For a generation of Americans, alongside yuletide LPs from Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’s 1964 album “That Holiday Feeling!” represents an ingrained part of the Christmas season. Although Gorme died in 2013 at age 84 and Lawrence, now 87, retired from public life following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2019, their classic Christmas record is back and better than ever this holiday season.
A remastered and expanded “That Holiday Feeling!” CD was released November 11 via Real Gone Music. Just in time to usher in the iconic album’s 58th holiday season, the reissue, overseen by David Lawrence (the couple’s film composer son), is an early gift for Steve and Eydie fans across the globe. Even better, the expanded “That Holiday Feeling!” represents the first in a series of remastered and expanded releases planned for the couple’s joint and solo 1960s-era Columbia Records discographies.
“What has been wonderful to see over the decades is how much of a perennial favorite this album is for people,” says David Lawrence on a Zoom call with Real Gone Music co-founder Gordon Anderson. “It’s one thing to hear your parents say, ‘Oh, everyone loves this album’ and it’s another thing when people stop you and say, ‘I grew up listening to that album. It’s so important to me and my family.’ It was eye-opening.”
Upon its release, the album got additional exposure via Columbia Special Products, a division of the label responsible for creating annual Christmas compilations of their artists for clients, including Goodyear Tires and Grant’s department stores. Tracks from “That Holiday Feeling!” were sprinkled onto these annual compilations throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.
Lawrence pauses a moment to appreciate the irony and adds, “It’s funny when you consider two Jews are famous for their Christmas album. Growing up, we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. We didn’t care as long as we got presents!”
For Anderson, partnering with David Lawrence to reissue “That Holiday Feeling!” was a no-brainer for Real Gone Music. Decades ago, as the founder of the mail-order Collectors’ Choice Music, Anderson struck a deal with Steve and Eydie’s management to sell the couple’s GL Music label compact discs of their old 1960s Columbia Records catalog.
“Over the years at Collectors’ Choice, their fans kept asking us for Steve and Eydie albums,” recalls Anderson. “After years of continuously asking, their manager Judy Tannen finally relented and let us buy from her. We sold a ton of their titles. I’m a rock ‘n’ roller but I’m kind of captivated by Steve and Eydie. Their records are compelling and fun. They’re both great singers but Eydie, especially, has such personality in her singing. These recordings deserve a wider audience.”
Ultimately, fans have Steve Lawrence himself to thank for these reissues. When the couple signed with Columbia Records in 1962, Lawrence had the label agree to a clause in their contract granting the couple ownership of their masters 25 years after leaving the label.
“It’s become this underground classic. You can’t believe the e-mails I get from kids in their 30s.”Steve Lawrence in 2001, on the enduring appeal of “That Holiday Feeling!”
By 1968, when Columbia had shifted its focus to rock artists like The Byrds and Bob Dylan, Gorme and Lawrence departed for a new deal at RCA Records. Consequently, in 1993, ownership of Lawrence and Gorme’s Columbia masters reverted to them, just in time to be issued on the CD format for the first time.
“My dad was pretty sharp for thinking that way,” says David Lawrence. “It wasn’t done a lot in those days. Now, there isn’t a recording artist in the world who wouldn’t want ownership of their masters. But it was very forward-thinking at the time.”
Now, with his mother gone and his father ill, it was important to Lawrence that his parent’s musical legacy be preserved, beginning with their beloved Christmas album. He says he makes regular visits to Las Vegas where the masters are housed and takes favorites from the couple’s discography to Los Angeles where they’re “remixed, rebalanced and remastered, making them pristine and fabulous.” Anderson says fans can expect new greatest hits compilations of both their Columbia solo work and Lawrence/Gorme duets from Real Gone Music in the coming years, including Gorme’s 1963 hit album “Blame It on the Bossa Nova” and her Grammy-winning 1966 torch song collection “Don’t Go to Strangers.”
Digitizing Lawrence and Gorme’s discography, meanwhile, is a delicate task. “We worked from the original two-track masters and were able to remaster that and give it a more stereophonic sound,” explains Lawrence. “We used compressors to bring out the strings and the backing vocals. The masters were in decent shape, they weren’t in great shape. So we had them dehydrated and baked. Then we digitized them. That was important because you have to be really, really careful about how many times you run a nearly 60-year-old tape through a machine. They were surprisingly workable.”
“Listening to my Dad from 1964 on a solo mono track gave me chills. He was 29, a baby. It was kind of wild hearing him like that.”David Lawrence
For both Anderson and Lawrence, the discovery of the eight bonus tracks on the expanded “That Holiday Feeling!” was the most exciting part of the restoration project. “Being able to find eight obscure bonus tracks was a surprise,” says Anderson. “For fans, it’s really a heaping helping of rarities.”
The bonus tracks include Steve performing religious standards “The First Noel” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” along with a folk rendition of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” and Eydie’s gorgeous recording of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” On his audio archeological dig, David also unearthed some of his father’s isolated mono vocals from the “That Holiday Feeling!” sessions. “Listening to my Dad from 1964 on a solo mono track gave me chills,” says Lawrence. “He was 29, a baby. It was kind of wild hearing him like that.”
While Gorme’s solo rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is the one fans have known for nearly 60 years on “That Holiday Feeling!, a new discovery made by Lawrence and his wife, composer Faye Greenberg prompted an excited phone call to Anderson. They had stumbled onto a second version of the song. “I called Gordon and said, ‘You’re not going to [expletive] believe this! We found ‘White Christmas’ sung by my dad. The more we dug, the more we found.”
