There is a generous amount of misinformation about Percy Faith's Christmas albums in various places on the internet. The following article is intended to clear up some unfortunate things. Some companies seem to be selling the 1954 MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS as if it was the 1959 totally re-recorded stereo version. Not often done with Percy Faith on Columbia, HALLELUJAH! from 1958 was re-issued in 1965 with new cover art and the title of MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS VOL 2. There is no MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS VOL 2. It's HALLELUJAH! repackaged with a new album number.
First things first - Percy Faith recorded the original MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS, issued on 12" Lp as CL 588 and on 3 EP sets, B-1903 (Volume I) B-1904 (Volume II) and B-1905 (Volume III). Between the three Ep's, when totalled, you have all 12 tracks from CL 588.
In a very unusual step for Percy Faith and Columbia, CL 588 was entirely re-recorded; not for "fake stereo" but an entirely new recording session for genuine two-channel STEREO, in the summer of 1959, and issued as CS 8176 for the 1959 Christmas season. This is the album with the poinsettias, top of the album yellow, bright colors. It was also available on open reel, first at 7 1/2 inches per second quarter track speed, then Columbia cheaped out a bit and halved the playing speed (and increased hiss and dropouts and now HQ 312 versus the original CQ 312. This stereo Music of Christmas recording is the one most of us know, and sadly, Columbia/Sony botched the CD reissue - it is worthless in my opinion, unless that is all you can get. The re-mastering mutes the highs on the left channel, and the highs become artificially "dynamic" on the right channel. I've been fortunate enough to find a mint stereo copy back in the 1980's from the STEREO REVIEW record search service (anyone remember that?) which yielded a great CD. Commercially, only the flawed CD is available, still in the catalogs, and a correction to the re-mastering errors has never been made. The failure can readily be heard, for example, where you can hear highs are really suppressed on the left channel, and you can hear "windows" of high frequency tone bands open on the right channel. My favorite example, GOOD KING WENCESLAS that starts with the kettle drum/snare drum routine. Since the "highs" begin so truncated, it sounds as though the drums are under water until the 3rd or 4th measure - the listener never should have heard such a bad job. The right channel ends up "hot" in high frequencies, and the left channel remains truncated in highs, I guess the person or machine that did the re-mastering thought the Percy Faith violin section was too "hot" so they equalized it down. Over fifty years later, we have nothing that sounds as good as the original Lp/open reel.
We need to step back to 1958 for the original recording and release of HALLELUJAH, CS 8033. The album has a much drier sound; severely recorded and not great listening, while MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS used very very very generous amounts of "studio reverb."
Hallelujah! was available in mono and stereo, and had a very brightly colored and lettered cover once again.
In the 1958 fall season we had a 2-Lp set, The Columbia Album of Christmas Music, C2L-1, mono only; it had a rather plain white cover with the cover art from Hallelujah! and Music of Christmas shown without their usual lettering. This album, then, consisted of CL 588, paired with the monophonic version of Hallelujah! for the double album set.
Music Of Christmas has been in print with few interruptions through the 'end of the Lp' era. Hallelujah turned up in bargain bins, and the re-title to Music Of Christmas Vol 2 in 1965 indicates, to me, that this was an attempt to make the listener think this was something new when in fact it was recorded in 1958. There are a few Percy Faith albums that were given new covers over the years - but album numbers and titles were not changed.
Somehwere around 1996, Sony reissued Music of Christmas Vol 2 - (Hallelujah!) but it was re-engineered to a great effect; it was re-equalized and sounds great, and given about as much reverb as Music of Christmas - a truly improved listening experience. It was only available 2 or 3 seasons then vanished for good. Why? Dunno. It's a case where the digital remastering by three ladies listed on the liner notes took an early stereo effort that had a very dry sound, and opened it up and made it sound as good as albums made many year later (and every bit as good as Percy's Christmas album recorded the following year, 1959, CS 8176, MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS). I've seen it fetch high prices... it's a rarity. Keep in mind if you buy the Lp of either Hallelujah! or Music of Christmas Vol 2 on Lp you are getting the "dry" version.
