people listening to be more charitable and help those in need since it was at the height of The Great Depression.

Despite the financial hardship of the country, listeners went crazy buying it, as over 30,000 records of it were sold in 24 hours (the equivalent of 4.5 million streams today). Over 200 artists have recorded their own version of it, although my first memory of the song is hearing it in the 1970 Rankin-Bass television show Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Great show that I recommend!

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Frank Sinatra

One of the more popular early recordings, being no surprise at all with Frank Sinatra. It’s also my favorite version of the song, as it’s classy, festive and features Sinatra at his best vocally. He adds a real liveliness to the performance with his version, as I think both young and old listeners can find something to enjoy about it. Plus the horns sound great.

It’s funny how I find Michael Bublé’s regular pop songs to be vanilla and boring, yet come Christmastime I thoroughly enjoy his takes on Christmas songs. Perhaps it’s his throwback style that is similar to the holiday standards people are used to that makes his version of this song so enjoyable for myself and others.

One of the simplest versions of the song you’ll hear, but quite effective nonetheless. Crosby’s stoic voice combined with the harmonies of The Andrews Sisters sound great together. It’s a jovial and bouncy performance I enjoy.

I love the opening to this song, as it sets the scene for the song perfectly. Then you get to the performance, which is fun and energetic. The secret sauce to this sounding so great is the thumping drums that drive the song. It’s refreshing in a world today filled with drum machines.

Of course I enjoy the queen of country music’s version of this yuletide classic. It’s Dolly! She delivers a fantastic performance as she usually does and there’s fiddles. Why wouldn’t I enjoy this?!

Bah Humbug!

This is the most popular version and also my most hated version. Perhaps it’s because I find Springstreen to be overrated. But also I find it hard to enjoy someone who sounds like they’re drunkenly screaming their way through the performance. It’s no more enjoyable to hear The Boss to put on this type of performance than the drunk at karaoke night at your local bar. It’s just so loud and annoying and by the end of the song I have a headache. As I’ve said on this blog before, popularity does not equate to quality.

Remember how I said in the previous version of this feature that the Jackson 5 are hit and miss with me in regards to their Christmas performances? Well this one is a miss. Just like Springsteen, a young Michael Jackson screams through this and it gets annoying fast. I guess it’s more understandable from a child, but no less forgiving on the ears.

I enjoy most of Carey’s versions of Christmas songs, but I find her cover of this song to be quite forgettable in comparison to her other Christmas performances. Her vocals are buried in the obnoxious production, which is too over the top for my liking. The lullaby-like introduction is also weird and off-putting.

No, no, no! This is so slick and doesn’t even feel like Christmas. Why must modern artists ruin Christmas songs so much? This version deservers a nice, big lump of coal!

One thought on “Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

  1. dennisjames62 December 19, 2019 / 2:38 pm

    I agree with you for the most part Josh. Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby have the best versions of this song, while others have disappointed. I am not a big fan of the Carpenters version just because it seems over produced, and would have been better with just Karen and a few acoustic instruments. Too bad we will never hear her sing it that way. Also don’t forget Harry Reser and Tom Stacks did a very nice rendition of this classic song “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

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