#MNR: Classic Holiday Bangers
“On December 25th I knew I wasn’t gettin’ jack.”
Keith Murray, “Santa Baby” (Rev. Run remix)
For many, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. There’s family, gifts, and plenty of food. Some of us even celebrate the birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, although contextual history suggests he was born closer to April in the modern twelve-month calendar. Throw in a large shot of happiness and everything is kind of story book this time of year. It all sounds pretty normal. It’s the format that many of us follow. But the bitter reality is that the holidays are the worst time of the year for many, far out of the reach of Madison Avenue/Silicon Valley geared advertising and America’s capitalist, romanticized view of the holiday season. Some have no family and/or friends to fellowship with. Some receive no gifts. Some go hungry during a time when goodwill to all men is largely just another romanticized whim. I have everything to be thankful for. I’m loved. I’m in love. All of my bills are paid, all of my needs are met. And yet I’m a person with a healthy amount of compassion and empathy, so my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to all, who for one reason or another, aren’t able to look at this time of year as anything to be happy out. I truly wish I could take all your pain away. I wish you had plenty of loving family and genuine friends to share the holidays with. I wish you had presents galore under the tree and a full tummy every single day and night: turkey, stuffing, mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, hog maws, pig’s feet, errthang. My humble offering is a good and merry blog to take your mind off your troubles if you have any, and what better way to do that than to talk about and listen to some soulful music? Exactly. And it’s the holidays, correct? Word. So, let’s make it about holiday-themed music, my people’s style. White folk, y’all are more than welcome to browse and take notes. It’s all good. Blessings to all this holiday season. P.S. – you can also try the Lord, free of charge.
I come from a musical family, as some of you already know. There was always some type of music playing in the days of my youth. Make that double time for the holidays. Beginning with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (which my mommy and I attended several times when I was her lil pumpkin) through New Year’s, Shareon had the Christmas music on consistently. It played all day on Christmas. All my clairvoyant readers know what’s coming: here is my all-time Top 5 Christmas songs list. I even threw in some that just missed the cut. I hope your yuletide tree is already lit. Let’s get it.
#1: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” The Jackson 5 (1970)
Off rip, I know a lot of the Mike faithful are butt hurt because I didn’t include this song in my actual list. I’m going to preemptively strike your bloodclot cryin’ with a shut yo’ asses up. The fact that Mike, Jermaine, Tito, dem are even mentioned is because baby Michael’s voice was so silky smooth and full of cheer on this dumb ass track. Let’s be honest: this song sux ass. It’s stupid as shit. If Tyrone or (later) my step pops were the one to see my mom kiss Santa, let’s just say that for humanity’s sake, I hope Santa has a male heir to take the reins (pun intended). Plus, I’m not big on some fat white dude getting all the credit and free cookies for mom dem busting their ass all year to put something under the tree in an attempt to please their ungrateful and trifling ass Black chillen of the ‘80s and beyond (self-included). Case closed.
#2: “Someday at Christmas” Stevie Wonder (1967)
Few artists could ever make a political statement with such care, mercy, and compassion. Even fewer could do it on a Christmas song. Stevie was the first, three years ahead of The Temptations’ seminal interpretation of “Silent Night” (we’ll get to that later). “Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys. Playing with bombs like kids play with toys. One warm December our hearts will see, a world where men are free…” Lord, help us all. Stevie made that song 53 years ago, only three years after the Civil Rights Act and only two years after the Voting Rights Act. It’s still as poignant today as it was then. Perhaps more.
#3: “Sleigh Ride” TLC (1992)
Fresh off the success of their 1992 4x platinum debut Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip, the legendary trio made a contribution to the Home Alone 2 soundtrack. Their energy, as always, leaks through the speakers and intoxicates the ears and soul. T-Boz’s sensuous alto and Chili’s songbird voice combine ever so lovely with Left Eye doing her usual with the bars. It’s one of those songs that will get Auntie dem up and dancing at the holiday function. One of my personal favorites.
TOP FIVE CHRISTMAS SONGS OF ALL TIME:
#5: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Luther Vandross – The Classic Christmas Album – 1995
Yeah. You’ve heard this song sung by plenty of artists of diverse genres over the years. But no one else sang it quite like “The Voice.” Luther’s version is the quintessential version because quite frankly, it’s the damn best. The arrangement was perfect, and the saxophone background only added to Luther’s velvety, flawless voice. Luther, as was often joked about, really could sing the alphabet and make it a hit record. So, it’s only natural he took one of the all-time Christmas classics and “Luthered” it, like he tended to do from time to time. Ask Dionne Warwick about “A House Is Not a Home.” Even she said his version is the signature version, AND IT’S HER SONG! Anyway, Luther was on 10 with this one. It’s one of those songs you wish never ended while it plays.
