Johnny Cash’s Christmas: How special is the Special?

A closer look at 1976 and The Johnny Cash Christmas Special.

For this festive post we’re going back to 1976 and The Johnny Cash Christmas Special. I’m a fan so I’m hoping for a treat, a good country celebration with the Man in Black. He’s the big JC, he walks the line, he’s cooler than a reindeer’s nose; I have high expectations. Along the way I’ll be looking at key components, including who’s got the best Christmas sweater and assessing the state of the Cash’s tree. Ok, let’s go…

0.30: JC is out for a lone stroll in the woods. Not a particularly Festive opening but I’m willing to let it go. He seems very serious. He’s singing ‘I’m never going to cease my wanderin’…’. Pretty soon he ceases his wandering and hops in to his jeep.

Johnny Cash

2.45: We’re off to meet Johnny’s ‘good friend’ and ‘city boy’ Tony Orlando. Groovy name. We could be in for a treat. JC has picked him up in the jeep. ‘Funny’ conversation ensues. “I love nature, too bad it’s all outdoors” says Tony at one point. What a joker. I hope he’s a better singer than he is a comedian.

6.00: They’ve arrived at the farm and June has joined them. The programme has suddenly become an episode of Nature Watch or something. “What kind of tree is that?” June asks Tony. Tony’s unsure. “It’s a big tree” he jokes. Nope try again says JC. Is it a Christmas tree? It should be a Christmas tree. It doesn’t look like a Christmas tree…

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6.28: It’s all become horribly clear. It’s an oak tree. An old oak tree. An old oak tree with a yellow ribbon tied around it. Shit. And a cloyingly bland joint rendition of ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ it is. What the hell has this got to do with Christmas???

9.10: It’s over, thankfully, and JC is going for another stroll on his own. He’s talking about home and childhood. This is all a preamble to a song I’m assuming. In comes the music. Yep, he’ll start singing any second now…

JCCS 410.40: Nope, he’s still talking. Apparently, Christmas was bleak in the old days but they were happy. Or something.

11.20: Still talking. It’s all rather depressing. No sign of a song. Not much sign of anything Festive either.

14.30: Singer Roy Clark has joined Johnny in the barn. It’s dark. There’s a fire going. Why are they not in the house? Are they avoiding Tony Orlando? You couldn’t blame them.

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18.00: Finally, a Christmas song. ‘The Christmas Song’ in fact, sung pleasantly enough by Roy. This show is finally starting to live up to its billing. Still not that Christmassy though. No tinsel as of yet, and still no tree.

20.20: It’s Roy, Tony and Johnny together. Some painfully unfunny chit-chat ensues. There’s a song on the way surely? There indeed is, and it turns out to be, of all things, ‘Camptown Ladies’ and a medley with solo slots. Tony Orlando is playing the fool and an imaginary banjo. He thinks he’s funny. He is, in all actual fact, singularly unamusing.

tonyjohnnyroy

27.00: Inside now. All the relatives and guests are assembled. JC just mentioned Merle Travis. I spy a tree! Things could be about to improve.

29.30: Here he is, Merle Travis, country-picking legend. He starts and it’s instantly the best thing in the show so far. He has a light-beige leather suit. He has a guitar with his name spelt out on the fretboard. Merle is the man.

merle

31.00: “That’s fine Merle” say JC. That’s it??? He’s just improved the quality of this show by a mile and you give the man a minute? How much screen time has bloody Orlando had so far?? Who put this show together??? Grrrr…..

31.10: It being Christmas, Johnny kindly lets his brother Tommy join him in a song. It’s fair to say Tommy doesn’t really have his brother’s star quality. He does have a very nice sweater on though, which kind of makes up for it.

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33.00: The Carter Family are singing ‘In The Pines’. It’s wonderful and aside from Merle the musical highlight of the show.

36:40: Someone called Barbara Mandrell has dazzled us with some lap-steel work and is now singing. She’s stroking the Christmas tree. Hmmm. Oh well, at least I can now see the tree, even if it is a little dull.

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40.00: Oh fuck no. It’s Billy Graham. Unless he’s got a musical career I don’t know about I’m fairly sure he’s about to start preaching.

42.30: He’s a-preaching. I never thought about it before but he looks like he should be presenting a game show. Or a shopping channel.

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47.43: Graham’s still at it. The Carter family look like all the cheer of the season has escaped up the chimney. I want this to end now please thank you very much!

49.40: And that’s it, Christmas at the cash household is over. JC signs off – “goodnight and happy holidays” – before some decidedly un-festive music kicks in.

The verdict:

Most Christmassy moment: Roy Clark singing ‘The Christmas Song’ was almost the sole festive highlight.

Best Musical Moment: Merle Travis aside, The Carter Family towers above pretty much everything else.

Worst Musical Moment: Tony Orlando lightly vomiting ‘I Dream Of Jeannie’ was probably when I came closest to head-butting my laptop.

Best Christmas Sweater: Undoubtedly Johnny’s brother Tommy. It’s not even a Christmas sweater truth be told, but it’s about as close as we get.

Christmas Tree Rating: Needed brighter decorations. Needed more air-time. Surely had more to offer entertainment-wise than Tony Orlando but failed to get a chance to prove it.

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