(Pictured: Darlene Love on stage, 2014.)
A lot of people welcome the expansion of the Christmas season to early November. The music and the decorations make them feel good, and I’m willing to accept pretty much whatever you have to do to get through the day in hopes you’ll grant me the same privilege. And I suppose there’s an argument that people are busier now than they used to be, and maybe it takes longer to get all of the seasonal stuff done than it used to. Maybe a seven or eight-week Christmas season is a kindness.
Maybe. But at my house, we do not permit Thanksgiving to be a speed bump on the way to bigger things. We do not bust out the music or the decorations until the day after Thanksgiving at the earliest. (The decorations may stay up until Valentine’s Day, but the point is, we don’t get ’em out early.) Since today’s the day, here’s the first installment of a tradition we started back in 2007.
“Daddy’s Christmas”/Albert Brooks and Little Kristi. “Daddy’s Christmas” is a 1974 single written and produced by Brooks and Harry Shearer featuring a dialogue between a mean-spirited father and his little girl. It’s supposed to be funny, I guess.
“This Christmas”/Diana Ross. In 1993, Motown released Christmas in the City, a compilation with 10 tracks from the label’s 1960s Christmas output and six previously unreleased tracks, including this perfectly fine 1974 version of “This Christmas,” and perhaps of greater interest, both sides of a proposed 1972 Marvin Gaye single that was never released.
“Deck the Halls”/Moog Machine. Fifty years ago, Switched-On Rock by the Moog Machine featured 10 covers of then-recent hits, from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Hey Jude” to “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Christmas Becomes Electric appeared in time for Christmas 1969. Like the rest of the album, “Deck the Halls” was highly futuristic then but sounds fairly primitive and dated now. That is, however, part of its ongoing appeal.
“Please Come Home for Christmas”/Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise. The story goes that a group of Detroit musicians heard Bradley singing through an open window, invited him to record with them, and eventually made the blind street musician the namesake of their group. They made four albums between 1996 and 2009; this was on a Christmas EP in 2001.
“What Christmas Means to Me”/Darlene Love. Forty-four years after A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector, Darlene Love released a full-length Christmas album that avoids carols in favor of songs not often covered: Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again,” the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” and “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” among them. Her faithful version of “What Christmas Means to Me” is every bit as good as Stevie Wonder’s original.
“Silent Night”/Starland Vocal Band. In 1980, the Starland Vocal Band reconvened to make a Christmas record. I have not heard the whole thing, but at least one track has a children’s choir on it, which is often a giant blinking red light warning “run away.” Their “Silent Night” is fine, though, with tender vocal harmonizing over acoustic guitars and somebody blowing on a recorder.
“Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”/David Qualey. From the first Windham Hill collection, A Winter’s Solstice, released in 1985. None of its ten songs has the first thing to do with Christmas, but I’m guessing most people who have it store it with the Christmas records, as I do. Qualey is an Oregon-born guitarist who lives in Germany and who recorded his first album in 1975.
“Black Christmas”/The Emotions. In 2007, the reconstituted Stax label released Christmas in Soulsville, featuring holiday songs cut in the 60s and 70s, both famous (Otis Redding’s “Merry Christmas Baby,” Booker T and the MGs doing “Winter Wonderland”) and not, including “Black Christmas.” It was written by Pervis Staples and co-produced by David Porter and disappeared on its release in 1970
(although a version by the Harlem Children’s Chorus has one listing at ARSA). [See comment below.] And holy smokes is it great.
“Stone Soul Christmas”/Binky Griptite. In 2007, the master of ceremonies and guitarist with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings turned the Fifth Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” into “Stone Soul Christmas,” ditching the surrey and easing on down.
“Here Comes Santa Claus”/Elvis Presley. That Elvis would release a Christmas album in 1957 was a conclusion as foregone as tomorrow’s sunrise. Its most familiar performances (this one, “Blue Christmas,” and “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”) have been anthologized everywhere. It’s less well-remembered that the album features four gospel songs, including a version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
We could do this again before Christmas Day, but the season is as short as it can be this year. You’ll have to wait and see.