Oh, Lord, it’s already starting: The Christmas music, the Christmas comercials on TV, everybody talking about Black Friday this and that…
This Christmas season marks the 50th anniversary of the first time Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated special narrated by Burl Ives, was shown on TV. That was the first time I ever heard this song.
I never got tired of hearing the story about Rudolph and Hymie and the Island of Misfit Toys. The last time I saw it, however, they replaced Burl Ives singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at the end with a stop-action of Destiny’s Child singing it while Snowman Burl leered at them. Talk about a way to ruin a great Christmas special. I mean, Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle did a fine version of the song, but it just didn’t fit. I guess there were good reasons to do it, but man…
Someone on Facebook found an article the other day that noted the passing of Arthur Rankin, Jr., on January 30 of this year. He and Jules Bass, his business partner, made hundreds of stop-action features like Rudolph, as well as the Peabody Award-winning The Hobbit in 1977. That would have been something that I would have liked to have noted, but this was the first I had heard of it.
I Googled Rankin’s name, and found out that the folk singer-songwriter Kenny Rankin, who used to appear frequently on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1970’s, had also died, over five years ago. He was the author of the song “Peaceful.” It was Helen Reddy’s followup hit to “I Am Woman” in 1973, and Georgie Fame had a hit with it in 1969. Here is Kenny singing the song on his 1972 album Like A Seed.
Kenny wrote his own songs and also interpreted the songs of others. He did a version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” that was so beautiful Paul McCartney asked him to play it when he and John Lennon werre inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Kenny was good friends with Carson, who wrote the liner notes for his debut album, 1967’s Mind Dusters. He was also good friends with George Carlin, who also recorded on the Little David label. Rankin would open shows for Carlin, and reportedly George got Kenny re-addicted to cocaine.
On Christmas of 1972, I got George Carlin’s Class Clown album, and played it until I wore the grooves out. (Admit it, you were wondering how I was going to get back to Christmas, didn’t you?) 1972 was the year he was arrested in Milwaukee for performing his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” My mother was at that performance, and said he was a “goof.” That was Mom’s favorite put-down. “Oh, for God’s sake, what a goof!” She said that about everyone. We could all do an impression of her saying it.
So, I guess all of the kids’ Christmas shows are getting pulled out of mothballs and being tested to make sure they won’t break, although I’m almost positive they’ve been ripped down and digitized for years. I have no idea when any of them will be played, or for that matter where. The big networks have hundreds of cable stations and will probably farm the shows out to them so they don’t have to pre-empt any of the shows that the 18-49 set is interested in.
In a way, it’s a shame, but times are different. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I don’t know.