Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Even with thousands of weekly columns under your belt, I'm betting no one has ever asked a question like this one:

My late father was a radio programmer in the '60s, and while sorting through his music collection I ran into a mysterious 12-inch LP with an Audiodisc Recording (New York USA) label.

Unlike normal albums, with just one hole in the middle, this disc has three others (four total).

Other than the title “Sleigh Ride,” there is nothing else on the label.

It plays six different instrumentals of “Sleigh Ride” on the side with the label, but the other side is completely blank — just smooth shiny black plastic.

On the brown Audiodisc paper sleeve, dad randomly wrote the names of these six orchestras: Boston Pops; Leroy Anderson; Andre Kostelanetz; Skitch Henderson; Ferrante & Teicher; and the Midnight Strings.

With the band names in no particular order, my challenge is to match them with the six songs. It's the only way to know who does what.

The first “Sleigh Ride” vocal I ever heard is the classic Ronettes' version, though an online search brought up a site (Wikipedia) that states Johnny Mathis recorded the first vocal version, in 1958. Do you agree?
—Marlena Norris, Plant City, Fla.

DEAR MARLENA: Right you are, this challenge is a first.

What you have there is an acetate, custom cut one at a time on a special lathe and, as they wear down quickly, made for limited playing.

After listening to my copies of the six recordings you list, I have some clues to help you sort them out. All you need is an accurate timepiece.

1. Boston Pops Orchestra (Conducted by Arthur Fiedler): Total playing time is 2:52.

2. Leroy Anderson and His Orchestra: Nearly identical to the Boston Pops version, though a bit shorter. Runs just 2:44. One reason these renditions are so similar is that Anderson, who co-wrote “Sleigh Ride,” is the arranger on the Boston Pops recording.

3. Andre Kostelanetz and His Orchestra: A bit more uptempo than the others here, but most recognizable by the flute solos, which begin after about 10 seconds. None of the others front a flute.

4. Skitch Henderson with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra: Easily identifiable as it's the only one that begins with simulated sounds of a cracking whip and clip-clopping horse hooves. For the first eight seconds that's all you hear.

5. The Midnight Strings Orchestra: As their name suggests, there are lots of strings here, Yet, it is the prominent organ solo, which kicks in after about eight seconds, that sets this one apart.

6. Ferrante & Teicher: A snap to identify, since the focus of their act is twin pianos. If listening in stereo, you will find the left and right channel each with its own pianist.

Regarding Johnny Mathis having the first vocal of “Sleigh Ride,” I do not agree and have submitted an appropriate correction to Wikipedia.

The earliest vocal recording is the 1950 single by the Andrews Sisters (Decca 27310). This release also refutes stories that Mitchell Parish wrote the lyrics to Leroy Anderson's music many years later.

For the record, Johnny's “Sleigh Ride” is — along the Ronettes and the Ventures — among the most popular versions.

Interesting too is how each of these three is completely different than the other two, and that only the Ventures' originally came out as a single — a 1965 issue (Dolton 312).

Several other vocals came along before 1958, including a 1954 single by Bing Crosby & Jud Conlon's Rhythmaires (Decca 28463), and on seasonal albums in 1956 by both Jo Stafford (“Ski Trails,” Columbia CL-910) and Spike Jones (“A Xmas Spectactular,” Verve MGV-2021).

IZ ZAT SO? Though the original release of “Sleigh Ride,” by the Boston Pops Orchestra, only eked out one week among the Best Sellers in 1949, it stands alone as the only charted “Sleigh Ride” single EVER on the Pop charts!

Like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” and “Winter Wonderland,” “Sleigh Ride” is another of those “Christmas standards” that has nothing whatsoever to do with the events of December 25th.

Their focus is merely the weather and/or winter activities.

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