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too many times, artists of much grit and verve - including soul men as prominent
Wilson and Al Green - cut fairly tepid,
even lame Christmas albums. Not so here. In 1968, Atco Records (a subsidiary
culled Christmas tracks - some previously released, some newly recorded - from
their best and brightest stars, including ones signed to fabled Stax Records.
They called this instant classic Soul
Christmas, and whoa, baby, this is the real thing! Every single cut is
a bona fide masterpiece.
The magic of 60's soul music - the gospel intensity,
the ribald humor, the sensual conviction- comes to bear with its most powerful
alchemy on Soul
Christmas. Nowhere is this as apparent as on the amazing opener, Clarence
Carter's "Back Door Santa," a wicked festival of double entendre.
Carter gets the show started with a bang in every sense of the word.
Clarence ain't like old St. Nick, you see, 'cause he don't come but once a
year. And then he laughs - "Ho! Ho! Ho!" - in a manner so wicked and lubricious
it removes all hint of pretense.
All in all, Soul
Christmas is a classic of both genres - soul and Christmas -
one that belongs in the collection of anyone who claims to know anything
about either. The most amazing aspect of Soul
Christmas is that these songs are among the very best that these artists -
all giants of soul - ever recorded. Take, for instance, the two
tracks Otis Redding contributes. This humble man from Macon radically reinterprets
two hoary favorites, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and Charles
Brown's "Merry Christmas, Baby," with able assistance from Booker
T. & The MG's. The former song is transformed from a warm Christmas
wish into an abject howl of loneliness. The latter, meanwhile, is dramatically
rearranged from Brown's sexy ballad into Otis' irresistible stomp - the arrangement
Bruce Springsteen copped on A
Very Special Christmas nearly 20 years later.
After Otis Redding's startling achievements, things actually get better!
On "I'll Make Everyday Christmas (For My Woman)," Joe Tex turns in
one of the best vocal performances of his career, making the birth of his savior
seem insignificant compared to his own monumental erotic devotion. In a similar
vein, William Bell's "Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday" paints an impossibly
idyllic picture of love - and features a standout performance from MG's guitarist
Steve Cropper. Solomon Burke's "Presents For Christmas" is an uplifting,
magnanimous plea for benevolence befitting the man called "The King of Rock
'n' Soul." Quite to the contrary, saxophonist King Curtis turns mere carols
into monumental acts of seduction.
1994 Rhino CD reissue of Soul
Christmas adds three bonus tracks, including the original 1963 version of Carla Thomas' "All I Want For Christmas
Is You" (the b-side to her sexy "Gee Whiz, It's
Christmas") and Ray Charles' rare (if unimpresive) 1978 single "Christmas Time." Plus, we get astute liner notes by Jimmy
Guterman. Rhino also appends "Original" to its title in a largely
failed attempt to avoid confusion with Soul
Christmas (1991). That disc, another Atlantic/Atco compilation, overlaps
to a great extent with the original album. The
newer disc cannot match the pure brilliance of the Original
Soul Christmas, but that said, it's pretty great in its own right.
The 1991 Soul
Christmas expands the scope of the original LP, collecting 20 tracks spanning more than 20 years.
Beginning with the Drifters' drop-dead doo-wop reading of "White Christmas" (1954), Soul
Christmas chronicles the very evolution of soul music, concluding with Luther
Vandross' disco-fied "May Christmas Bring You Happiness" (1976) - one
of several songs rescued
from the long out-of-print, sorely-missed Cotillion LP, (1976).
Add to those riches Carla Thomas' superior 1966 version of the aforementioned "All I Want For Christmas
Is You" (released as the a-side of another single) and her 1967 duet with Otis Redding, "New Year's Resolution." And, Brook Benton's "Soul Santa" (1971), a racially-sensitive
reverie recorded in the same style as his gorgeous "Rainy Night In Georgia." And,
the Sweet Inspirations' stately interpretation of William Bell's "Every
Day Will Be Like A Holiday." And, Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" (1970),
one of the last universally-recognized Christmas standards ever written.
Ultimately, the second Soul
Christmas becomes almost as requisite for soul aficionados as its distinguished
predecessor. Personally, I cannot recommend too strongly purchasing both discs - overlap be damned! [top of page]
- All I Want For Christmas Is You (Carla Thomas, 1966)
- Back Door Santa (Clarence
Christmas Gift (Margie Joseph, 1976)
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (King Curtis, 1968)
- The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (Drifters, 1964)
Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday (William Bell, 1967)
Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday (Sweet Inspirations, 1969)
Gee Whiz It's Christmas (Carla Thomas, 1963)
I'll Make Everyday Christmas (For My Woman) (Joe Tex, 1967)
Jingle Bells (Booker T & The MG's, 1966)
May Christmas Bring You Happiness (Luther Vandross, 1976)
Merry Christmas Baby (Booker T. & The MG's, 1966)
Merry Christmas Baby (Otis Redding, 1968)
New Year's Resolution (Otis & Carla, 1967)
Presents For Christmas (Solomon Burke, 1966)
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Booker T. & The MG's, 1966)
Silent Night (Impressions, 1976)
Silver Bells (Booker T. & The MG's, 1966)
Soul Santa (Brook Benton, 1971)
This Christmas (Donny Hathaway, 1970)
White Christmas (Drifters, 1954)
White Christmas (Otis Redding, 1968)
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