Christmas is for children. Sometimes, those children never really grow up. Guilty as charged. Today, our three under the tree are children’s songs.
That’s me in the photo above. It’s Christmas 1959, and I’m sitting in the living room of our house in Ironwood, Michigan. I was 2 going on 3. I remember that Tickle Bee game. Best game ever, at least for a preschooler.
Look closely on the blackboard under the tree, you’ll see “Kangaroo” written on it. As in Captain Kangaroo. I came along before Mister Rogers, before “Sesame Street, so Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were my guys.
The Captain (Bob Keeshan) and Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum) set up both of these tunes.
“Sleigh Ride,” Captain Kangaroo and the Golden Sandpipers, from “Merry, Merry Christmas,” 1960.
That sounds like Thurl Ravenscroft — who sang “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and was the voice of Tony the Tiger — on the bass parts. (However, Mark thinks otherwise. He should know. He’s posted a bunch of Thurl’s tunes at over at his fine blog, She’ll Grow Back.)
“I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,” Captain Kangaroo, from “Merry, Merry Christmas,” 1960.
The Captain wasn’t much of a singer, but kids didn’t care. Written by John Rox, this tune was a hit for 10-year-old Gayla Peevey in 1953.
Then, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we lived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There, we watched Milwaukee TV. One station — WITI, Channel 6 — had Albert the Alley Cat.
Albert the Alley Cat — who sounded as if he came from Brooklyn — also did the weather on Channel 6’s newscasts from 1965 to 1981. Actually, he was the weather man’s sidekick.
One year, DuBlon recorded a couple of Christmas songs as Albert the Alley Cat. He did so with the help of George Busateri, a Milwaukee musician who shares this story — and the tunes — on his web site.
“When I was first starting out in the music business, I had a gig as the music director of a morning show at WITI-TV6 in Milwaukee. The show was called “Funny Farm.” … It featured (hostess) Barbara Becker and the Jack DuBlon puppets. His star puppet was named “Albert the Alley Cat.” Al was a BIG star in Milwaukee. …
I landed the gig because of a couple of Christmas songs I co-wrote with a terrific talent by the name of Jimmy C. Hall. Jack DuBlon came in our studio one day, and wanted to record a couple of Christmas standards. We talked him out of that and wrote and recorded … two original songs. The project took about two days. I played all of the instruments and the choir consisted of studio staff and their wives.”
An unexpected and delightful surprise while putting together this post was getting a chance to chat with George Busateri. He recalls that he cut the Christmas songs with DuBlon in the early ’70s. He wrote the music and Hall wrote the lyrics.
“Santa’s Helper,” Albert the Alley Cat, 1971, from the Key Records 7-inch single K1002. It’s out of print, but I found a copy on eBay. If memory serves, the other characters in this little story are Rocky the Gorilla and Alice the Alligator. DuBlon voiced at least a dozen characters.
If you want the flip side — “Send Me A Bit Of Home For Christmas” — head over to Busateri’s site.
One last thought: I fully realize almost no one may dig these tunes. However, there once were kids who did. That’s what drives the holidays — that kind of spirited innocence. Listen through their ears and capture a little bit of it if you can.