It’s just another day in our hall-decked-but-still-essentially-random universe, wherein I pull out my whole laptop Christmas library, throw it in the air, and see what comes down first. Look out below.
“A Warm Little Home on a Hill”/Stevie Wonder. A charming holiday scene in waltz time. Like many of the original Christmas songs concocted by Motown songwriters, it flirts with terminal sappiness, but there’s something about Wonder’s delivery that keeps it from the edge of the ledge.
“The Mistletoe and Me”/Isaac Hayes. From a Stax compilation dated 1982, which features two versions of the great “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” by Mack Rice and Albert King, plus the Staple Singers’ “Who Took the Merry out of Christmas?,” all three of which have more going on than this holiday bedroom ballad.
“Kitty Cats Christmas”/Leon Redbone. Before the world was baffled by Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, I was baffled by Leon Redbone’s. (It occurs to me, however, that bafflement is part of the reaction Redbone means to provoke. Dylan, too.) Christmas Island was released in 1987 and reissued in 2003 with “Kitty Cats Christmas” as a bonus track. Despite the presence of a children’s chorus, it’s not awful.
“The Christmas Song”/Vince Guaraldi Trio. If this song is heard anywhere in A Charlie Brown Christmas, I’ve missed it the first 44 times I’ve watched the show, but I promise to pay extra-close attention the 45th time, which may be as soon as tonight.
“My Christmas Card to You”/Partridge Family. I must have known about the album A Partridge Family Christmas Card at its release in 1971, given that I was a fan of all things Partridge that year, yet I have no recollection of it. I would almost certainly have bought it if my brother didn’t, but he didn’t, and I didn’t. I recall being surprised to learn of it, which wasn’t until I saw it in a used bin at some point during the 1980s. (Did I buy it then? Hell and yes.) Partridge Family records were always heaped with sugar, but their Christmas album is especially sugary. If you’ve got a high tolerance for that sort of thing, “My Christmas Card to You” probably won’t hurt you.
“Swingin’ Silent Night”/Asleep at the Wheel. Lots of artists become paralyzed in the face of certain Christmas songs—afraid to mess with them and therefore, incapable of bringing anything new to them. The thing about “Silent Night” is that it’s both simple enough and beautiful enough to withstand new approaches, like the Western swing take of Asleep at the Wheel, recorded in 1997.
“Christmas Blues”/Canned Heat. Cut as a single sometime in the late 60s, “Christmas Blues” has appeared as a bonus track on a couple of different Canned Heat re-releases, and it’s been anthologized quite a bit. What hasn’t been anthologized quite so much is “Christmas Boogie,” which features a guest appearance by Alvin and the Chipmunks. I shit you not.
“O Holy Night”/Green Pajamas. The Green Pajamas are the living embodiment of indie: 20-some albums in 25 years and never a major-label deal. They cut their gorgeous version of “O Holy Night” in 2006, and it’s become a Christmas essential around my house.
“Christmas Time”/Jimmy McCracklin. Like Charles Brown, Jimmy McCracklin left the South (St. Louis, actually) for California after World War II and found his place in the blues scene out there. The only release date I can find for “Christmas Time” is 1961, but it sounds older than that.
“Little Drummer Boy”/Duke Pearson. From Merry Ole Soul, another of the classic Blue Note albums produced and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, whose studio was actually in his house. The album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and it would be a fine candidate for Blue Note’s ongoing series of remastered reissues. It’s a keeper.