Recorded March 1st, 2nd & 9th 1960
Nat Cole - vocals
Ralph Carmichael - arranger
Lee Gillette - producer
Back on a piping hot day in 1946, Mel Torme wrote a nostalgic Christmas song he titled simply, The Christmas Song. Nat was the choice to sing it, and he accepted. With strings added to his Trio for the first time, Nat's beautifully genuine vocal and the classic arrangement evoked the sentiments of the holiday so well that it's seldom been equalled. Not only was The Christmas Song a huge hit, it has remained a perinnial hit ever since. That evergreen is possibly Nat's most widely heard record these days.
Originally, The Christmas Song was a single only. Nat recorded more holiday novelty singles on occasion over the following years. A full scale, classic pop holiday album finally came in 1960, fourteen years after The Christmas Song, with this, The Magic Of Christmas.
To my opinion, some of the results are dissappointingly arranged. Not to the extent that they don't work, just to the point of not quite matching my wishful thinking (how dare they, I know). To my taste the arrangements are a bit heavy on the chorus and spare on lyric and verse for Nat. To their credit, there is a certain warmth about the whole that reflects well on the overall vision.
With so many recordings of many Christmas standards, it can be hard to find a version one might call definitive. A few here don't make my list. The greatest classic pop style recording of O Holy Night, to my opinion, remains Bing Crosby's 1960s version, and for The First Noel, I fancy Ella Fitzgerald's. It seems that few choices here tread on Bing's turf, opting for more traditional favorites; a good move I suspect, although I think Nat would have done a beautiful White Christmas.
A Cradle In Bethlehem, Caroling, Caroling, O, Little Town Of Bethlehem and Away In A Manger are all great selections, however. Caroling, Caroling conveys its snowy frolic in a wonderfully scenic, slightly bracing spirit, Nat's unmatched talent at timing making him a natural choice. The others all play right into his mastery at balladry.
The Magic of Christmas was soon to undergo a repackaging. In 1961, Nat would record The Christmas Song for the third time, this time in stereo. In 1963, Capitol combined that 1961 remake of The Christmas Song with the bulk of this album (minus God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman) and renamed the album, surprisingly enough, The Christmas Song. That comp would remain Nat's staple Christmas album for decades to come.