5 Faves: Soulful Unsung Christmas Songs

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Posted December 16, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Want a playlist full of holiday cheer and overlooked rarities? Look no further. In the first part of our two-part series of “Unsung Xmas,” we reveal the hottest soul/R&B gems for the holiday

Get your iPod charged up and be prepared to be zapped with rare Christmas gems from soul music’s past. No offense to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and its legion of popular remakes – but a soulful Christmas is much more than that. The same applies for Jackson 5 and Mariah Carey. So go ahead and hang all the mistletoe; HiFi is going to make you know better…this Christmas.

#1

Ohio Players
“Happy Holidays”
(1975)

 

Jazzed down from their notorious booty-shakin’ funk. But it’s still a delicious spaced-out treat decorated with cool Yule harmonies and smooth ‘70’s psychedelics.

#2

Ray Parker, Jr.
“Christmastime Is Here”
(1982)

 

Barely clocking in at three minutes, Ray Parker’s holiday treat – cut in 1982 as a “b-side” right before “Ghostbusters” blew up and right after his break-up with Raydio – is an incredible attempt of merging pop melodies with smooth R&B.

#3

The Twistin’ Kings
“Xmas Twist”
(1961)

 

Take Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” some holiday mistletoe and Motown’s house band, the Funk Brothers, on board, and you have a soulful 45 r.p.m. dance ditty worth repeating. Released in November 1961, “Xmas Twist” is the one of the only surviving singles from the Twistin’ Kings.. Still, no one knew the Twistin’ Kings was Earl Van Dyke’s army.

#4

Pointer Sisters
“Christmas In New York”
(2005)

 

Released only on a 2005 out-of-print compilation, “Christmas In New York” is the brainchild of R&B/jazz musician Nathan East and record producer/songwriter Chris Christian. It bubbles with familiar Pointer harmonies and blazing ‘80’s synths; topped off with jingle bells and a sweet sing-a-long melody. It did manage to crack Billboard’s AC at #21. It deserved better.

#5

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
“Ain’t No Chimneys In the Projects”
(2009)

 

It spins like a nostalgic protest birth out of James Brown’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto.” With the Dap-Kings on board and Sharon Jones’ soulful pleading, it feels a bit more like a overlooked Stax gem. The funky sounds are good enough to get Kanye West’s attention for future sampling.

J MATTHEW COBB


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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