In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
Andy Williams’ “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”
PEAK: #7 on January 4, 2020
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
For many of us, Christmas music feels like it’s always been around. From our first memories of Christmas, we are constantly exposed to the many classic songs that are played nonstop every December to mark the holiday. They’re played so much to the point that they register less as songs but more as a fact of life. Even if we’re sick to death of hearing these songs, it’s hard to imagine Christmas without them. Case in point: Andy Williams’ “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”
Andy Williams was a man that was born to perform. Growing up in Wall Lake, Iowa where he and his brothers sang in church and formed their own singing group the Williams Brothers. They started out performing at various Midwestern radio stations before moving to Los Angeles to sing backup for major stars including Bing Crosby on his 1944 record “Swinging On A Star” and appeared in several movie musicals. Soon they were a hit in Vegas and nightclubs with the help of the singer and actress Kay Thompson who Williams had a long-term affair with before breaking up in 1953.
For a while, Williams struggled on his own but his appearances on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show landed him a recording contract with New York-based label Cadence Records and began hitting immediately. Even in the era of rock n’ roll, Williams’ style of crooning easy listening pop was a winning formula releasing many successful singles that charted high on pre-Hot 100 Billboard charts. One of those hits, 1957’s “Butterfly,” a decent crooner style rockabilly romp with Williams performing in an Elvis like vocal style reached #1. After the Hot 100 launched in 1958, Williams remained a regular chart presence with largely tender and sleepy ballads hitting the Top 10 with “Lonely Street” and “The Village of St. Bernadette” both in 1959. (“Lonely Street” peaked at #5. It’s a 5. “The Village of St. Bernadette” peaked at #7. It’s a 6.)
Going into the ‘60s, Williams’ star rose as he moved over to the major label Columbia leading to successful albums like 1962’s Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes named after the Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme he performed at the 1962 Academy Awards which made such an impression that the song became heavily associated with him. But his version wasn’t released as a single meaning at the time it couldn’t chart. (Henry Mancini’s original “Moon River” and Jerry Butler’s cover both peaked at #11.) Williams’ follow-up, 1963’s Days of Wine and Roses and Other TV Requests, did better spending sixteen weeks atop the album charts giving him his highest-charting Hot 100 hit with “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” peaking at #2. (It’s a 6.)
During this period of success, Williams made his move to TV hosting his own variety show The Andy Williams Show on NBC launching in 1962. The show was an immediate ratings hit with Williams showcasing the various talent of the day including introducing the world to the future hitmakers of the Osmond family. A big part of his show was doing an annual Christmas special and in 1963 the shows’ vocal director George Wyle along with songwriter Edward Pola wrote “It’s The Most Wonderful Time” specifically for the special. The song wound up on his 1963 album The Andy Williams Christmas Album, his first of eight Christmas albums. It became a big enough of a hit with audiences that Williams performed it every year and even re-recorded it many times.
As a song, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time” is pure joyous innocence. The lyrics are nothing but listing all the fun activities we associate with Christmastime like caroling, parties, spending time with loved ones, and even references the Victorian-era tradition of telling ghost stories during Christmas. That kind of old-fashioned reference along with the now outdated use of gay to mean happy can make it outdated today and yet it still feels timeless. There’s not much depth to these activities but rather just expressing excitement for the holidays which is all this song aims to do and does well.
In his performance, Andy Williams doesn’t have a whole lot of personality but his charisma and charm make up for it selling the jolly good time nature of the song. Hearing him describe all these Christmas activities is enough to bring a warm smile to your face. Williams makes Christmas sound like an occasion worth looking forward to. The production aspects: the big-band brass and the soaring choir also add a lot of fun to the song. All of this puts me in a good mood whenever it comes on.
For my whole life, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has become so ingrained into our culture that I can’t imagine a Christmas where this song doesn’t exist. Like most other Christmas songs, it can be hard to hear them with fresh ears and overplay can lower its impact but with that, the song still holds up as nothing but pure holiday joy. Even if you’re sick of Christmas music overplay, who wants to get mad towards “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” It’s just too happy and cheerful to get mad at.
Like many Christmas songs, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has only just recently been able to have its popularity reflected on the charts despite being inescapable for decades. At the time, Columbia chose to release Williams’ cover of “White Christmas” as the official single from his Christmas album so “It’s The Most Wonderful Time” didn’t chart in 1963. The song started to appear on Billboard in 2011 when they re-established their Holiday Hot 100 chart with Williams’ song charting high since. It made its debut on the Hot 100 during the 2016 Christmas season at #48 and has risen every year getting to a new peak of #7 last year.
Andy Williams wouldn’t live to see this newfound success. For the rest of the ‘60s, Williams wouldn’t have much more success on the charts as pop music drastically changed away from his easy-listening crooner style. But his albums continued to sell and netted one more Top 10 hit in his lifetime with 1971‘s “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” a gloopy lyrical version of Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme From Love Story,” used in the hit movie Love Story. Williams’ take wound up peaking at #9. (It’s a 5.)
This declining chart success probably didn’t matter to Williams as he became more of an entertainer than an artist, someone who didn’t need the charts to survive. The Andy Williams Show continued its success until NBC canceled it in 1971. He performed a twenty-year Las Vegas residency, sang at Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral, hosted seven straight Grammy Awards in the ‘70s, performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 1973 in the days before it became the huge public spectacle we all know it as. In 1992, he opened the Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri performing regularly over the years.
Williams remained active until he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2011 leading to his death the next year at age 84. He may be gone but his voice will continue to soundtrack Christmas as long as there are Christmases to celebrate.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from 1992’s Home Alone 2: Lost in New York where “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” soundtracks a rainy ride to the hotel:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Since 1995, Staples has used a parody of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” in its back-to-school shopping ads. Here’s one of those commercials from 1996:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: In 2011, Nissan used a version of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” in their Christmas commercial. Here’s that ad:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Mindy Kaling and the Muppets singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” on a 2015 episode of the short-lived Muppets TV show:
(Kermit The Frog’s highest-charting single, 1979’s “Rainbow Connection,” peaked at #25.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Starting in 2017, Sprite has used a hip-hop inflected version of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” in their Christmas ads featuring an animated LeBron James. Here’s that ad: