Aretha Franklin, “The Lord Will Make a Way”

December 23, 2013
christmas 2007

christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)

First of all, how do you pick just one Aretha Franklin song to play at Christmas?

Nothing overtly Christmassy about this song: no stable, angels, shepherds, or wisemen. And yet the song captures the original miracle of Christmas: In the most unexpected, unlikely, even difficult of manners, the Lord will make a way–somehow.



The Coasters, “Frosty the Snowman”

December 23, 2013
A Little Golden Book storybook edition of the ...

A Little Golden Book storybook edition of the popular song (1950). The illustrator was Corinne Malvern. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, let’s have a temporary break from the alone at Christmas, lone hitchhiker trudging through the snow Christmas can really bring you down songs.

The Coasters bring a little joy back to Christmas with this version of “Frosty the Snowman” and the magic in the silk hat does the rest.

Still, wouldn’t it be great to mash this up with “Youngblood”? “I saw him standing on the corner, melting with the rising of the sun.”

The Everly Brothers, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You”

December 23, 2013
Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The winter’s flaking snow is brushin’ through the pinewood trees
I stuff my hands down deep inside my coat
I think of years ago and half remembered Christmas trees
And faces that still warm me with their glow
The cold and empty evening hangs around me like a ghost
I listen to my footsteps in the snow
The sound of one man walking through the snow can break your heart
And stopping doesn’t help, so on I’ll go
And Christmas eve can kill you
When you’re trying to hitch a ride to anywhere

The icy air I’m breathin’s all that keeps me on my feet
I feel like I’ve been walking all my life
A car goes runnin’ by; the man don’t even turn his head
Guess he’s busy bein’ Santa Claus tonight

The saddest part of all is knowin’ if I switched with him
I’d leave him stumbling ragged by the road
I’d ride that highway to arms of my sweet family
And forget about the stranger in the cold
And Christmas eve can kill you
When you’re tryin’ to hitch a ride to anywhere

And as I walk I’m singing to myself ‘O Silent Night
Hopin‘ I can save those other souls
Oh, God forgive the man that drives right by the other man
Take pity on the stranger in the cold
Cause Christmas eve can kill you
When you’re tryin’ to hitch a ride to anywhere

This song flips the whole “There but for the grace of God go I” bit on its head in a devastating manner. God bless us and forgive us, everyone.

Little Richard, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”

December 23, 2013
January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, Little Richard is ripping off God knows how many other artists with this version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” but he throws in a few original twists (the piano part is great) and nobody can goose a note like Little Richard. The song’s lyrics tell you to be good, but do you really doubt that Richard wants you to be naught.

Jerry Lee Lewis, “I Can’t Have a Merry Christmas (Mary, Without You)

December 23, 2013
Publicity photo of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Publicity photo of Jerry Lee Lewis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A dear friend in New York City was listening to this year’s playlist and emailed me to confirm that this is Jerry Lee Lewis. It is, indeed, the Killer in a more honky tonk mode than we tend to associate him with. How many Christmas songs are there about that special person who is missing at the end of December. I Can’t Have a Merry Christmas, Mary (Without You) deserves to be played more often. It may not be “Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home,” but it captures the melancholy side of the holiday.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Fats Domino

December 15, 2013
Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino

Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fats Domino adds his distinctive New Orleans piano to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Less self-pity here than in many versions of the song. I doubt that he was actually wistful for any Big Easy snow, mirliton, now that’s another thing. After all, we’re all trying to get home for the Christmas of our dreams.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Ray Charles and Betty Carter

December 15, 2013

Ray Charles performed “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with other partners, including Nina Simone and Dionne Warwick, but his recording with Betty Carter is perhaps the standard by which all versions of this song are judged. Bundle up.

“Signs of Christmas,” James Brown

December 15, 2013

Things turn funky with James Brown and “Signs of Christmas.” There are better known James Brown Christmas songs, but this one moves with the best of them.

I hope you get the “best from the Yule time zest.”

“Christmas,” Chuck Berry

December 15, 2013

We’re starting with the first classes of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees and the man who created the template for so much of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Mr. Chuck Berry.

“Christmas” is a bluesier number than Berry’s more often heard “Run, Rudolph.” Wouldn’t we all like to give Chuck an hour of our holiday?

The 2013 Compilation: Christmas in Cleveland, Vol. 1

December 15, 2013
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at sunset; Clevelan...

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at sunset; Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year’s Christmas compilation reaches for the stars. Rock stars, to be precise. All the recordings come from members of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Here’s the track listing. I’ll be adding the songs to the blog as time permits.

  1. Chuck Berry, “Christmas”
  2. James Brown, “Signs of Christmas”
  3. Ray Charles (and Betty Carter), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside
  4. Sam Cooke, “Christmas Soul and RB”
  5. Fats Domino, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
  6. Jerry Lee Lewis, “I Can’t Have a Merry Christmas, Mary, Without You”
  7. Little Richard, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
  8. The Everly Brothers, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You”
  9. The Coasters, “Frosty the Snowman”
  10. Aretha Franklin, “The Lord Will Make a Way”
  11. Marvin Gaye, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas
  12. Bill Haley, “I Don’t Want to Be Alone This Christmas”
  13. B.B. King, “Christmas Celebration”
  14. Elvis Presley, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town
  15. Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, “White Christmas”
  16. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “It’s Christmas Time”
  17. Big Joe Turner, “Christmas Date Boogie”
  18. Roy Orbison, “Pretty Paper”
  19. Jackie Wilson, “Deck the Halls”
  20. The Beach Boys, “Merry Christmas, Baby”
  21. The Beatles, “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”
  22. Bob Dylan, “The Christmas Blues”
  23. Lead Belly, “Christmas Is A-Coming”
  24. Diana Ross & The Supremes, “Won’t Be Long Before Christmas”
  25. Woody Guthrie, “1913 Massacre”