You know, I wish I had this much get up and go with the Christmas cards I plan to send out, or putting up the tree.
By “get up and go,” I mean getting this Christmas tune playlist of sorts together. I have tried to narrow down the songs to the ones that I feel I have to hear to get me in the Christmas spirit. I took a ride to the mall with my parents today and on the drive we listened to the Soul Holidays station on Sirius/XM satellite radio. So at least the music put me in something approaching the right frame of mind for this little exercise.
This isn’t even my idea; my blogger buddy Lisa has already done this, and I’m sure many others have already done it as well. But since I’ve been featuring some Christmas music (remember, I’m not one of those who wants it wall-to-wall) this week, I figured I’d run with this. You’ve already seen three of the songs I have to hear that would be on the playlist: those would be “Christmas In Hollis,” “Back Door Santa” and “Christmas Rappin'”.
Quite a few of these favorites of mine are featured on the 1968 album Soul Christmas, which has undergone quite a few changes since its original release. I wrote a post about this classic album last year on Christmas Day; you can read about it here. The primary reason they are here is because it is one of the Christmas albums I remember from my childhood, though some of them are decidedly adult songs (like “Back Door Santa”).
Now to the rest of the list (in no particular order):
No Christmas at my house is complete without the Temptations’ classic version of “Silent Night.” Beware though: the group performed the song twice: once on 1970’s The Temptations’ Christmas Card and again in 1980 on Give Love At Christmas. It’s the latter one I’m after.
Another fondly cherished album from my childhood is Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs. Like Soul Christmas, this one was probably more for the adults than for kids; in fact nary a “standard” Christmas carol can be found on the set. However, there are at least two songs that have become standard Christmas fare: the classic “Merry Christmas Baby” and this song, famously performed by The Eagles, but originally done by Mr. Brown. That would be “Please Come Home For Christmas.”
Since Jimmy Jam Harris & Terry Lewis were responsible for many, many songs of my late teens through middle thirties, you would figure they would have some connection to a Christmas song or two. As it happens there are two they produced and/or helped to write that are on my list. One is Alexander O’Neal’s “Our First Christmas;” the second is the Sounds Of Blackness’ “Soul Holidays” (which manages to include New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day among the “Soul Holidays” listed in the song). No matter, I’m fine with stretching the definition of a Christmas song for this one.
See how we get down for Christmas! (snaps fingers and does an easy two-step)…
As you’ve seen throughout the year, I don’t mind an instrumental song or five when I’m listening to music. The same holds true at Christmas. One of the songs from Soul Christmas (that can also be found on their album In The Christmas Spirit) is Booker T. & The MG’s “Jingle Bells.” It may be the funkiest version of the classic carol I’ve ever heard, and if it isn’t, it’s in the top 5.
A couple more from that classic album that are must-hears at Christmas: Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” which is now a standard R&B Christmas song; and also “Gee Whiz (It’s Christmas)” by Carla Thomas. Carla’s song plays off of her soul classic hit “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)” in the title, but this is an uptempo affair with backup from the same Booker T. & The MG’s from earlier. Hathaway’s song was actually featured on a second version of Soul Christmas that changed some of the tracks from the original. Hathaway was one of the great singer-songwriters of the 1970’s; he also worked with his classmate from Howard University, Roberta Flack for some memorable duets during the decade, and is the father of current R&B singer Lalah Hathaway. Unfortunately, he committed suicide back in 1979, or we’d know much, much more about this talented musician.
I’ve got room for one Christmas chestnut: “The Christmas Song.” I know Mel Tormé co-wrote it and has even sung it, but the version I go back to time after time is the one by Nat King Cole. Pure class, this one is. Don’t get me wrong, there are dozens of other versions of this song that are perfectly fine, including Tormé’s, but it’s Cole’s version I love.
I suppose this next one is technically a New Year’s Eve song, but it certainly gets played before Christmas: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” I’ve chosen the version by King Curtis from where else: Soul Christmas. This one is without vocals, but there are plenty of versions with vocals that I adore, especially one from Boney James which features the great Bobby Caldwell (“What You Won’t Do For Love”).
And what would the holidays be without a little Michael Jackson? “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” always lifts the spirits, and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” always makes me laugh when he says “I’m gonna tell my daddy” that he saw mommy kissing old Saint Nick. We know Joe Jackson wouldn’t be going for his son disturbing his rest in the middle of the night! At any rate, some Jackson 5 never hurts, no matter the season.
For my last two selections, I’m taking the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Linus And Lucy” (seen also as the “Charlie Brown Christmas Dance”), and the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, as performed by an all-star choir assembled by none other than Quincy Jones. The first is well known to anyone who has seen and loved A Charlie Brown Christmas; the cool holiday favorite has a soundtrack to match, thanks to Guaraldi. It is one of those albums that I make sure to hear in full every holiday season. As for the second, there is nothing like hearing a choir of famous voices unite for a great performance: this version is given something of a gospel choir makeover with the likes of Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Take 6, Commissioned, the late Daryl Coley (whose voice you hear ad-libbing at the end), Tramaine Hawkins, Tevin Campbell, Stephanie Mills, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, the Sounds Of Blackness and many others. Quincy had one heck of a rolodex in those days (he probably has it on a smart phone or some other tech device now).
A bit long, yes; and I’ve probably left out a bunch of songs that I love to hear during the holiday season. How about you? What are some of your favorite Christmas songs? Feel free to list them in the comments (along with video if you wish). As always, thanks for listening and reading.
NOTE: To the geniuses at Pandora radio: I don’t care what your algorithm says, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Love’s Holiday” is NOT a Christmas song! So stop playing it on Soul Holidays already! That’s my story anyways. Your definition may differ from mine; after all reasonable minds may differ. 🙂