Monday, August 21, 2006

The Pied Pipers - Favorite Christmas Carols

This album gets my vote for the "All-Time Cutest Christmas Album Cover Posted Today At This Yuleblog"! This is yet another album that I downloaded at Ernie's blog last year (he's quite prolific that Ernie!).

Don't remember the Pied Pipers? Who are the Pied Pipers?

Back in 1938, 20th Century-Fox was creating the movie musical "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and needed a vocal group. Using former members of three other vocal groups (seven men and one woman - she being an unknown Jo Stafford!), they formed an octet called The Pied Pipers.

The famed big bandleader Tommy Dorsey heard the group, liked them, and signed them to a contract to sing on radio program. Dorsey was well-known for finding new talent (Buddy Rich, Connie Haynes, Jack Leonard, and a skinny Italian singer named Frank Sinatra) and having a hair-trigger temper.

The original line-up of eight Pied Pipers were fired from the radio program by its sponsor only after a six week period in the summer of 1939. By the end of the year, the line-up was down to four and on the verge of disbanding. Dorsey came to the rescue again and hired them to tour and record with his orchestra.

From 1940 to 1942, the Dorsey band was the most popular band in America - radio shows, records, appearances in major motion picture musicals, you name it. However, Dorsey's temper soon began taking a toll on the band. In 1942, Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra left to pursue solo careers, a musician's strike crippled Dorsey's abilities to record and sustain his #1 position, and the new wartime travel restrictions caused problems for his tours.

Dorsey and the Pied Pipers were in a train station in Portland, Oregon in December, 1942 when one of the Pipers errantly sent Dorsey through the terminal. When they were reunited, Dorsey's temper exploded and fired the Piper who gave him wrong directions. The remaining Pipers resigned on the spot and left Dorsey standing on the platform - well done!

They went back to Hollywood and ran into Paul Weston and Axel Stordahl, former arrangers for Dorsey who were working for Capitol Records. The Pipers signed a recording contract with Capitol in 1943 and began a string of hits on the charts. However, it also quickly became clear that Stafford was pushing for her own solo career and eventually left the Pipers in 1944 when a young, unknown singer named June Hutton replaced her and led the Pipers until her departure in 1950.

Curious tidbit: Hutton and Stordahl married in 1951 and Stafford and Weston married in 1952!

By the 1950s, the Pied Pipers' popularity had passed. Changes within the group happened frequently and by the time this Christmas album was recorded in 1958 on the Tops label, the line-up looked like this:


L to R: Lee Gotch, Sue Allen, Alan Davies, and Clark Yocum

In addition to these four, an organist named George Mather plays on the album. Mather had several organ albums in his own right, including another Christmas album in 1958 called Christmas At Our House. The Pipers are in fine voice, singing in reverent tight harmonies. Special mention goes to Sue Allen, whose voice is exceptionally warm and crisp.

The standout track is "Joy To The World" thanks in large part to the one and only Thurl Ravenscroft singing lead. Thurl was the longtime voice of Tony The Tiger for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and gained Christmas immortality when he sang "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" for the famous Dr. Suess animated television special.

Overall, a very nice album. You won't go wrong playing this one at Christmas dinner. In later years, this album was reissued on the Mayfair label at some point and it came with a different cover!

The Pied Pipers continued through the rock era, performing with The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and other big band outfits. The personnel has changed quite a bit over the years but the group carries on. In 2001, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame and you can catch up with the Pipers at their web site, which features a broken home page and several other pages that you can access by clicking here.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Capt

9 comments:

Ernie said...

Should this really be considered a Pied Pipers LP? I think only a few of the tracks are credited to them, and the other tracks are all different artists. I think the only artist holding the tracks together is George Mather.

Don't forget that Norma Zimmer also shows up on here, prior to her work with Lawrence Welk, I believe. She showed up unexpectedly during Christmas in July.

CaptainOT said...

Now that you mention it, I'm really not sure if it should be a Pied Pipers album or not. I wish they did a better job of crediting the people who sang or not, who conducted the orchestra, etc.


Capt

PDMan said...

I have an alternate version of this with a different cover. It's called "Songs For Christmas Time" on the Golden Tone label. A couple of different cuts, but mostly the same.

CaptainOT said...

A third cover? Shades of The Three Suns! Snap us a pix and send us the link!


Capt

PDMan said...

Your wish is my command!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13803438@N00/224138572/

CaptainOT said...

GREAT JUMPING ICEBERGS! I OWN THIS VERY ALBUM!

This was one of the albums I decided could wait until 2007 for me to share! Gonna have to rethink that now!

Thanks for the pix!


Capt

Anonymous said...

Do you know how I can get a hold of this album? Lee Gotch was my grandfather.

CaptainOT said...

Anon - Re-read the first paragraph - there's a link to Ernie's blog where is offering the album!

Glad to hear from Lee Gotch's grandkid!


Capt

Jennie Carey Photography said...

Sue Allen is my grandma.. thank you for the kind words!