There are many subsets in the category of the Golden Age of American Popular Christmas Song. One might be called the secular Advent songs—tunes that conjure up the growing excitement of the Holiday season invoking winter scenes, decorations, shopping, and general merriment. At their best they deftly mixed daubs of nostalgia, with a snappy, jazzy modernity. They could evoke the rustic past but were most at home in bustling urban streets.Meredith Willson in his radio days.
Perhaps the most beloved of the genre was It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas written in 1951 by Meredith Willson then a prolific pop composer and the musical director of poplar radio programs like The Big Show hosted by actress Tallulah Bankhead and the Jack Benny Show. Later he would become best known for his mega-hit Broadway shows, The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
The original hit recording was laid down on September 18, 1951 by Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters with Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra. Less than two weeks later the ultra-prolific Bing Crosby, who seemingly recorded every promising new song and was already carving out a special niche as the voice of Christmas, made his own version which also charted that season.
Many cover versions have followed, most importantly by Johnny Mathis on his 1986 fourth album holiday album Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis. After that version was featured in the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York eight years later, it was re-released as a single. Mathis’s version is perennially in the list of top ten favorite contemporary Christmas songs.
Today we return to Como’s original recording.