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Music associated with Christmas is thought to have its origins in 4th century Rome, in Latin-language hymns. Christmas carols in the English language first appeared in 1426 and various carols from the 16th century are still sung to this day.
Few notable carols were produced from the beginning of the 20th century until the Great Depression era of the 1930s, when a stream of songs of often American origin were published, most of which did not explicitly reference the Christian nature of the holiday, but rather the more secular traditional Western themes and customs associated with Christmas. These included songs aimed at children such as "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", as well as sentimental ballad-type songs performed by famous crooners of the era, such as "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas", the latter of which remains the best-selling single of all time.
This latest songbook album from David Billings and myself is the culmination of two years work that began with exhaustive sifting through my private collection of vinyl and CDs. Years of collecting has tossed up an eclectic mix of music ranging from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Mantovani, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Bony M, Etta James, John Denver & The Muppets, James Brown, Judith Durham, Bruce Cockburn, Phil Spector, Perry Como, Gene Autry, Peggy Lee etc, etc. People give me strange looks when I say I collect Christmas music but my first LP was a Christmas record and the idea of making a Christmas album has been on the backburner for a good ten years.
Christmas music comprises a variety of genres of music and is the one category that seems to include just about every well-known singer from the last eighty years. Some performers have made two or more Christmas albums: Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Julie Andrews, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Harry Connick Jnr. The top selling album of the 1950s with seven million copies was Elvis’ Christmas Album. There was to be a proposed second Christmas album by Presley but those plans were cancelled. Various songwriters including veteran singer and recording artist Randy Starr submitted songs and although they were never used, he had many other songs recorded by Presley on various soundtrack albums. I had the pleasure of meeting Randy Starr in his hometown of New York in 2011 and because of our association, was given access to the songs My Christmas Won’t Be Merry This Year and Let’s Have A Christmas Party and now have the privilege of presenting them to the public fifty years after they were written.
The idea of writing new Christmas songs came about as the project evolved. The one original song already in place was Christmas, co-written with well-known Australian author Michael Leunig. Throughout 2017 other songs were written including Surfin’ On Christmas Day, Winter Carol, Christmas In Kauai and Under The Tree. It was shaping up to be not your typical Christmas album and just when it appeared to be complete Christmas Time Is Here came along. Since 2016, I had been in communication with Grammy award winning writer, lyricist and singer David C Wilson. We had a mutual interest in all things musical and had talked briefly about collaborating. I casually asked if he had any lyrics with a Christmas theme and, hey presto, Christmas Time Is Here appeared and a new songwriting partnership was born.
One of the main guidelines for this compilation was to include the northern and southern hemispheres, the winter Christmas and the summer Christmas, hence the appearance of snow and sand side by side. The idea was to present a more universal narrative of Christmas and speaking as one who has lived through both versions, I think this will make it more appealing for the listener.