One of the greatest finds I’ve ever made in Christmas music was something I would never have suspected. The album cover is not much to speak of, and the artists weren’t someone I’d ever heard of.
But “Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men” by The J’s with Jamie is simply a perfect Christmas record by what I discovered to be one of the best-known vocal teams of the 1960’s.
But they weren’t known as artists–but voices.
Only a few details about the group survive, mostly from an archived article from Time published in 1964. Tired of life on the road, husband and wife singers Joe and Jamie Silvia traded the night life for family life, settling in to Chicago and becoming the most popular singers of TV and radio commercials. Various singers moved in and out of the J’s with Jamie quartet over the years, including Len Dresslar, best known as the “Ho ho ho” of the Jolly Green Giant.
From Campbells to Marlboro, kitchen appliances to political candidates, The J’s with Jamie sang the praises of them all, backed by the bright sounds of Chicago’s studio musicians. What Broadway was to musical theater, Chicago was to the advertising industry at the time, turning out a volume and quality of work with a uniquely American imprint.
Broadway came calling for Jamie Silvia, but she turned them down. Columbia managed to get the group to record three albums, all sadly long out of print, but the Silvias balked at returning to a life on the road and eventually gave up on recording anything other than jingles.
Their last sighting on vinyl is on the out-of-print Golden Moments compilation from Columbia. Bootlegs of the Columbia records pop up frequently in Japan, where their influence on the J-pop sound has been substantial, including on the well-known Pizzicato Five.
But their Christmas album, created for clients who had hired them over the previous year, is their greatest legacy. Their version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is, simply put, the most catchy, jazzy, and perfect version of the song ever recorded.
Their take on “Cool Yule,” a standard made famous by Louis Armstrong, is bright, cheery, and almost samba-like. And the soaring harmonies of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” make their version second only to Judy Garland’s in excellence.
Their take on traditional carols is also quite beautiful, with tightly written and intricate harmonies rarely found on other recordings of the era, with only the Hi-Lo’s being close in terms of creativity and influence (sadly, the Hi-Lo’s never put out a Christmas album). I really love their take on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which has to be one of the first modern era recordings to give it the true “plainsong” feeling of the song’s roots. It’s really quite lovely stuff.
Sadly, it’s not available commercially. The J’s with Jamie aren’t anywhere on iTunes. But I gladly share it with you here.
Enjoy perfection for Christmas! And try to not like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” for the first time in your life.