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Christmas Music Playlists with James Brown Songs
Sometimes You Gotta Go Straight To The Ghetto To Get Santa Claus
James Brown was the grandmaster funk, the godfather of soul and one all-round cool cat so if any season was made for him it was Christmas. The 12 track ‘James Brown Sings Christmas Songs’ released in 1966, and recorded with his band the Flaming Flames, was his first batch of festive songs and it was a dinger. The album yielded 2 singles ‘The Christmas Song’ which had 2 different variations (one string laden and reverential, the other souled up to the max) on each side of the 7-inch. The second single was ‘Sweet Little Baby Boy’ which was split up into 2 parts on the a-side and flipside. On the album the two parts were also kept apart and it made for an epic paean with Brown screaming on occasions to impress on us his love for the infant. This was an album that featured plenty of soul but for the most part Brown’s characteristic funk was held in check. On ‘Merry Christmas, I Love You’ and ‘Signs of Christmas’ he made a couple of exceptions however with both just made for a jive and a particularly flowing pair of bellbottoms. Apart from ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ ‘James Brown Sings Christmas Songs’ was an album of little known gems as exemplified by closing track ‘Christmas Heaven’ which was again string heavy with Brown emoting like only he can do.
In 1967 ‘Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year’ was released as a single made up of 2 parts split up on side A and B respectively of the vinyl. It had featured as one cohesive piece on Brown’s album the previous year but given its 6 minutes plus length it was never going to fit on the space limited environs of a 7-inch piece of vinyl. Given the success of his debut Christmas album it came as no surprise that Brown was again heralded in the season in his own inimitable style. 1968’s 11-track ‘A Soulful Christmas’ featured one of the singer’ best known Christmas songs ‘Santa Claus Go Straight To The Getto’ with all its jumpy playing and Brown’s cool, calm and collected pronouncements. On ‘Santa Claus, Santa Claus’ our hero gets a serious dose of the blues so lucky then that the artfully dispatched instrumental ‘Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)’ is there to cheer him up. The title tracks is undoubtedly James Brown’s greatest contribution to the season displaying a sparkling strut while the soul man cat calls festive slogans at every turn. In an album where Santa is the primary character Brown chose to close the album with another instrumental in his honour called ‘Santa Claus Gave Me A Brand New Start’ which was xylophone laden.
Brown next released a low key Christmas single in 1970 called ‘Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay’ that was also included on his seasonal tinged album ‘Hey America’ the very same year. Despite its solemn nature the single still broke the Top 10 in the pop charts that December. Listening now it sounds wonderful, beautifully produced with a restrained Brown perfectly syncing with the drifting brass parts. The title track of ‘Hey America’ didn’t sound in the least bit Christmassy however despite its mention in the lyrics. It also marked a change in direction for Brown who was now channelling a fast moving form of funk. It was not entirely suited to the theme of Christmas but as a novelty piece it is worth listening to. ‘Go Power At Christmas Time’ is a point in question, a serious piece of cool music but hardly engendering the spirit due to its hot flashes of pre-disco funk. ‘I’m Your Christmas Friend, Don’t Be Hungry’ is a festive joy however because Brown for once holds his electric energy in check and by the end you will be taken by his heartwarming charity.
With so much good stuff recorded there were always going to be retrospectives of James Brown’s output and 1986’s ‘Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ came close to pulling it off. It was hindered from being all encompassing because in 1999 Brown’s final Christmas release ‘The Merry Christmas Album’ emerged. Showing no signs of getting tired with the season this LP nonetheless opened with a seriously distorted and disappointing ‘Sleigh Ride’. Thankfully order was restored throughout the rest of the album even if it was plagued by the tinny sound of a drum machine. Highlights included the R&B sounding ‘Reindeer In The Rooftop’ which Brown sermonised rather than sang on and final track ‘Don’t Forget The Poor At Christmas’ which showed that the godfather of soul didn’t forget the real purpose of Christmas. Overall though ‘The Merry Christmas Album’ was a major disappointment owing to its poor production, slender tunes and suffering as it did when compared to Brown’s stellar earlier Christmas albums.
In 2010 a comprehensive collection of James Brown’s Christmas recordings (which tellingly left out his 1999 effort) was released as ‘The Complete James Brown Christmas’. With 37 songs in total it is something that could be dipped into over the 12 days and you’ll still have something to spare at the end.Author: Kevin