The original SNL cast’s take on “Winter Wonderland” is one of my favorite Christmas recordings ever. It’s from the first season of Saturday Night Live; Candice Bergen is hosting, and you can see her singing along with Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and Laraine Newman. The underrated Garrett Morris delivers the powerful lead vocal, and there’s something magical about the moment when the boys — Chevy, Aykroyd, Belushi — come in for support.
When I was a kid, I was always puzzled by the clip. I saw it several times on Comedy Central reruns; this is back when Comedy Central was a fledgling network that ran SNL about 8hrs a day, along with lots of bad ’80s stand up shows, MST3K, and a show I loved called Short Attention Span Theater hosted by some guy named John Stewart. Anyway, I guess what puzzled me so much was that it seemed so damn sincere, and so good. I suppose Morris’s vocal provides much of the earnest authenticity that so baffled me when set against the goofy, ironic sloppiness of those (very) early SNL skits. I guess I was looking for a joke and couldn’t find one. They didn’t seem to be mocking the song. In retrospect, I can see that there’s something of a loving parody at work in their version of “Winter Wonderland,” a gentle poke at old, hokey Christmas musicals, but the emphasis is on loving – it’s almost bizarre in its tenderness and earnest emotion.