Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Seventh Day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas! Our last review featured a special so bad it turned my chestnuts green and my fruitcake flaccid, but now it's time for something completely different as the man behind the desk at the BBC used to say. Today's special may, at first glance, seem mawkish and old fashioned, but look a little deeper and you may be surprised at what else you find. There may be a little surprise, too for those of you who have become inured to my more cynical and acerbic observations in previous reviews. All snark and no play makes Bradley a dull boy, so join me below the fold for some wholesome fun and a heartfelt holiday confession!

Shitmas is for lovers.

We're posting a new review of a different Christmas special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. Some are sour, some are sweet, some are special Christmas treats...and some, like today's feature, are just good-natured, sentimental comfort food for the soul. Put on your warmest pair of jim-jams, throw an extra log on the fire and fill up that flute of Christmas champagne. It's holiday nostalgia time!

Okay,'s my confession: I absolutely adore The Lawrence Welk Show. I watch it with a full, open heart and an irrepressible, face-hurting, earlobe-to-earlobe smile. I also gleefully sing along with all the songs, but without even knowing how I know the words to them! This show fills me with a pure and profound joy I can scarcely describe or explain.

It's so easy to rag on the past, to dismiss this sort of entertainment as quaint, corny or irrelevant, but I find it to be timeless, wholesome and delightful. It was made without a lick of irony by people who authentically and whole-heartedly believed in what they were doing, and that, to me, is always something worth celebrating. When I'm faced with our modern entertainment landscape where every franchise seems to be aggressively competing to present the darkest, grittiest vision, it's refreshing to watch something so light, sweet and wholly unburdened by any hint of negativity or cynicism.

I hope you'll forgive me if this review is something of a misty-eyed love-letter to days gone by, but I believe there's still a place in the world for the cheerful innocence and optimism of Lawrence Welk and his Champagne Music Makers.

We open on a merry room festooned with seasonal decorations and a big, beautiful Christmas tree surrounded by a gaggle of smiling children in their Sunday best. Lawrence Welk makes his way through the crowd, handing out gifts to the few kids who don't yet have them, then steps up to the camera to do his introduction. He tells us "we've inn-vided all the childrenz of our Champagne Music Makers to our Chriz-muss par-dy," which as we will later discover is not just some manufactured TV conceit. These children and the mothers chaperoning them aren't props or extras but the actual families of Welk's stable of performers. When Lawrence Welk says it's a "Family Chriz-muss" he means it.

Lawrence Welk always means what he says.

Welk's interactions with the camera are always charmingly awkward, and in 1,065 episodes over 31 years on the air he never mastered the art of reading his cue cards. You can see his eyes moving across each line, pausing clumsily each time he scans down to the next, regardless of what point in a particular sentence the break comes. His speech and manner is as unaffected as a child in a school play, and as comforting as a cup of cocoa on a snowy day.

The first song he introduces is an instrumental of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and we cut to the orchestra for a jolly version of the holiday classic. The notes of the melody bounce mischievously over a percussive foundation of sleigh bells, with muted horns and cheerful little flourishes from the flutes and clarinets.

This is a man who knows how to jingle his bells.

For all their easy swinging ways, the Champagne Music Makers orchestra was widely considered one of the tightest, most disciplined and professional musical groups in the world. When the Mellotron, a keyboard instrument which utilized pre-recorded tape loops to create a mechanical oscillation of each note was being developed, the engineers hired the Champagne Music Makers under the assumption that no other orchestra could hold a pure note as perfectly for the amount of time needed to produce the loops. The Mellotron was famously used by Paul McCartney for the introduction to "Strawberry Fields Forever," and would later become one of the bedrock instruments of the Prog Rock movement.

Yep...these clean cut gentlemen were a seminal influence on both King Crimson and early Genesis. I'll bet you didn't see that coming.

So the orchestra finishes with a flourish and Lawrence Welk appears again to introduce the next number, clearly having a hard time finding his place on the stage. He has to look down and shift over twice before he's on the right mark relative to the camera.

This happens at least once in every episode.

It's adorable.

He tells us we will now hear "a song of rev-uh-rence and devotion," sung by The Lennon Sisters, Janet, Kathy, Peggy and Diane.

When I was a kid I had crushes on all of them.

The Lennon Sisters' pure, unadorned voices and lush harmonies were a staple of the show from 1955 to 1968, and they continue to sing professionally to this day (with the exception of Peggy who retired in 1999). To be clear, I'm not a Christian and I've had a long and complex relationship with both the ubiquitous, sometimes intrusive nature of the Christmas holiday and with organized religion in general.

I grapple with the concept of spiritual faith, but I can be moved by faith in others if I believe it's sincere. The version of "Oh Holy Night" the sisters perform here is full of clear and genuine faith, with a directness, honesty and innocence that's achingly sweet and deeply moving. It's not quite enough to make a convert of me, but it's probably the best performance of the song I've ever heard.

Next we get "a spezial treat for the yung-sters-a," as choreographer Jack Imel and a couple of his resident dancers perform "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers." It's not a standout performance but it's rather cute and certainly worth watching.

