Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Saint AND sinner. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. Son. and more…
Though he would go on to later make umpteen Christmas themed albums this was Johnny Cash’s first attempt and by far his greatest. Released in 1963 The Christmas Spirit features twelve songs of which many were penned either by the great man himself or his family and a handful of Johnny’s unparalleled Christmas standards such as ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Blue Christmas’.
The Christmas Spirit was released on 1st November 1963 on Columbia Records and had a re-release in the the early 1990’s where the production was re-mastered. Now my Mammy use to own a whole load of Johnny Cash album’s and among them were several Christmas records that could, I’m afraid, be described as Cash-in’s (groan…). This record though has an authentic feel to it. Like Johnny was singing with all his heart and soul on this one, coming as it did not long into the start of his recording career.
The Christmas Spirit has twelve songs and comes in at just under forty minutes. It has three songs composed solely by Johnny and one co-written with his father-in-law Ezra ‘Eck’ Carter. It also features two songs written by Johnny’s wife and long time collaborator June Carter. As for the songs it’s all about the wonderful and warm voice of Johnny Cash. ‘Christmas As I Knew It’ is an biographical song about Johnny’s childhood Christmasses in Dyess, Arkansas that was written by June and Jan Howard. Johnny speaks from the heart about his working class background and his family and their Christmas traditions.
The LP features Johnny’s amazing version of ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ plus ‘Here Was a Man’ and ‘Christmas As I Knew It’, plus more like ‘Blue Christmas’, at the time made famous by Johnny’s old label mate Elvis Presley, and a warm reading of ‘Silent Night’, making The Christmas Spirit a groundbreaking effort for this sorely missed legend. Johnny sings lead vocals on all the songs with backing from various Carter family members and the feel of the album is one of absolute calm. It may not be very fashionable for some Johnny Cash-come latelys to admit that religion was one of the driving forces in one way or another throughout Johnny’s career but it certainly was.
The Christmas Spirit by Johnny Cash
“On Christmas Eve I dreamed I traveled all around the earth
And in my dream I saw and heard the ways the different people hail the king
Whose star shone in the east and what a dream it was
In London Town I walked around Piccadilly Circus
A mass of people movin’ here and there I wandered where
On every face at every place was hurry up I’m late
But a kind old man at a chestnut stand said merry Christmas mate
And I felt the Christmas spirit
In a little town nestled down in Bavaria Germany
I walked along to see what the feeling there would be
And here again was the busy din the rushin’ the yellin’
But some kind boy said Frohliche Weihnachten
Not understanding the words but gettin’ the buyin’ and sellin’
I felt the Christmas spirit
In Bethlehem I heard a hymn some distant choir sang
And with other tourists I walked along to a church as its bells rang
Then I heard someone tell someone there’s where Christ was born
I wonder if he looked like our baby looked on that first morn
And then I really felt the Christmas spirit
From a businessman in the Holy Land as a sidewalk souvenir shop
I bought a little Bible since I’d hardly stopped
And it was in Paris France somehow by chance that I took the Bible out
And as I flipped the pages I saw these words and I knew what it was all about
For I read fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy
Which shall be to all people
For unto you he was born this day in the City of David a Saviour
Which is Christ the Lord
Then I took the little Holy Book held it close and tight
I closed my eyes and visualized the glory of that night
So suddenly it came to me for when I awoke on Christmas Day
I felt the Christmas spirit down deep inside to stay
From the very beginning of his career Johnny Cash recorded gospel songs and if Johnny Cash sang it then you knew Johnny Cash believed in it with all his conviction. His rugged voice, growling, sometimes simply speaking of killers and Jesus in the same breath. He himself had at heart this combination of light and darkness. He was a devout Christian who read his bible daily even in the middle of the deep and dark drug addiction he suffered from. There’s not a single bad song here. Johnny’s voice saves it from any excessive garishness or sentimentality making it a must have for any Cash fans or anyone looking for some Christmas music that ranks up their with ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Johnny Cash was both saint and sinner personified and at what better time to remember him than now at Christmas..
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THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES
This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.
You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.
(if the links are broken please leave a comment and we will fix)
Tagged: Johnny Cash