The holiday season is all about holiday music. But what does “holiday music” mean?
Christmas carols sung by a choir. Pop songs about reindeer. Hymns to the Church. The variety is endless.
But it’s Memphis, so here’s a mixtape from Memphis – 12 recordings (but no cover of “The 12 Days of Christmas”) that exist courtesy of artists, studios and / or labels from Memphis and of the Mid-South. Call it a Memphis soundtrack for the season. We provided the songs; it’s up to you to poke the eggnog.
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Elvis Presley, “Santa is back in town”
The third LP released by the most famous resident of Memphis, the unimaginative but usefully “Elvis’ Christmas Album” not only remains Elvis Presley’s most popular long-player (with over 20 million copies sold) but the best-selling Christmas album in the United States Released in 1957, its 12 tracks range from reverent (“Silent Night”) to merry (“Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me”), but only this song from the composers of “Hound Dog” Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller make the case that you can’t spell Christmas Eve without SEX, as Santa Elvis – arriving in “a big black Cadillac” – implores his baby to, “Hang up your pretty stockings / And turn off the light / Santa is coming / Lower your fireplace tonight. “
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Carla Thomas, “Gee Whiz, it’s Christmas”
This 1963 follow-up to the 1961 Stax Queen of Soul Top 10 hit “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” failed to make it to the charts, but it’s the giveaway that continues to be given: a Christmas classic to charm all demographic groups.
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Booker T. and the MGs, ‘Jingle Bells’
You can’t go wrong with a cut from the classic 1966 instrumental album “In the Christmas Spirit,” which finds house band Stax basting Christmas cookies with their own tasty brand of often-imitated soul icing but never duplicated. So why not go for the first among-equal (it’s the first track on the album) “Jingle Bells”, which proves that even bells can be funky?
Big star, ‘Jesus Christ’
Essentially a solo record by Alex Chilton, the third album credited to the power pop paragons of Memphis Big Star (named after a Memphis grocery chain, not an astral phenomenon from Bethlehem) is overall “the band. original nervous breakdown, “to quote journalist Mark Caro. But here’s a touch of redemption: a festive, seemingly unironic, jangle-pop hymn honoring the reason for the season, with a chorus that proclaims: “Jesus Christ is born today / Jesus Christ is born.”
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Robby Grant, “I found the Christmas presents”
For years, Memphis MVP, Big Ass Truck and Mouserocket member Robby Grant; solo solo artist; current executive director of Crosstown-based Concourse WYXR 91.7-FM freeform community radio station – has designed sonic Christmas stockings in the form of original, homemade Christmas music collections. This contagious 2018 pop-rocker comically dramatizes a familiar domestic dilemma: cunning kids versus hapless parents, in the eternal struggle before Christmas to hide presents. (A full album of Grant’s Holiday songs is available at robbygrant.com.)
Alex Greene and Rinderkinder, “Christmas in the city of the pharaohs”
Recorded in 1998 at the Easley / McCain studio and released on the no longer existing Loverly Music label, this holiday novelty quirk finds alternative scene veteran Alex Greene leading a Santa Claus workshop in fellow travelers (Lorette Velvette, Steve Selvidge, plus) in an unexpected rocker-plus-jazz reggae meditation that includes an oral visit from Nick Name (in fact, Loverly founder Ed Porter) as “Frigidario, the Saint -Spirit of ice and snow, “which advises the citizens of” Pharaoh City “(an Egyptian Name, like, you know, Memphis?) To ignore the” false idols and works of the vanity of Pharaoh “(like, a pyramid?) and instead celebrate their uniqueness. “For you are like snowflakes from the sky,” says Frigidario. “Do not fade into the dark, but unite to cover Babylon like a blizzard of love.” The song is available on Soundcloud.
Harlan T. Bobo, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
The Day-Glo black light shows that mixed the craftsmanship of a Rankin-Bass holiday special with the psilocybin trauma from the Japanese sci-fi movie “Attack of the Mushroom People”, the annual Christmas concerts of Bobo became a staple at the original Hi Tone cafe on Poplar after the 2005 release of the self-flagellating rocker “Merry Christmas Spaceman” album. Recorded with some of Memphis’ most inventive rock artists, the collection begins with a barely recognizable deconstruction of the catchy tune that inspired a 1970 stop-motion TV show of, yes, Rankin-Bass; as twisted as the scratches of a candy cane, the instrumentation – is that a whistle? a xylophone ?? a theremin ??? – turns the song title from a promise into a threat. The album is available at https://harlantbobo1.bandcamp.com/releases.
Sir Mack Rice, “Santa Claus Wants Love”
Albert King’s version of 1974 is more familiar; The same goes for the Bill Murray cover, found in the actor’s 2015 Netflix special, “A Very Murray Christmas.” But let’s raise a glass of spiked eggnog to the songwriter and songwriter, the Clarksdale-born. sui generis the idiosyncratic soul Mack Rice, whose other credits range from “Mustang Sally” to “Do the Robot”. Sir Mack sings: “Now mom is in the kitchen cooking / The kids are sleeping upstairs / It’s time for old Santa to cook / His midnight creep.”
Cordell Jackson, “Rock and Roll Christmas / Beboppers Christmas”
In 1956, pioneering record producer Cordell Jackson released a holiday single on her label Moon Records. Recorded in pianist JP “Doc” McQueen’s living room at 24 N. Cooper, the inspired A side was titled “Rock and Roll Christmas”; the equally mind-boggling B-side was “Beboppers’ Christmas”; and together they represent an embarrassment of wealth, much like the rockabilly comedy “Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever” from Memphis. On the A side, Cordell gives Kris Kringle a 45-year-old wishlist: “‘Don’t Be Cruel’ / ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ / Ooooh, ‘Hound Dog’ / ‘I Walk the Line . ‘”On the B side, Cordell presents Santa Claus as a’ Daddy-O dressed in red ‘and reports,’ He had white down all over his chin / He came over and said, ‘Give me some skin “. call between the two, I do not have the will.
Don Bryant, “White Christmas”
One of Memphis top soul artists in the 1970s, when his Hi Records co-stars included Al Green and his wife, Ann Peebles, Bryant has reappeared in recent years with a slew of stellar new tracks (including a Grammy, “You Make Me Feel”) recorded at Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic recording studio in Memphis, often with former comrades of Bryant’s Hi Rhythm Section. One of the outliers among those sessions was a 2017 revisit of Irving Berlin’s vacation device, created specifically for Amazon’s streaming service. Showing that you don’t need Bing when you know how to swing, the song can be found on Amazon.
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Emotions, ‘Black Christmas’
A “beautiful black Christmas” with a “Soul Santa” is promised in this 1970 single Stax / Volt from Emotions, a female Chicago vocal trio who recorded this track at Muscle Shoals under the direction of Memphis music masters like David Porter and keyboardist Ronnie Williams. The song was written by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers, who died on May 6 at the age of 85.
Jessie Mae Hemphill, “Merry Christmas, Pretty Baby”
Recorded in Memphis in 1987, this Yuletide track is as compelling as any of the more traditional blues narrative hypnotists credited to the so-called “She-Wolf” of the country blues tradition of the hills of northern Mississippi. “You should have been there,” Hemphill sings; it refers to a meeting with Santa Claus, but listeners can instead think of being in the studio with the wolf, so they’ll quickly agree: yes, we should.