I find the dance routines from this era of the show to be a little unpolished compared to those from later episodes, after the immensely talented duo of Cissy King and Bobby Burgess joined the cast in 1967. It must have been a challenge to produce quality dance routines on a weekly basis back when this kind of entertainment was a standard part of the American repertoire.

Dancing wooden soldiers. Meh.

Alice Lon, a primary performer from 1955-59 now sings "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." She's not remembered as one of the greatest singers in the show's history, but she has a pleasing voice and a punchy style, and gives a spirited, cheery performance.

What is she looking at?

Now we get back to the Champagne Music Makers with a sweet swing version of "The Toy Trumpeteer." I love big band music anyway, but The Champagne Music Makers specialized in an easy-swinging style that's nestled in a comfy sweet spot between the heavy syncopation of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway and the smooth precision of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. It's a warm, cozy combination that's easy on the ears, and the musicians always have an infectiously good time as they play.

Like Jerry Burke on hammond organ. Dude is living the dream.

Next we get Maurice Pearson with "The Virgin Slumber Song." He's an almost impossibly clean-cut young man with a classic crooner style who appeared on the show from 1957-61. Like some of the other young performers of this era, Pearson clashed with Welk offstage over what he felt to be his micro-managing and perfectionism...and damn right, too! You don't stay on television for three decades of first-run programs plus an additional three plus decades of weekly syndicated reruns (which continue to this day) if you're not working your ass off to make sure every aspect of your presentation is as perfect as it can be.

Stuff it, Maurice.

Now we get a super-awkward introduction for this evening's guest performer, Miss Betsy Mills, playing "Winter Wonderland" on, as Welk says, "a-one of mai fay-verrit instrumens, da haarp."

Eyes front, mister.

I dig harp, a fact which probably stems from my childhood (and continuing) love for Harpo Marx and his mesmerizing routines in the classic Marx Brothers movies. It's an instrument I find both soothing to listen to and hypnotic to watch played. Miss Mills plays beautifully and looks so darn happy doing it...I can't help but be happy, too. Ms. Mills would go on to write several novels under the name Betsy Goodspeed, and in her 90's she wrote a blog about her life and adventures living in an old folks' home.

Next up is a trio of singing kids, Brian, Cubby and Janet, performing "All Around the Merry Christmas Tree" with the Lawrence Welk Junior Orchestra, a "farm league" band made up of talented adolescents. That's right...Lawrence Welk didn't have just one orchestra, he had two.

Also if you don't find this unbearably adorable then I don't think we can be friends.

This trio was a regular and highly anticipated feature of the show around this time, and they're always professional, vibrant and fun.

Lawrence comes back and says "Thank you, a-yung-sters," in his odd, hybrid accent (he was born to German-Russian immigrants and only learned to speak English at the age of 21) then introduces organist Tom Owens who regales us with his own arrangement of "Sleigh Ride," one of the weaker performances of the evening.

He's like Mr. Rogers but even moreso.

It's a peculiar arrangement with some flourishes and effects that don't quite work, but he's at least trying to freshen up an old chestnut we've all heard a thousand times before. Nothing on The Lawrence Welk Show was done in a cookie-cutter fashion, and each featured performer was given the freedom to put their own stamp on the material they presented each week.

Now we get one of my favorite performers from the early years of the show, singer and violinist Aladdin, here appearing with Janet Lennon. Aladdin had been a successful bandleader and also appeared in over 100 films. He had an erudite aura and a natural rapport with the Lennons, the latter of which did not escape Welk's notice. He regularly paired him with one or another of the sisters in some tableau setting where they'd play father and daughter or teacher and student, performing sweet, sentimental sketches and songs. The Lennon sisters adored Aladdin in real life, too.

The song, "Baby's First Christmas," is about how the new baby's stocking is too small for Santa to put anything in it, so Janet figures she'll swap it out with a piece of Grandma's gargantuan hosiery and baby will make out like a bandit.

"Then you can put it on your head and rob a bank!"

Next up is first violinist Dick Kesner playing Charles Gounod's "Ave Maria Prelude in C-Major," a lovely piece and a fine performance that's also a nice change of mood from the previous few numbers. These programs were generally well-paced with a very organic flow. A few jaunty songs will be followed by something more contemplative and mixed together with sketch-like set pieces and dance routines. The variety helps to keep things moving along and nothing ever feels forced or out of place.

Now we're back to the orchestra with a swinging New Orleans jazz version of "Jingle Bells" featuring cornetist Warren Looning and the legendary Pete Fountain on clarinet. Fountain was with the Champagne Music Makers only briefly, preferring a more improvisational style to Welk's meticulous and controlled arrangements, but his time on the show was an important stepping stone to his subsequent career and well-deserved fame.

Shredding it!

The high-energy playing of the previous number glides effortlessly into a staid but pleasing arrangement of what Welk describes as "one of my fay-verrit pray-ers," sung by Irish tenor Joe Feeney, one of the longest-serving performers in Welk's company. Feeney was near the beginning of his run here and still a little shy before the cameras, but he's got a hell of a set of pipes and his hair is hard and shiny.

That's a lot of Brylcreem.

