Three under the tree, Vol. 35

You know those Christmas records you can enjoy cut after cut, start to finish? We came up with three from the ’00s and three from the ’90s. Today, the ’80s.

I have no idea how I learned of today’s record when it came out in 1988. Maybe I heard something on WORT, our local indie FM radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. (WORT is celebrating its 34th birthday tonight, by the way.) Maybe I saw something on BET one night. Sorry, just can’t remember.

But every Christmas for 20 years, I’ve enjoyed “My Gift To You” by Alexander O’Neal. It’s a great mix of late ’80s funk and soul and a more traditional big band sound. O’Neal’s smooth, silky high tenor is the icing on the cake.

It’s produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — the great Flyte Tyme team.

Their lush, more traditional string and horn arrangements stand the test of time. Hear them on O’Neal’s covers of “This Christmas,” the Donny Hathaway classic, and “Winter Wonderland.”

Whether their more contemporary tunes have held up, well, that’s more subjective. You make the call on “The Little Drummer Boy,” which is funked-out and drum-programmed in the style of the day. But it works.

All from “My Gift To You,” Alexander O’Neal, 1988. It’s out of print and hard to find. It still sounds good to me, from start to finish.

The odd thing? I don’t think I’d heard anything by O’Neal before I heard this, and I don’t have any other records by O’Neal, even now. Yet I can’t imagine a Christmas without Alexander O’Neal.

A couple of other good long-players from the ’80s: “A Very Special Christmas,” from 1987, has become the standard against which every all-star Christmas compilation is judged. “An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas,” from 1986, features scorchers by Lou Ann Barton and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a couple of my Texas faves.

Tomorrow, a good one from the ’70s.

1 Comment

Filed under December 2009, Sounds

One response to “Three under the tree, Vol. 35

  1. I’ll be honest with you — try as I did, I just couldn’t get into any of Alexander O’Neal’s stuff. However, I did really enjoy the production style!

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