Thursday, February 01, 2007

Various Artists - The Stingiest Man In Town

This is the last Christmas CD I received as a true Christmas gift. Considering the history of this album and me, it was the perfect way to end my Christmas.

Back in the spring of last year, I began to search through vinyl bins everywhere for Christmas albums.

During one sweep and clear mission, I came across a copy of The Alcoa Singers album "An Old Fashioned Christmas" which was based on the original 1956 TV soundtrack album.

Immediately behind this was (whaddya know?) the ORIGINAL 1956 TV soundtrack album! At first glance of this cover, the adrenalin was pumping. I thought I had hit an oil well. This was the mother lode!

I listened to the album and noticed that several of the songs listed were contained within tracks on the album and weren't separate. I decided to make two different formats - the original LP version and a separate tracks version (jump to any song instantly).

Transferring this to digital wasn't a problem at all. It was separating the two different formats out, correctly keeping the respective lineups in order, and then writing out all those MP3 tags on both different versions (I was seeing the name of Basil Rathbone in my sleep!).

It took about a week for all the grunt work but it was done. I was proud of the work I did and was all set to offer this at Christmas. My hopes on this one were pretty high.

Several months later, I was strolling through Randy's Rodeo - a truly amazing resourceful website with a great section on Christmas. Randy had listed a full slate of new Christmas releases for 2006. Taking notes as I scrolled down the list, I reached the end of the list and there it stood:

Soundtrack - Stingiest Man in Town - TV adaptation of Dicken's 'Christmas Carol' with Vic Damone, Johnny Desmond, the Four Lads, and Basil Rathbone

After all the work and effort I put into the transfer, my first thought was "HOW DARE THEY?!?!" But after I had a chance to stew, I was actually happy to see it out there. I keep hoping that record companies keep digging and digging into their archives to come up with long lost Christmas gems like this for re-release.

Fast forward to last December. My kids wanted to buy me Christmas CDs for my presents (I didn't coach them) and my wife made me a wish list of CDs. I quickly typed out a list that I knew I wanted and threw this one on, knowing it probably wouldn't be in any of the Fort Wayne stores (hence the name "wish list").

On Christmas morning, I opened new Christmas CDs from Peggy Lee, Gene Autry, Third Day, and Aimee Mann to name a few. When I opened this, I was stunned. Seems the elves from Barnes & helped my wife located this one.

What's really scary is that my separate tracks version of the LP contained 23 tracks! If you look at track 8 of this CD, I subdivided those songs, giving me the extra track!

The songs tell the story of Scrooge and his redemption rather well. Fans of this TV special should be pleased that their long lost beloved soundtrack is finally on CD. There are some great singers on this soundtrack: The Four Lads, Vic Damone, Betty Madigan. However the two singers that make the album for me are Basil Rathbone and Johnny Desmond.

Whoever chose Rathbone for the role of Scrooge was doing their homework. He snarls, he screams, he sings! I'd put his singing performance on the same level of Albert Finney in the 1970 movie "Scrooge". I cannot wait to find the DVD or VHS of this television production to actually see Basil all Victorian-ed up!

As for Desmond, I first heard his voice in an album sampler I reviewed last year and have been actively looking for ANY Christmas stuff from him since. He's still in fine form on this album on several tracks but his duet with Basil is the highlight of the album.

This brings us to the extra songs Jasmine Records threw in at the end of this disc. According to the liner notes, many of these bonus tracks were singles issued by the solo artists at the time. Vic Damone's version of "One Little Boy" (track 23) was never released on the soundtrack (too bad - it's a gem) and Desmond's two singles (tracks 24-25) are completely different from the soundtrack cuts - much softer and Johnny's voice soars!

Tracks 27-30 are Christmas singles from Betty Madigan and Johnny Desmond that have no connection whatsoever to this production. It don't understand the reasoning behind it but I'm not complaining either. Madigan's cuts are fine and dandy, especially "We're All Kids At Christmas". Desmond's songs takes home the blue ribbon; a solemn version of "The Lord's Prayer" and a forgotten gem called "Happy Holidays To You" that is, in a word, perfect.

This Christmas special was rebroadcast for several years after the original airing in 1956 and was pushed aside by other specials like "Cinderella" (the Julie Andrews version, then the Lesley Ann Warren version), "Peter Pan", "Amahl And The Night Visitors", and "The Dangerous Christmas Of Red Riding Hood".

I hope that this re-release of the soundtrack will help get the TV production re-released as well. It's great music and a lot of fun to listen to. I can only imagine the visuals. For now.

UP NEXT: Two Super yuleblog entries tomorrow... don't miss these!



Neil Eddinger said...

The first television screening of "The Stingiest Man in Town" in 1956 is, unfortunately, lost forever. The only visual remnant in existence is the second half of the performance which was aired the following year. It is preserved at the Paley Museum of Broacasting and can be seen in NYC and LA. I have been assured by authorities at the museum that nothing else but this 25 minute sequence survives. In it Basil Rathbone can be seen in his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and in his transformation. It is apparently a different "take" than the one used on the soundtrack album. It includes a scene and duet with Martyn Green.

Anonymous said...

I just found a 1/4" tape recording of what seems to be the original "pitch" to Alcoa to produce The Stingiest Man in Town. Fred Speilman plays the piano and sings the songs. Is this of any interest to fans out there? BTW - my father and godfather both participated in the production as representatives of Alcoa's ad agency, Fuller Smith and Ross in Cleveland.