1965 also brought us the final Percy Faith Christmas album, CHRISTMAS IS... which has been available on Lp and CD as well on a spotty basis since. The title song was popular and covered by other artists. Percy originally wrote the music as "Judy" after one of his granddaughters and it was "repurposed" into being a Christmas tune with the lyric, sung by the female chorus, lyric penned by Spence Maxwell. 5 tracks are with the chorus, 6 are orchestral. This recording could have been better, there's some careless distortion I always thought was the fault of the Lp recording but nope, it's on the CD as well. The CD catalog number is CK 9377, and the Lp was CS 9377.
To summarize: Percy Faith recorded Music of Christmas TWICE, one 1954 version in mono (of course). I notice it is being sold with "new" cover art overseas; listeners are going to hear the 1954 version, and it's not from tape, it's a nice try at making a CD from a less than mint Lp. Percy's Music of Christmas (1959) was best heard on open reel tape and on Lp, the CD version has problems.
HALLELUJAH! was recorded and released in 1958 and became Music Of Christmas Vol 2 (magic?) in 1965 with a new cover. It is best heard on the rare late 1990's CD that added reverb and spaciousness to the formerly severe sound, a great enhancement, that is hard to find and has garnered some high sale prices on the internet.
CHRISTMAS IS... from 1965 is part vocal (the Percy Faith Chorus that he did arrange, in contrast to his recordings a decade before that had a chorus, where he did not arrange the vocal parts - you can tell, they tend to sound written in linear fashion (vertical writing) where the Faith choral and instrumental work was always featuring lots of horizontal writing - lots of parts, lots of countermelodies. Ray Charles, of the Columbia Ray Charles Singers, wrote the 50's choral parts you can hear mainly on the first two volumes of the "Singles Collection." To hear the Ray Charles Singers by themselves you can find used copies on several different labels (e.g., COMMAND). EXTRA NOTE: Marilyn told me that the recording sessions for Percy's Christmas albums were in the summer (I've been vilified for saying summer, if the recording dates are correct, it is in the spring, however I had letters from C. R. Jenkins, Columbia's New York PR letter-writer that gave what must have been the release dates, July and August) so Percy tried to make things as festive as possible - decorations amongst the music stands/chairs, all over the studio. I think it comes through in the music! Also I see a lot of speculation on the internet that CL 588 and the Ep versions of same with the man wearing a Santa outfit (cap and white beard pulled down) with his daughter and her doll are a real painting for this album. NOPE... just some stock art.
Done. Long story. Sorry for the length. The important thing have a very Merry Christmas and most of all, enjoy the rich heritage of music that you may have or can find!
GREAT NEW NEWS::::: Real Gone Music has released a wonderful remastering, for the very first time, of Percy Faith's ORIGINAL Music of Christmas, CL 588, from 1954; the other CD's you see for sale (mine is from Portugal) are digital remasterings of an Lp that's in bad shape to begin with. This is the real thing - analog tape to digital tape. Also included is HALLELUJAH! which as noted above is Percy Faith's second Christmas album from 1958, newly remastered; both CD's are included, with 3 additional tracks seldom heard, and the best thing is that the packaging and liner notes are great in all ways. The only reservation I have is with the title, PERCY FAITH - THE COMPLETE MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS - it's a complicated story, that I try to explain above, and this CD also notes the rather complex path Percy's Christmas albums have taken over the years, for example, Music of Christmas Vol 2 from 1965, when there was no such thing, just what would seem to me to be a marketing attempt to garner some of the sales and excitement of 1959's Music of Christmas; and this album is still in release status by Sony, in spite of the poor remastering, therefore it was not available for the Real Gone Music collection. Also, Christmas Is... is missing. The liner notes are excellent, but it does say that all of the Christmas Is... tracks are with chorus; not quite true. Six tracks are orchestral and some have very classic Faith hallmarks such as solo violin on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" - and ALL "plucked strings" on the clever rendition of "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer." So it's SIX instrumental tracks, FOUR with chorus (not the wordless vocalise, the "wordy" chorus). But all this is a kind of minor criticism compared to the quality and respect shown in the two albums and absolutely incredible liner notes - the real, full cover art, front and back, from each album shown; and even the printing on the CD's is a nod toward the vintage "six eyes" Columbia Lp's of so long ago (red, black, and white, with the Columbia "eye" on the label, six of them, just like the Lp's! Though I have about 3 copies of CL 588, none are free from "real wear" and to hear this first digital remaster/release is really something for the album I used to play all year 'round as a young child (so very very long ago). I also got a copy of THE DAVID ROSE CHRISTMAS ALBUM and it's the same respectful kind of reissue I wish we could always have - great liner notes, this was evidently released last year (2011) by Real Gone Music and Capitol records.
