Thursday, November 02, 2006

Nelson Eddy - Songs For Christmas

"Ahhh, sweet mystery of life! At last I've found you!"

The song "Ah Sweet Mystery Of Life" was utilized in the 1974 movie "Young Frankenstein" at certain climatic moments in the movie (wink wink).

However, it was first introduced in the 1935 movie "Naughty Marietta" by Nelson Eddy, the gentleman on the cover of today's album.

This amazing Christmas find from 1951 was brought to us from Bongo at his BongoBells blog (say that five times fast!) and you can STILL download this album over there!

Nelson Eddy spent much of his childhood becoming a classical trained opera singer. He honed his craft by singing at recitals, theatrical productions, and churches in hopes of bigger and better things.

That came in the late 1920s when he became a principal performer with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. His introduction to opera also gave him the chance to study under many of the leading voice/opera coaches of the day.

After a successful singing stint in Los Angeles, Eddy was spotted and signed by Louis B. Mayer of MGM. His movie contract called for three months off in the year so he could continue to perform concerts and operas - one of the first movie stars to demand and get his own terms nonetheless!

It was also at MGM where Eddy was introduced to a lovely soprano starlet who worked herself up through vaudeville, Broadway musicals, and concerts and the like. Her name was Jeanette MacDonald and one of the greatest screen duos in history was born.

Nelson and Jeanette made eight films together over their long careers. In two of those films, Eddy played a Canadian Mountie in full gear singing his way through the movie and into MacDonald's arms. For a time, anyone in Mountie gear was expected to burst into song a la Eddy.

It was also around this time that Nelson began a long recording career. From 1935 to 1938, he recorded for RCA Victor and since Jeanette was also under contract with RCA, many of their screen duets were immortalized forever. After his contract expired, he signed with Columbia Records and remained with them for the next twenty years.

Eddy also constructed a home recording studio as a way of monitoring his own vocal performance. Not only did he study his singing, but he also experimented with multi-tracking by recording three part harmony (soprano, tenor, baritone). This was prominently featured when Eddy lent his voice to a singing whale in the Walt Disney film "Make Mine Music" back in 1946.

This album (with some help from Paul Weston & The Pied Pipers) is your basic Christmas album - chorus, orchestra, and arrangements all perfectly balanced with the strong baritone of Nelson right out front.

In fact, it's very basic.

Eddy's voice is masterful and shines throughout but I get the feeling this was recorded in a rush. For example, "O Holy Night" is a song designed to test even the most experienced singer with emotion and vocal range. Eddy doesn't even break a sweat!

Every song is done at a brisk pace which doesn't allow for much passion and emotion. It might have helped if Eddy recorded some contemporary songs ("White Christmas" is the only one written in the 20th century on this album) and trimmed down the standard carols. This is probably why the album sounds so blase.

Nelson continued his film, recording, and concert career throughout World War II (he toured extensively with the USO through North Africa after its liberation in 1943) and beyond. He also dabbled on radio and television, even reuniting with Jeanette MacDonald occasionally on a TV show or album.

In 1953, Eddy formed a nightclub act, not knowing if the risky career move would pan out. He chose a young singer named Gale Sherwood for his partner and hit the road. It worked well. Nelson and Gale continued singing together for the next fourteen years!

On March 5, 1967, Nelson and Gale were performing at the Sans Souci Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida when he was stricken onstage in mid-performance by a cerebral hemorrage and died the next day. He was not buried in a Canadian Mounted Police uniform (lousy urban legend).

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


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