Various Artists – Christmas with the Rat Pack (review)

Various Artists – Christmas With the Rat Pack (Capitol) review

It just doesn’t get any better than Frankie, Sammy and Dino

Because so much time has passed since their eyday, it’s easy to forget just how good these singers were.  Christmas With the Rat Pack brings together three of the greatest entertainers of all time (and all inseparable for a time)  – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr, all in one compilation.  While trends come and go, these guys knew how to handle the classics – with swingin’ strings.

The Chairman of the Board gets the most tracks (seven) – and all come from his 1957 album A Jolly Christmas with Frank Sinatra under the direction of Gordon Jenkins.  Of his tracks, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is the best and is of particular significance.  He had original lyricist Hugh Martin revamp the words specifically for him – changing the morose “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to the much more cheerful “hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”  This change became the lyrics used in almost every version since then.

Dean Martin’s tracks come from his two holiday albums, one in 1959 for Capitol and the other for Reprise in 1966.  Of course, he sounds like he just downed an entire bottle of wine before recording these tracks, but that certainly was part of his charm.  His slurred reading of “Let it Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!” has become the quintessential version, while he exudes cool in referring to him as Rudy in “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”  He can’t touch Bing in “White Christmas,” but steals the show on “Silver Bells” (when he mutters “ring-a-ling” you really have to ask ‘how much DID he have to drink’?).

The Sammy Davis Jr. tracks are the hardest to find, and therefore are definitely nice to have in this context.  He really adds some swing to “Jingle Bells,” making the shop-worn classic really cook.  He even stands his own on the Nat King Cole classic “The Christmas Song,” singing the little-heard introductory part as well.

While new artists attempt to place their own stamp on the classics (see our review of Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas), this is where to go if you want it done the right way.  –Tony Peters