Picking the ’70s Christmas record that’s most enjoyable cut after cut, start to finish, is more about the memories associated with it and less about the quality of the tunes.
Truth be told, that’s probably the case with our favorite ’80s record, sampled in Vol. 35. Listening to Alexander O’Neal’s “My Gift To You” brings back good memories of Christmases in the first house we owned, a rambling 1920s-era two-story on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin.
It was the late ’80s. The lovely Janet and I were just married. It was a time when we started to forge traditions that were ours, distinct from those of our families.
That’s why picking that most enjoyable ’70s Christmas record was easy. We listened to it then, too.
“A Motown Christmas” was one of the first Christmas records I ever bought. I picked it up about 30 years ago at Prange’s, a big regional department store, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I was going to college. We’d always had Christmas records at home, and I figured it was time to have my own.
There’s something for everyone on “A Motown Christmas.” I like some songs. Janet likes others. It has sophisticated songs. It has kids’ songs.
But as I sat down and surfed through the iTunes, I realized I most enjoy “A Motown Christmas” as presented on the record, in that particular order, rather than as individual, random cuts. Out of order, it somehow doesn’t hold up as well. It isn’t the soundtrack to my memories.
So here, in a most particular order, are three from under our tree.
“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder. It’s the title track from Wonder’s 1967 Christmas record. It’s a Motown original, written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells. “Someday at Christmas/there’ll be no wars.” Sadly, that message hasn’t aged a day.
“Frosty the Snowman,” the Jackson 5. On which the other Jacksons take a few well-deserved turns with the lead vocals before Michael steals the show in the final minute. It’s from “The Jackson 5 Christmas Album” from 1970.
“Jingle Bells,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Cool, laid-back vocals backed by the Funk Brothers’ guitars and drums. It’s from “The Season for Miracles,” their 1970 Christmas record.
They are the third, fourth and fifth cuts from Side 3 of “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. This two-record set is out of print but is available digitally.
Another good long-player from the ’70s (and another guilty pleasure) is “Christmas Jollies” by the Salsoul Orchestra, from 1976. It’s chock full of tunes done in the style of the day. I’ve had “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind'” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers for only a couple of weeks, but that 1972 record measures up as well. We sampled it in Vol. 32.
Next up, a good one from the ’60s.