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SoundTRAX: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 1964 TV Special"

Sam the Snowman has a hand on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while Santa and his sleigh fly above.
Decca Records

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

Gather 'round, children and those perpetually young at heart, for this week marks the 59th anniversary of the classic stop-motion television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Rudy first came to life in a 1939 poem written by Robert L. May and was then turned into an actual song by May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks a decade later.

The name Johnny Marks may not be a household name to you but consider this: he not only wrote that yuletide staple, but also "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and "Holly Jolly Christmas," the latter of which is also featured in the special. All while never once celebrating the holiday, as he was Jewish!

Rudolph has always had a multi-generational appeal, although, admittedly, there are elements that strike a sour chord when you grow up and are able to recognize moments that haven't aged well.

There's considerable bullying and intolerance, and there is the jarring realization that Santa is, well, a tremendous jerk. Santa Claus, for heaven's sake!

But the charm is undeniable.

Scary snow monsters are reformed, abandoned toys get homes, Yukon Cornelius is the scene-stealing treasure hunter we all needed, and Rudolph eventually saves the day.

But for me, both now and as a kid, it was all about Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman.

As a child I knew nothing of his successful music career. I had no knowledge of his stint in radio or his Broadway triumphs, or the fact he won a supporting actor Oscar in 1958. I had yet to see him in the classic films East of Eden or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (Whew, seeing my beloved snowman as "Big Daddy" in that one was startling.)

Ives' character is the narrator and the anchor— not to mention a snappy dresser— and his voice carries the special and, naturally, the soundtrack as well.

While there are tunes sung by the actors playing Santa, the elves, The Misfit Toys, as well as future dentist Hermey and Rudolph himself, I knew one of Burl Ives' songs would have to be today's SoundTRAX selection.

But which one? I feel there are just so many famous versions of the title song, and even "Holly Jolly Christmas" has been covered countless times, from everyone to Johnny Mathis to Michael Bublé to Sufjan Stevens.

But one just seems to belong to Burl alone, despite the attempts of others.

So in honor of the 59th anniversary of the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, once again written by Johnny Marks, it's Burl Ives with "Silver and Gold."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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