After I received "Johnny Cash Christmas 1976," I discovered that another Cash special ("Johnny Cash Christmas 1977") was also being released on DVD. Comparing the two setlists, I was a bit envious that I didn't choose the 1977 special as it featured performances by great artists like Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. While "Johnny Cash Christmas 1976" may not have an All-Star lineup, the Special turns out to be a pleasant (albeit flawed) trip back in time.
The 1976 Christmas Special contains performances by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Roy Clark, Merle Travis, Tony Orlando, Barbara Mandrell, The Carter Family, and a preachy story by Billy Graham titled "A Story Of Christmas" that concludes the program. The song list includes: "Wandering," "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree," "Christmas As I Knew It," "Far Away Places," "Juke Box Saturday Night," "That Lucky Old Sun," "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)," "Stephen Foster Medley," "Follow Me," "Cannonball Rag," "That Christmasy Feeling," "In The Pines," "Steel Guitar Rag," "It's A Beautiful Morning With You," "Old Time Feeling."
Like most Christmas Specials (or any Special) of the 70's, there are both enjoyable and awkwardly dated moments. The good: It was refreshing to see the program not take place in a studio. Instead, Cash does the entire show via his farm and his own home in Tennessee. Having the program in these locations made the show less phony and more like he was inviting viewers into his home/life. Additionally, the track listing is fairly strong (although there could have more Christmas songs and less random Stephen Foster tunes). The highlights were undoubtedly June Carter Cash's cover of John Denver "Follow Me" and the catchy duet between Johnny and his brother Tommy on the song "That Christmasy Feeling."
The main problem with the special is that Johnny Cash looks incredibly uncomfortable. Most of the time, Cash's eyes dart around the room nervously while he flashes a forced smile. It doesn't help that the direction of the Special was amateurish. The camera is always either too close or too far on Cash and the set-up in his living room had everyone sitting in strange positions (some people are on a couch, sitting behind others, sitting in chairs, standing, etc.) The arrangement in his house was just so chaotic and unorganized. It's no wonder he (and his family) appeared annoyed (notice the lack of smiles).
Aside from a few noticeable lines and blurry colors, the picture quality looks surprisingly clean. Shout! Factory did a commendable job here.
The audio specifications were not listed, but I have to say the program sounded clear for a 31 year old Special.
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"Johnny Cash Christmas 1976" isn't going to be required viewing for the Holiday season, but it's certainly worth a rent.
Film and television enthusiast Nick Lyons recently had his first book published titled "Attack of the Sci-Fi Trivia." It is available on Amazon.com.