“The people who come to our shows now either roll in on wheelchairs or skateboards. It’s gratifying that the younger people are listening to the classic American songwriters again.”Eydie Gorme in 2001
In a 2001 phone interview from their Las Vegas home, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were bemused by the longevity of their holiday LP. “It’s become this underground classic,” Steve told me. “You can’t believe the e-mails I get from kids in their 30s.” Picking up the house extension, Eydie laughed and added, “The people who come to our shows in Vegas now either roll in on wheelchairs or skateboards. It’s gratifying that the younger people are listening to the classic American songwriters again.”
During the interview with Gorme egging him on on the extension, Lawrence revealed a secret from the 1964 sessions as well — “Those horse whip sound effects on ‘Sleigh Ride?’” I made them! There weren’t any fancy sound effects back when we recorded that album, so I just made them up on the spot.”
Says David Lawrence, laughing: “Years after they recorded it, I remember him talking about that. My dad had a knack for doing sound effects. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t something spontaneous that happened in the studio too. At the end of ‘Sleigh Ride’ there’s this banter between them. It doesn’t sound scripted to me, it sounds very natural. It’s possible he just started making the whip noise and they were just having fun and they left it.”
Lawrence and Gorme graciously declined to take the bait in 2001 when I suggested “That Holiday Feeling!” is the swinging big band Christmas album their close friend Frank Sinatra always wished he had made. Making all the difference? Arranger Don Costa, whose work as ABC-Paramount Records A&R director included arranging, producing and conducting Gorme’s first albums in the 1950s. On efforts such as “Eydie Swings The Blues,” Costa and Gorme’s artistic collaborations created the blueprint for Gorme’s brassy, belting and very swinging signature sound. David Lawrence says Costa’s work on “That Holiday Feeling!” is exceptional (In 1961, Costa would be hired to arrange the “Sinatra and Strings” album, the first of a series of decades-spanning collaborations with the singer).
“I know this album was something my folks and Don wanted to do,” says Lawrence. “He was a member of the family. Don was also my mentor, musically. He’s responsible for producing Mom’s biggest records. I would venture to say that while Frank cemented a relationship with Nelson Riddle before everybody could get their hands on him, my mom cemented a relationship with Costa before everybody could get their hands on him. These were two [arranging] giants. As my mom and dad were honing in on a duets sound, Don was right there. It was Sinatra swinging, but as duets. And this wasn’t Keely Smith and Louis Prima. This was a genre all unto itself. They were that Sinatra equivalent, but as a duo. So, when the concept of a Christmas album reared its head, it only made sense that it would swing. Likewise, the ballads they do as solo numbers are very rich and uncharacteristic of the rest of their material in terms of performance and approach. It was fun to hear them sing outside of what they normally recorded.”
And Don Costa’s gorgeous big band and lush string-laden arrangement of the opening title track sonically sets the holiday mood perfectly. Steve and Eydie flirt mercilessly with each other, trading lyrics like “Those reindeer soon will be here/Won’t mean a thing to me, dear/When Santa Claus begins his flight/I hope he gets a flat tonight.” The pair even manages to artfully transform the word mistletoe into a verb.
“That track is the closest to what they did — it really swings,” says David Lawrence. “You can hear how much fun they’re having. Of all the songs of that album, it’s the one where they’re loosest. It’s the one where they sound most like Steve and Eydie.” Over the decades, the duet has rarely been covered by other artists. That might be changing. Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli have cut a new jazz trio rendition for her 2022 album “The Merriest” while Liz Gillies and “Family Guy” creator turned crooner Seth MacFarlane recorded a near note-for-note cover of Costa’s arrangement for their 2021 duets album “Songs From Home.”
Another gift included in the new expanded edition bonus tracks is Gorme’s soaring rendition of “My Favorite Things” from her 1965 Columbia album “Sings The Great Songs From The Sound of Music and Other Broadway Hits.” Explains Lawrence: “Faye and I were listening to the masters and we came across ‘My Favorite Things’ and Faye said, I know it’s technically not a Christmas song but if this doesn’t sound like a Christmas song, nothing does. As far as I’m concerned, my mom was among the top five best pop singers of the 20th century and this track is a great example of why.”
For David Lawrence, remastering and reissuing the Steve and Eydie Columbia discography is a way of preserving his parent’s musical legacy, especially now that his father is ill. In 2019 (as Tony Bennett’s family would do just two years later), Steve Lawrence made the brave decision to go public with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Of his father’s current condition, David says, “He’s comfortable and we are providing the best quality of life possible for him. Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease. Families have to watch their loved one deteriorate. It’s horrible. In his own mind, he seems very happy. He has the best life we can offer under the circumstances.”
As for the future of Steve and Eydie’s classic recordings, Gordon Anderson and Real Gone Music have big plans for the couple’s catalog. “There’s some deep collector things that haven’t really come out that we’re really excited about,” Anderson previews. “Maybe some rare singles and unreleased content, too. We’re also looking at putting some of these out on limited edition vinyl. That’s the format the skateboarders Eydie referred to in 2001 are into these days.”
Adds Lawrence: “Gordon and Real Gone have a love and affinity for this material. That’s what I wanted. Gordon has a history with my parents and has a respect for this genre. I feel really good about this collaboration. Ultimately, I want to create a high quality legacy series of this material that’s out there forever.”
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.