BETTER GREAT NEW NEWS!!! May, 2017
THE ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS ALBUM, the STEREO 1959 re-recording of MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS, which is the only time I can think of where an original Percy Faith album was COMPLETELY re-recorded, sparkling new orchestral sessions, for Lp release in the "Westrex" system that brought the stereo long playing record to great practicality, will be in the works via Gordon Anderson's REAL GONE MUSIC label, on CD, at least by this fall (Thanksgiving for sure). This is THE essential Christmas album, the likes of which we simply won't hear again; it was available on the CS 8176 original issue as well as the rather unfortunate LE edition - unfortunate because even if you got a good pressing, you also got an Lp that Columbia somehow decided was not "worthy" of an inner sleeve, so the Lp's are laden with cardboard dust and fragments from the sleeve. Same idea as the great Living Strings Camden thing; it was RCA's budget label - why would they bother with an inner paper sleeve?
I'm not sure of the pressing quality of the LE version of MUSIC OF CHRISTMAS once the cardboard dust is removed; I do have perhaps 50 Living Strings (and other Living Things) albums that used vinyl that was of poor quality so it's always been an adventure to coax good sounds from these albums, but a worthwhile pursuit. Anyway, the next media to replace the Lp record, of course, the Compact Disc, held a lot of promise. In the case of Percy Faith's CS 8176 in the early-mid 1980's it was simply a poor digital re-master. Highs were truncated on the left; snippets of sounds were lopped off in some cases; and worst of all, the "breathing right channel." In some engineer's infinite wisdom, the "highs" start out badly restricted; the easiest example I wrote about long ago is GOOD KING WENCESLAS in the kettle/snare drum sequence in the first 4-5 measures. The suppressed highs make it sound like the stage must be rising from under water (!). Then by the 5th measure or so, the "window" of higher frequencies gradually opens and it sounds "normal." It's still not OK. Every bit of every track deserves only the best of a digital re-master with NO meddling with equalization, the sound should be as close to the CS 8176 Lp as it can be. The ersatz Columbia CD even clips starts - JOY TO THE WORLD's first few milliseconds - aren't there. It sounds like a bad, cheap job - because it is. To sum it up, clipped starts, truncated highs in the left channel (someone didn't like Percy's use of high strings and the 1959 techniques of recording what he and Chappie (Percy's engineer) had worked out! Then there is the "breathing" or "windowed" highs on the right channel. There is no correcting this; it's back to the master tape, and this is what we can look forward to this fall.
I've not heard about Percy's CHRISTMAS IS... CD being reissued. Columbia didn't mess it up, though for reasons I'll never know it was not a great recording on Lp and the same defects (sounds like overdrive/intermodulation distortion artifacts) are on both the Lp and CD. I don't think this can be fixed; but I hope that to round out what really boils down to Percy Faith's 3 Christmas albums, that REAL GONE will reissue this CD as well, and this time I'll understand the artifacts I described. They're not really obvious on speakers but on good headphones, it's more obvious. This, sadly, cannot be undone. It ends up being a B- to my old golden ears; yet before and after CHRISTMAS IS... there were albums with better fidelity/less distortion. Remember, though, it's still very good and "most likely no one will notice but me." :(
Now we can look forward, after only a few decades of waiting, for a great CD of this inspired album this fall of 2017 for Christmas, hopefully it'll go on sale much earlier, details as I get them.