22 December 2020

Paul Rich - Must Be Santa/ Virgin Mary

 Cut-price cover of the Mitch Miller favourite
Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1960
I can't resist putting an Embassy single up for your attention before Christmas arrives. After all, which of us didn't receive a budget record for the festive season from a tight-arsed (or thrifty) relative? "It's just a little something for you to open on Christmas Day" as Auntie Vi used to say, not realising that the LP she'd brought you was not recorded by the latest hot hit makers, but by some balding session musicians working to the clock (cut to an image of Elton John beavering away in the studio corner). Think about it - what could be more Christmassy than a cheap Woolworths knock-off?
Still, it's not as if "Must Be Santa" was much of a hit in the UK anyway, and it's certainly not as if it really "belonged" to Tommy Steele, who took it to an under-achieving number 40 here. The track had originally been recorded in the USA by Mitch Miller and then interpreted by Steele later, meaning it was wide open for anyone's attempt by this point, low budget or otherwise. Embassy Records stalwart Paul Rich, who recorded more frequently for the budget Woolworths label than any other singer, gives it a much less cheeky and more rounded, better enunciated take than Steele, and there's a cosiness to it I can't help but enjoy. This feels like polite, 1960 Palladium entertainment and the song and arrangement suits my mood like a comfy pair of slippers.

It can't have been much of a cash generator for Woolies, though. For as much as the song was reasonably well liked in North America, it didn't really begin to pick up in popularity in the UK until Bob Dylan's crazed cover was released, which seems to have become the template for every pub band and artist who has tried it since. Even the wonderful Zooey Deschanel took Bob's stylings for this under her wing in 2016, but made the fatal error of including Hilary Clinton's name among the list of presidents at the point of recording. Ah well. Christmas is the perfect time for optimism, I suppose.

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