We got six more inches of snow up here yesterday, the house is as decorated as it’s going to get, and we’re in the mood for Christmas with two weeks to go, so here’s another volume of random tunes for the season.
“Medley: Wassail Song-The First Noel-Angels We Have Heard on High-Joy to the World”/Living Strings/The Spirit of Christmas. From the greatest Christmas album ever recorded, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. More than anything else—any physical object I own, any family tradition I observe—it’s this album that signifies Christmas in my life.
“What Christmas Means to Me”/Stevie Wonder/Christmas Collection. If aliens showed up and said “Play us the most representive sample of this Motown of which we have heard, or we will vaporize you,” you might be tempted to grab “Reach Out I’ll Be There” or “Where Did Our Love Go,” but if you grabbed this, you’d get away just as unvaporized.
“Sleigh Ride”/Duke Pearson/Merry Ole Soul. I am guessing that whatever the average person on the street knows about sleigh rides comes from the lyrics of this song, which originally appeared at Christmas of 1949. According to the biographer of composer Leroy Anderson, it’s been recorded by a wider variety of artists than any other piece in the history of Western music, and that seems reasonable to me: The other day, we had the Sirius/XM holiday channel on in the car, and it was playing versions of “Sleigh Ride” every hour.
“Jingle Bells”/Booker T and the MGs/In the Christmas Spirit. If you’re going to record “Jingle Bells,” you can’t do it straight; you’ve got to change it up somehow. In 1966, Booker T. Jones put a signature twist on the basic structure of the tune itself, and the result remains classic.
“Christmas Is Coming”/David Benoit/40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is the song the kids are dancing to when Charlie Brown shows up to direct the Christmas play. Over the years, Benoit has recorded a great deal of the music from the Peanuts TV specials. A compilation featuring some of it, as well as some songs recorded by others, came out this past October.
“Stone Soul Christmas”/Binky Griptite. You gotta love this—it’s a Christmas rewrite of the Fifth Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” DJ Prestige at Flea Market Funk has more.
“I Pray on Christmas”/Blind Boys of Alabama featuring Solomon Burke/Go Tell It on the Mountain. Released in 2003, this was apparently the third album on which the Blind Boys brought in celebrity collaborators—as Allmusic.com’s Thom Jurek sourly explained, “in order to get them played on National Public Radio.” That’s more of an indictment of NPR than it is of the Blind Boys, who sound especially good alongside the preaching of Solomon Burke on this track.
“Jingle Bells”/Duke Pearson/Merry Ole Soul. In which Pearson goes much, much further than Booker T in changing things up, by improvising on the chord changes and giving the whole thing a Latin feel.
“Blue Christmas”/Elvis Presley. Christmas song or not, this is the epitome of Elvitude.
“The Christmas Song”/King Curtis. In which the great sax man delivers a sensuous performance that can get you off the dance floor, into the elevator, and up to the room, all without having to take your eyes off your partner. According to Red Kelly over at the “B Side, Duane Allman plays guitar on this tune, which was recorded in 1968.
“The Christmas Song”/King Curtis (this has frequently appeared on holiday compilations over the years, but I don’t find it amy of them in print at the moment)