#4: “All I Want for Christmas Is You” Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas – 1994
Depending on how you feel about Mariah, this is either a spot-on choice for the list or the worst take ever. We all know Mariah has a well-documented proclivity for being polarizing, especially in Black culture. But say what you say. Her voice is pure fire, and she puts numbers on the MF board every damn time. Hint, hint…not only was this song #1 when it dropped during holidays ’94, it also reappeared on the Billboard Hot 100 at number MF one last year, 25 MF years later. Shit, even the white folk praised it. The New Yorker (magazine) called it “one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday cannon.” Umm, ok. I don’t even know what the fuck that means. But the song was, err umm, is fire. Still.
#3: “Let it Snow” Boyz II Men featuring Brian McKnight – Christmas Interpretations – 1993
Before I begin, it’s imperative that I say that THIS IS MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SONG OF ALL TIME. I mean, it dropped when I was in high school, so it’s actually from my era and I can actually comment on its impact. You’ve gotta understand that this song featured arguably the best male R&B group at the time AND the best male R&B singer at the time (voices AND Billboard), MJ excluded. Both acts were as hot as the Baja, so their link up was perfect and right on time. Now, if you’ve never heard this song, it’s not the elementary school holiday program version your mama had to take off work to see your shook ass hardly even open your damn mouth as one of thirty kids on the stage singing the damn song --- off key, off tempo, and not at all together. Wasn’t no damn, “oh the weather outside is frightful…” It was, “Oh, come over here, and help me trim the treeee. I wanna wrap you up, baby then they’ll see, you’re the only present I need…” Nigga (Kat Williams voice)!!! I was only 15 and I damn sure did not have a girl. Sheeittt, I was yet to even sniff any coont noont, but I damn sure wished I were every single time that song played. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m not 15 no damn mo’ (sinister grin). All jokes aside, that’s my all time favorite. And keep it a bean: can’t no damn body freak the end of a song like Wanya. That boy good!!!
#2: “This Christmas” Donny Hathaway – This Christmas (single) – 1970
Now, if #1 ain’t your favorite (this obviously gave it away), this is. The genius of the great, late Donny Hathaway is that, as much as he could sing blues and sorrow and touch the very depth of your soul and being, he could also do the same damn thing when he sang joyful songs. Simply stated, his voice in tandem with the passion evident in every note can only be touched by Marvin and Mr. Mayfield. “This Christmas” may in fact be the #1 sung Christmas song by Black folk in America all-time. I’m deadass serious. You know you’ve belted out an off key “Hang all the mistletoe, I’m going to get to know you better. This Christmas…” after you hit the Henny two times more than you really should have. I’m not gon call you out, but I know. Salute to Donny. Lalah too (I love you girl). If someone were to object and call it the GOAT, I certainly would not argue.
#1 “Silent Night” The Temptations – The Temptations Christmas Card – 1970
“In my mind, I want you to be free. For all of our friends, would you listen to me? Now hear what I say. We wish you a merry Christmas (to each), to all of you…” Smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam Conflict, on the outskirts of the Civil Rights Movement, the greatest male R&B group of all time began their seminal song with Dennis Edwards’ seemingly simple yet elegant wish. But it was far from simple. There was also Eddie Kendricks’ brilliant falsetto and Melvin Franklin’s soul stirring baritone, both equally as moving as Edwards’ solo. They intertwined three lead solos and perfect harmony; they took the best parts of the original song and blended them with poignant political commentary veiled as lyrics. The message, the harmony…it was far more than a song. It transcended music. It was a social statement. It was political theory. It was humanitarian. “As I sit around by the fireplace, watching the gleaming tree. If I had one wish in this world, it would be that ALL men would be free.” We’re talking about rich Black entertainers in 1970. This wasn’t anywhere close to being as simple as it sounds. SHUT AND SING. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU COONS SO UPSET ABOUT? SHIT, YOU’RE MAKING BIG MONEY. YOU UNGRATEFUL NIGGERS. You think I’m capping??? Ok. SHUT AND DRIBBLE. SOUND FAMILIAR? Making a statement like this in the middle of the Vietnam Conflict and amidst the civil unrest and peril back home in the States could have had its own set of consequences, not to mention that they took the lily-white classic and put their own special flavor on it. Shit, this mighta been the first ever remix (did baby Puff get executive producer credit?). But all jokes aside, The Temptations coulda dropped any damn thing with a Christmas theme and sold a million records at the time. I’m going to say it one more time: they did not have to do this. But they did. And it’s indelible. And it is untouchable for all those reasons I mentioned. #1.
Love you mommy. I’m spinning all these records for us this holiday season.