Sunday, December 03, 2023

A budget label Christmas--at this blog? Of course! "The 100 Voices of Christmas"--a Tops Records classic.


Well, maybe "classic" is an overstatement, but it's quite good.  And (I hate to say it), especially for a rack-jobber label like Tops Records.  Well, actually, Tops put out its share of outstanding titles, including Page Cavanaugh Plays for the Cocktail Hour, which is in my jazz Top Ten list.  Dave Pell produced that one, too.  Meanwhile, John Gustafson (not the rock bassist), who conducts the Christianaires Choir of the First Baptist Church of Van Nuys, California had an interesting career which included background singing for the movie version of Brigadoon (1954).  He also appeared on the Word, Christian Faith, and Light labels, not to mention the 1955 MGM release, I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean, alongside Van Johnson.  And he has solo tenor spots on this LP's O Little Town of Bethlehem and What Child Is This.

I love the 1954 Brigadoon, and despite Gene Kelly being in it.  Maybe because it stars Gene Kelly and not his ego.  For a change.

This is a standard lineup of carols and hymns, all very well done (as noted), and as always I'm amused by Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  That is, by the lack of punctuation, not the number, which is still terrific after 284 years (and its Charles Wesley text still wonderful).  Obviously, "the herald angels" are the angels heralding Christ's birth, and so "Hark" should be "Hark!"--as in, "Listen!" Or, "Listen up!"  Many sources get it right, including the Methodist hymnal and even a Pickwick release.  And what do the herald angels sing? "Glory to the newborn King," and so on.

Glad I cleared that up.  And that Pickwick LP (the Don Janse Chorale) would have been part of my sleighlist--had the copy I encountered at Goodwill not been trashed.  How this Tops release survived the decades in savable shape, I know not.

"Cool it, cats, and dig the heavenly scoop!" might have been the beatnik title for "Hark!"  Who knows? In other news, Deck the Halls (originally, Hall) pleases me best at a snappy tempo, but the 100 Voices give us a fairly sedate rendition.  Good, nonetheless.  In fact, kind of interesting for not being Allegretto.  And I've never understood the notion that the text is anything but perfectly clear in its meaning.  "Deck the hall"=put up Christmas decorations.  (Duhh.)  "Don we now our gay apparel"=it's time to put on our cheeriest apparel.  Clothes.  Hello?  "Donning apparel" means the same thing today as it did in the 19th century.  No wonder people are confused.

But, then, I once had a cyber-exchange with someone who thought, "Congress shall make no law respecting..." meant "respecting," as in, "having respect for."  Good grief.  Obviously, "respecting" means "in respect to."  English usage hasn't changed that much.

An awfully cool cover for Tops, I think we have to admit.  Cool art, fine performances, and the extra expense of two commas.  A home run for Tops.  As for "Are there 100 voices?" the truth is, I don't know.  I suspect "100" is meant to convey a first-rank performance.

DOWNLOAD: The Christianaires Choir, Cond. by John Gustafson

O. Come All Ye Faithful

Silent Night

O Little Town of Bethlehem (tenor solo: John Gustafson)

Carol of the Bells

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Joy to the World

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Away in a Manger

What Child Is This (tenor solo: John Gustafson)

Deck the Halls

We Three Kings of Orient Are

Angels We Have Heard on High

The 100 Voices of Christmas (Tops L 1697; 1959)



Anonymous said...

so good to see you posting again. Have you posted this one, before. Well, just got it, either way LOL. Merry Christmas, prayin' for ya.

Romans 11:33-36 KJB


Church Podcast:
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Lee Hartsfeld said...


Merry Christmas to you, too! Nice to hear from you.

Ernie said...

Thanks, Lee. I knew you'd jump into Christmas soon, and here you are! :)

musicman1979 said...

It has been SO LONG since I listened to this recording! I grew up with this PRI Craftsmen reissue of this album; my Nana had it in her Christmas collection, and her copy has now been in my collection since April of 1999. It is a very elegant Christmas offering. I believe it is mostly acapella. Of course, being Tops/PRI, you have to put up with quite a few low-budget vinyl hiss. An integral part of my formative Christmas years as a child was listening to this record, plus Albums 2 through 10 of the Great Songs of Christmas album series from Goodyear and the 15-track RCA Camden reissue of Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music. I believe this is the third album you have uploaded this year that I have in my collection! Thanks.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Yes, I are here! As Bob and Ray might have said...


So, it was rereleased as the Craftsmen? Figures! Artist credit was an incidental detail to the budgets. And John Gustafson probably had no legal grounds on which to protest! Interesting.

musicman1979 said...

To clarify, it was released on PRI's subsidiary label Craftsmen Records, keeping the Christianaires credit. If you look at the cover scans at E-Bay, you can see the credit in small print at the bottom of the "Sound of Christmas" title in large print. The real artist is credited on both the cover and the record label.

Thanks to this post, I will now pull my copy of this album out of my Christmas album storage and try to feature cuts from it throughout the season; it has been years since I last played my copy of this record.

Oh, I do tend to agree with you that Tops did put out some outstanding titles; among my favorites are Mel Torme's Prelude to a Kiss and Johnny Desmond Swings.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Concealed credits don't count! (Just kidding.) And my copy is designed such that "100 Voices" can easily be mistaken for the group's name (in tiny letters at the bottom of the front jacket). Part of the fun and challenge of collecting rack jobber vinyl. And I'm having a memory--likely, a false one--that Frank Sinatra briefly considered moving to Tops. But that seems unlikely. But Tops did grab some big names. And some minor ones, like John Gabriel ("Ryan's Hope"). It fared even better than Pickwick, it seems.