Quite literally, a Christmas Carol…

When I was a kid, my parents owned this album of Christmas music that I could swear they got at a gas station. In fact, Terry Hehe’s Marathon Station on State Road 46 West in Columbus, Indiana (right where the Starbucks now sits) I believe is the exact location where he purchased gas and just for filling up…they threw in a Christmas album right along with the S & H Green Stamps they gave to their customers.

My dad was the freebie king and us kids who were in the back seat of the family Vista Cruiser would cringe when he would get in the car and say with pride, “Hey look what I got for free!” To my dad, it was great that someone had given him something free…but to we growing children in the car, we were mortified that someone would recognize us in the car and see our father brandishing this obviously cheap and “not cool” album around for everyone to see. We were such proud little punks…someone should have slapped our little butts and told us to “get over yourselves!”

When we got home, my dad didn’t toss it over to the pile of Catalogs and Western Auto circulars we got in the mail every Christmas. He walked into the house, unwrapped the cellophane from the album and carefully placed it on the record player in my brother’s room. Dad never took a kindness for granted and especially if it was a gift. Even though Terry Hehe may have given out 500 of those albums, Dad treated it like he was the only one who had been given this gift. He walked around the house saying, “Isn’t that just beautiful?” We would all roll our eyes, but especially my sister Terry and she would say, “yeah, sure dad…beautiful!”

When you looked at the album, you would know right away that it was some cheap record… probably recorded in some smoke filled back room by some huckster chewing a stogie and thinking about all the money he would make with this black market record stamped on the cover with Red and Gold. Even the name, “Goodyear Presents: “The Great Songs of Christmas” smacked the word, “cheap”. On the bottom of the front of the album was printed, “Columbia Special Products”. “Yeah,” I thought, “ It’s so special they give it away at gas stations!”

On the cover were 10 photographs and above the photos was the statement, “By Great Artists of our Time”. I wondered if any of these “Great Artists” even knew the little guy with the stogie in the smoke filled room had made an album with their music on it and if they were getting a piece of the action.

Nevertheless, night after night for 25 nights, my dad played that album much to our chagrin. And after Christmas was over, the album would go into a storage area for all the holiday stuff and was forgotten for another 11 months. Year after year, dad would drag that album out and play it non-stop ad nauseum until fruit cake came out our noses.

I grew up, and yes, I DID finally mature. I traveled, went out of the country for a while and was married. Every year when Christmas would roll around, like all families, we would go get a tree, put up lights, (sometimes…when I was threatened I would put up lights), and go shopping. Christmas music would fill the shopping centers and malls we went into. There would be family gatherings and gift exchanges, but even with all of the same traditions…something was missing.

Don’t hate me, but I can’t stand current popular singers making Christmas albums. I mean everyone is doing it! “Korn plays “Little Town of Bethlehem!” “Marilyn Manson: “Oh Holy Night!” Maybe they aren’t THAT obvious, but the market is flooded with celebrity Christmas albums and it is probably why they have to start at Halloween playing these things so everyone gets their ASCAP bucks.

You would think I would be happy since in my little snot-nosed proud punk days I sniffed at the cheap “giveaway” album my dad had played. I should be saying to myself, “Now THIS is Christmas music…Garth Brooks and the Bucktoothed Pumpernickle band play “Little Drummer Boy!” (don’t hate me Garth lovers…I love him too!) However, these modern celebrity albums don’t float my boat. Because, after all my ranting, all my stupid, prideful and judgmental pronouncements over that dumb FREE album…. Christmas just wasn’t the same without it.

I began looking for that album quite a few years ago and it was impossible to locate. It was from a different time and unfortunately since it was a vinyl album, no cassette, no 8 track, and no Compact Disc existed. The music I had poo-pooed all those years had infected my soul…and it’s absence made my heart not so merry and bright. It’s true, I had Bing Crosby and his White Christmas album…but without that album…at least for me, it was like eating a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips….something is missing.

And then…it was a day like any other day when YouTube appeared, and I miraculously found “Goodyear Presents- The Great Songs of Christmas- Columbia Special Products” and heard the music once again. I had to be satisfied with playing over Bluetooth on my computer and it filled the chasm my Christmas has contained all these years.

I discovered that the no-name singers were not exactly no-name singers…and the music was not recorded in a smoke-filled back room…at least I don’t think so, but a good cigar wouldn’t ruin anything anyway. There will be those of you who wonder why I can’t stand modern singers crooning Christmas music but covet this one so much even though they were the modern singers of their day, like Dinah Shore, Steve Laurence and Eydie Gorme and Danny Kaye.

I think it is because this album was made to promote Christmas, not a celebrity. I’m sure the celebrities made some money. Yes, it commercialized; plastering Goodyear’s name all over the place, but I suppose it was a time when the world still honored Jesus, even if; for many, it was just lip service. Today, a lot of the Christmas music seems to be only to promote a singer they make the album to praise THEIR names…not Jesus.. Back in the day, even celebrities bowed their knees even if it was only socially to the Lord. Today, they use him to line their pockets with cash. Jesus is good for a quick climb up the charts.

I don’t begrudge anyone with a singing gift making an album…I just hope in the making it has the essence of gold, frankincense and myrrh and celebrates the newborn king.

This year, Mary Ann and I are going vinyl again. We purchased a vintage 1960’s Hi-Fi in the original cabinet and are re-purchasing a lot of the vinyl albums we tossed back when cassettes became cool and then 8 tracks and compact Discs took over the music store. There is a mellowness and a sound quality that can’t be described with a vinyl album. Listening to the Beatles “Rubber Soul” album on vinyl is a richer experience than a perfectly electronic version. There will be one more album in our “new again” stereo cabinet this year; purchased for $5.95 on eBay. “Goodyear Presents; The Great Songs of Christmas- 1965/ Columbia Special Products.” Thanks, Dad…for never taking a free gift for granted and…for the much-needed slap on the butt as I realize that free gifts ARE the best gifts of all.

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