Call me a softy if you wish, but I have a special fondness for Christmas music; I always look forward to spinning seasonal LP's by The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, The Supremes, Temptations, Vince Guaraldi, and of course the Phil Spector collection while trimming the tree, cooking meals and opening prezzies with the wife. There's a handful of Xmas 45's that get yearly spins as well; here's a few favorites- some well known, most too obscure than they deserve to be.
One area that wasn't explored very deeply by US garage bands was the
Christmas record; however, Chicago's Saturday's Children were way too
sophisticated to be called a garage band.
Here, the band (deeply influenced by the Beatles) melds "Deck The Halls" with Dave Brubeck's jazz standard "Take Five' and turns it into a jazzy, quasi-psychedelic number that I almost guarantee will bring on some holiday cheer. This group had an incredible knack for harmonies, and tackle the tricky 5/4 time signature with ease making for the most hypnotic Christmas record I've ever heard. The other side ("Christmas Sounds") is an exceptional holiday original showcasing their excellent group harmonies and songwriting skill. This song gets closer to my heart with each passing year, and sadly, Saturday's Children main man Ron Holder passed away about a month ago (not to mention Mr Take Five himself, Dave Brubeck) making this record extra powerful this season.From 1966.
One of the prettiest, yet little known soul Christmas singles.
I'm not sure if this Betty Lloyd is the same singer who was a member of the east coast girl group The Percells; Thomas Records (named after Jamo Thomas) was a Chicago label, and this track certainly has an indelible Chicago stamp on it.
The lyrics brilliantly capture the feeling of being alone at Christmas, but without self pity. Oozing with quality, this song should truly be a holiday standard.
Here's an incredible double-sided bit of holiday wonderment from the master. Released in 1968 (exactly one year after Otis' tragic death), this superb record showcases the two sides of Otis; his reading of the perennial "Merry Christmas Baby" shows his uptempo driving vocals, while his take on "White Christmas" shows that this man could pull so much emotion out of a ballad and turn a song completely into his own.
Among his brilliant skills arranging, producing and performing, Donny Hathaway also co-wrote and put to wax the first version of this song that has since become a Christmas standard. Tragically, Donny only lived 34 years; however, the gifts of music that he left behind are immortal.
Cut by William Bell for the Stax/ Atlantic Soul Christmas LP release, "Every Day Is Like A Holiday" is a favorite Christmas style song that doesn't go over the top oozing with Christmas sentiment (although I admit I'm a sucker for lots of Xmas music). I wanted to feature the William Bell version, but I don't have it on 45. Then I remembered this gem that I picked up at Domino Sound Records in New Orleans (one of the best little record stores on the planet, as a matter of fact).
Turns out "Van" is Van Broussard, one of the progenitors of the Louisiana "swamp pop" sound; this 45 finds him in deep southern soul mode.
Until next time, I wish everyone peace and happiness at this time of year.