Motown Christmas Songs
Motown’s potent mix of soul and pop was a defining sound throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s and propelled the careers of many of the black performers who were signed to the Detroit label. Many of the records released during this time are just as popular now as when they were originally released and included amongst these are a scattering of brilliant Christmas albums.
If you want to go straight for the jugular then the double CD collection known as ‘A Motown Christmas’, originally released in 1973, is all you’ll need as it gathered the best Motown Christmas songs including classic Christmas cuts from the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (who contributed a new track especially for the album called ‘Christmas Lullaby’). If like us however you like to take your time and make up your own mind on what makes a Motown Christmas so special you need to take in the following albums.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were perhaps the most prolific producers of festive material on the Motown roster having released 2 Christmas albums with ‘Christmas With The Miracles’ arriving in 1963 and ‘A Season For Miracles’ 7 years later in 1970. And it was the latter that provided most of Smokey’s most celebrated Christmas offerings. With the Miracles augmented by Motown’s session band the Funk Brothers this was a festive album of grand ambition, bedecked with great new original songs and superb reworkings of getting tired standards. Most of the time and in other artists hands ‘Deck The Halls’ sounds near identical but in the hands of Robinson and his crew it was elevated to greatness with ingenious vocal harmonising and olde world instrumentation. The original ‘I Believe In Christmas Eve’ is such an uplifting number you may shed a tear when Christmas day actually comes around.
1965’s ‘Merry Christmas’ from the Supremes is another famous Motown Christmas album which included its fair share of festive traditionals such as ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ and ‘Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer’. But what sets this album apart is its use of little known gems such as ‘Born of Mary’, ‘Little Bright Star’ and Jimmy Webb’s ‘My Christmas Tree’. The album also had 2 originals written especially for the album with Diana Ross at the forefront of the vocal drenched ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Me’ and the album’s single ‘Children’s Christmas Song’ doing its best to give the album the album a single centrepiece.
Stevie Wonder’s ‘Someday At Christmas’ would arrive 2 years after the Supreme’s snow flecked gem and it distinguished itself mainly by its first and last songs, namely the title track and the groovy sleigh-bell heaving closer ‘What Christmas Means To Me’. The Temptations got in on the yuletide act in 1970 when their ‘Christmas Card’ LP attempted to become the definitive Motown Christmas recording. And to a large degree they succeeded with soulful covers of favourites ‘Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Silent Night’ that breathed new life into songs that certainly needed it.
For most people Motown Christmas music is defined by what can be heard on the ‘Jackson 5 Christmas Album’ with young Michael leading the way on a list of uptempo festive numbers. Released in 1970 the ‘Jackson 5 Christmas Album’ contains some of the group’s most cherished recordings. ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ remains the definitive version of the much covered chestnut and with Michael, still a young boy, singing the tale being spun is made all the more plausible. ‘Frosty The Snowman’, ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Up On The Housetop’ are also given winning renditions which has made the Jackson 5 amongst the most played artists on radio schedules each and every December.
One of Motown’s most famous sons Marvin Gaye only ever recorded one Christmas song, 1972's ‘I Want To Come Home For Christmas’. Unfortunately Motown’s supremo Barry Gordy took a disliking to it due to its references to the Vietnam war so it was never released as a single, despite a classic understated Gaye performance.