Oh, boy! Now we get one of those super hokey set pieces that makes folks roll their eyes at the very mention of The Lawrence Welk Show, but make me sit straight up and rub my grubby little hands together in gleeful anticipation.

The launching of the Soviet Union's Sputnik One in October of 1957 marked the beginning of The Space Race, and by the following year the entire world was firmly in the grip of Space Fever. As of this special's airing on December 24th, 1958 NASA was just under three months old. Just one week earlier, on December 18th, the U.S. had launched the very first communications satellite, and President Eisenhower had delivered through it a brief Christmas greeting, which was the very first broadcast of a human voice through space.

Welk decided he'd better jump on the space bandwagon with a cheesy little number of his own, so he had his team whip up the light and airy cosmic confection "Outer Space Santa." It's sung by the kids' trio. They're all wearing big fishbowl space helmets and gazing through what is supposed to be a spaceship portal but looks more like the windshield of a Plymouth.

I hope it gets decent mileage.

The song includes the immortal chorus "Outer space Santa/Shining up the stars/Outer space helpers/Packing up their jars/Milky Way workshop/What a busy place/Getting Christmas ready/For kids in outer space!" It also features some delightfully cheesy miniature effects, a full-scale saucer prop and Outer Space Santa himself!

I can't even describe how much I love this.

This is the undisputed highlight of the special for me. It reaches every cheese-drenched corner of my Lawrence Welk-loving soul.

I am such a dork.

Now we come down from the space Plymouth to an actual Plymouth sitting outside a snow-topped Church. An announcer delivers the compliments of the season from Plymouth and tells us that the sponsor of the show, Plymouth, have decided to forego the usual advertisements for Plymouth so that we, the audience can enjoy all this magical Christmas entertainment uninterrupted by Plymouth.

Not an advertisement for Plymouth.

When we cut back to Lawrence he's desperately looking for his mark on the stage again and glances over at the stage director to make sure he hasn't missed his cue.

Never gets old.

Now we have a Longfellow poem set to music, as vocalist Larry Dean sings "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It's inevitably a bit of a let-down after the insanity of "Outer Space Santa," and it doesn't help that Dean is one of my least favorite singers on the show. He's something of a cold fish, lacking the charisma and enthusiasm of Welk's other performers. He's got a decent enough voice but he always plays it far too safe, ever-failing to "put the eyebrows on it" as Frank Zappa used to say.

Much better is the following number where the Champagne Music Makers put on their trumpet mutes and perform a sparkling rendition of "March of the Toys."

That's a mighty big bassoon you've got there.

Next is Cubby O'Brien, the pre-teen drummer and vocalist of the Junior Orchestra, singing a silly little trifle called "Too Fat for the Chimney."

"He'll have trouble, by jiminy,
he's too fat for the chimney!"

I love that Welk always made room for his youngest performers. It was designed as a family variety show and he therefore felt that all ages should be represented.

The mood gets mellow now with an orchestral ballad featuring trombonist Kenny Trimble called "Christmas Dreaming." Again, the transitional flow between the upbeat numbers and the moodier material works well. It's a solid performance of a pretty tune, full of wistful, nostalgic longing.

We all need a good, slow tromboning from time to time.

The various featured singers come together to form a chorus now for "Silent Night." It's a fairly straightforward arrangement without any flourishes, but it's such a lovely melody it speaks for itself. The performance is brief and serves as a reverent prelude to an instrumental medley of carols with which Lawrence invites the audience to sing along. The set includes "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful."

Fan fave Myren Floren shines on accordion...

...and Jerry's back with a sweet Hammond solo, too!

So the carols end with a little flourish and Lawrence now goes back to the party room full of children from the start of the show and walks around the introducing the band members and all their children for almost ten minutes! It's a charming display you would never see on television today, where every minute of screen time has to be packed with drama or spectacle.

Welk completes the lineup by introducing his own family: son Larry, daughters Donna Lee and Shirley, and granddaughter Laura Jean. Of baby Laura Jean he asks "Now isn't she going to make a grand leetle Champagne Lay-dee?"

How could you not love this man?

The last number is "Jingle Bells" sung by this whole vast sprawling chorus of the extended Welk family, conducted by the man himself. It's a final, joyous, life-affirming holiday gift to America and the world for Christmas, 1958.

As anyone who's read my reviews here can tell you I'm not some glass-half-full, starry-eyed idealist. I wish I could be, but the evidence of my senses tells me that our world is a mess, that it has always been a mess, that human beings are complicated and confused, and are capable of terrible atrocities and unconscionable cruelty. I know we are unlikely to ever fully disentangle ourselves from the worst impulses of our collective nature, but I believe it's that very awareness that makes me yearn for the clear and optimistic visions of people like Lawrence Welk. As bad as we can be we can also aspire to great acts of compassion and forgiveness, and even the worst among us still sometimes seek a lingering glow of innocence within the darkness of our jaded souls. No one is irredeemable, there are no lost causes, and there is always a place and a time for a little bit of Champagne Music to remind us that we are all connected by the common bonds of humanity, decency and love.

The End.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 17th.

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December 2019.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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