If Santa Claus had an answering service (e.g., "If you know your elf's extension, enter it followed by the pound sign"), he'd want Burl Ives for the voice behind it. Ives sounds like we'd expect Santa Claus to: grandfatherly and inches away from either bursting into a warm laugh or teaching us a lesson worth knowing. Before waxing sentimental, be warned that Santa Claus Is Coming to Town is simply a product repackaged by MCA in 1987 to cash in on the holidays (the original recordings apparently date from 1965). There are two tracks here that Burl is well-known for: "A Holly Jolly Christmas" (itself the title of another MCA repackage in 1992 that featured nearly identical artwork) and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (He played the voice of the troubadour/snowman in the stop-motion film of the same name, as if you didn't already know.) Ives doesn't skate over the religious significance of the holiday, however; "Christmas Is a Birthday" and "Christmas Child (Loo, Loo, Loo)" remind us that Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ (for Christians, anyway), as does "The Little Drummer Boy." Some of the songs are plagued by the backing singers, who spread prefabricated sentiment like peanut butter on a pine cone, but the acoustic guitar returns some intimacy to the slower tracks. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town isn't a Christmas classic, but there are a number of good songs on here, including a few that you don't hear all the time. The soundtrack to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is recommended as the definitive Burl Ives Christmas record, but this sampler isn't a bad way to work Ives' voice into the holiday mix.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Connolly