People used to gather around the “electric fireplace” at this time of year for Christmas variety shows. These boasted sing-along medleys, unlikely collaborations, corny jokes and often over-the-top clothes and décor. The format didn’t really survive through the 1980s, but in that decade a few Christmas music videos appeared and “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” did a great, final nod to the genre. Fortunately, some of this prehistoric, surreal-yet-sincere media candy can still be found. I’ve decided to collect and share some holiday favorites here—excerpts of TV specials and music videos for the season. Grab a drink and your least annoying loved one, and click on some of this good old fashioned cathode ray holiday cheer. (And feel free to post links to your own favorites in the comments, too!)
Liberace Christmas Special “Sleigh Ride” (1954)
Just to get you in the mood, a short clip of Liberace, a living Christmas ornament.
Judy Garland & Mel Tormé “The Christmas Song” (1963)
Judy Garland and family. She’s had one too many drinks and flubs a couple of lines. (Mel’s gotta be a little irked that she sings “if rainbows really know how to fly,” but he’s nice about it.)
Bing Crosby & David Bowie “The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth” (1977)
Favorite unlikely cross-generational collaboration, and one of the sweetest Christmas songs. I’m still wondering/hoping “…can it be?”
Sonny & Cher Christmas Medley (with guests) (1976)
Yes, Bernadette Peters, Captain Kangaroo and mime team Shields and Yarnell join the family, including an uncomfortable Chas and crying Elijah. Ouch.
Donny & Marie Christmas Show (1977)
Johnny Cash sings “Children Go Where I Send Thee” (1977)
The man in black, with June Carter, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis. Roy Orbinson, Roy Clark, The Statler Brothers and others. (A Sun Records reunion of sorts, of course missing the obvious early Sun Records star, who died that year.)
The Star Wars Holiday Special “Happy Life Day” (1978)
The final song and conclusion of the weird, wookie-rific holiday special that George Lucas really wished never happened.
Grace Jones on Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)
Best Christmas variety show ever.
Paul McCartney & Wings “Wonderful Christmas Time” (1979)
The last catchy Christmas song written.
Wham “Last Christmas” (1984)
This year, give it to someone special.
Run DMC “Christmas In Hollis” (1987)
“…chilling and coolin just like a snowman.”