Whether you’ve been naughty or nice, give yourself
the gift of an expanded holiday playlist this season!
by Erik R. Slagle
No doubt, it’s the most magical time of the year. Snow, lights, Christmas classics on TV, plans to visit family and friends, a new year right around the corner. There are certain holiday traditions, though, no one should look forward to. Political discussions at the dinner table. Mall parking lots. Back-ordered online items. Fruitcakes. 24 hours of Christmas music running for six weeks straight on certain radio stations.
We’re in the thick of it by now, which means by now you might be hearing “My Only Wish,” “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” or “Love on Layaway” in your sleep. Those hits from Britney, Mariah and Gloria can start to feel like coal in your stocking after a while – but you can get back to visions of dancing sugarplums just by changing up your holiday playlist this year:
Make the move to Motown: check out the Temptations’ “Christmas Card” album from 1970, the Supremes’ 1965 “Merry Christmas,” Lionel Richie’s 2004 “Sounds of the Season,” or “Christmas Here With You” – dropped by the Four Tops (with a guest appearance from Aretha Franklin) in 1995. The Atco compilation “Soul Christmas” (1968) features selections from Clarence Carter, Joe Tex, Otis Redding and more. A few years later “A Motown Christmas” – also from 1968 – was reissued and expanded, and with favorites from Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, it comes highly recommended.
Roll with some rock stars: it’s always interesting to hear what guitar gods, legendary vocalists and others come up with when they put their own spin on holiday hits. Sometimes they miss (Ringo doing “Rudolph,” for example), but more often than not – Black Stone Cherry’s “Blue Christmas,” Edgar Winter’s “Please Come Home For Christmas,” and Black Label Society’s “First Noel,” to name a few – they turn out unforgettable, sometimes shocking interpretations. “Shocking” might not apply to these, but Annie Lennox’s “Christmas Cornucopia,” Scott Weiland’s “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and the Jethro Tull Christmas Album should slide easily into your holiday collection, bringing something a little unexpected.
Escape to the islands: “Calypso” and “Christmas” might not sound like the most logical pairing, but here are two albums that get it right. Jimmy Buffett sideman Robert Greenidge brings us “A Coral Reefer Christmas,” featuring island takes on standards like “Carol of the Bells,” “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night” and more. A more expansive set can be found on the “Christmas In the Caribbean” compilation, which was originally available only through Time Life subscriptions. The tracks may be less lively than you’d expect, but overall, it’s reflective and relaxing – and might just leave you craving a sojourn to the islands before the season is over.
There are so many great alternatives out there if you’re looking to lively up your holiday playlist; this column could run holiday suggestions all year and still not cover it all. In past holiday issues we’ve covered the Baroque “On a Cold Winter’s Day,” White-Eisenstein’s masterful flute-and-guitar “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,” Booker T. and the MGs, Lenny Dee and hundreds of others. Go exploring on Amazon and iTunes. You might just find the perfect gifts for the music lovers in your life – or for yourself!