Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has to hand it to Johnny Cash. Who else transcended musical genres—and walked the line with Lt. Columbo?
"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. You know, we're coming into the Christmas season, and it's a time for friends to get together. We've invited some friends of ours—including you—to visit us at our home so we can all start getting into the Christmas spirit."
When Johnny Cash made his 1976 Christmas special, he was riding a second career wave that had started swelling in the late 1960s with concerts at Folsom and San Quentin prisons. He'd also done two seasons of The Johnny Cash Show. He hadn't been the subject of a biopic yet, but his fame had already spread beyond the worlds of gospel and country music. The Man in Black was a musical force to be reckoned with.
Still, you might be tempted to dismiss The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976, sight unseen, as a cheesy relic of the 1970s. Should you give the special, released as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame archive series, a second look?
Facts of the Case
The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 includes the following numbers and features:
First off, it's obvious that Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 was filmed in the fall (November 1-6, to be precise). That's not bad, since the leaves around Cash's farm and home are brilliant in reds and oranges.
Christmas songs and thoughts make up only a small part of the special. Getting together with family and friends is the overall theme. That leads to some obviously scripted jokes (Cash teasing "city boy" Tony Orlando by telling him June makes great "snake and potatoes"), but it also includes Cash's recollections of holidays and listening to the radio. With friends like Tony Orlando, Roy Clark, and Barbara Mandrell, and family like the Carters, it mostly means music, which is the reason why you'd want to share a virtual holiday with the Cashes.
My favorite musical bits included the Cash-Clark duet on "Far Away Places"; the Stephen Foster Medley, which uses Old Hickory Lake as a beautiful backdrop; "Steel Guitar Rag," an instrumental from Barbara Mandrell; "Old Time Feeling," a duet with Johnny and June Carter Cash; and "That Lucky Old Sun," a Johnny Cash solo. Overall, the music is great and it leaves you with a warm feeling, like a holiday special is supposed to do.
I also liked seeing Cash's home and farm in Tennessee, which served as a backdrop for the musical numbers.
There are a couple of glitches and I thought I caught a ghost image, but the videotaped picture has, for the most part, held up well. The sound quality's reasonable, even if it's not the sound remastering you'd dream of.
The only extra is a thin booklet with background on Cash and on the special. It's good stuff, but not much; if you've come to expect lots of bonus features, you'll be disappointed.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Isn't it a shame that we only see Johnny Cash performing one full song solo? He does several duets, has a brief piece in a medley, and sings over the opening montage, but "That Lucky Old Sun" is all we get of Cash by himself. That's a little disappointing, but no one was considering the historical value of The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 when it was made.
I'm not sure how much time Johnny Cash and his family and friends spent singing at their non-televised holiday get-togethers, but this family sing-along session is fun.
There's some cheesiness (as you'd expect from a 1970s holiday TV special), but Cash kept it to a minimum.
It's a better-than-average holiday special, and you get to peek at Cash's home and farm in Tennessee. While there aren't any DVD extras, the booklet with background information was a nice touch.
Because Cash deferred to his guests, The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 isn't a showcase for The Man in Black; track down an album or concert DVD for that. On its own merits, though, it's worth a look—although I'd try to find a better price than the $14.98 list for a 50-minute special.
Not guilty. There's not enough here for a musical feast, but it's a sweet holiday treat for fans nonetheless.
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