Soul Christmas from Stax/Atlantic

Clarence Carter, Solomon Burke, King Curtis

Soul ChristmasSoul Christmas! “Christmas doesn’t get more soulful than this collection of tunes.” That’s the truth.

‘Tis not the season to get into the murky distribution arrangement Atlantic Records had with Stax. But the deal did create a dynamite roster. Carla Thomas, William Bell, and of course, Booker T, who we heard last week, were from the Stax side.

Billboard magazine had Christmas singles charts from 1963 to 1972, and from 1983 to 1985. There was a Christmas albums chart periodically as well. These will be listed as Xmas.

Soul Christmas reached #13 Xmas in 1968, and #8 Xmas in both 1969 and 1970. The CD version, with three additional tracks, reached #89 RB in 1994. There are several variations on this collection. But I’m limiting it this week to the original release as represented on the album cover.

The songs

Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter, #4 Xmas in 1968. He was born blind in Montgomery, Alabama in 1936, His big hit was Slip Away (#2 RB, #6 pop in 1968)
The Christmas Song – King Curtis, with Duane Allman on guitar. Saxophonist Curtis Ousley, born in 1934 in Fort Worth, TX. Murdered in 1971. Known for Soul Twist, #1 RB for two weeks, #17 pop in 1962.
White Christmas – Otis Redding, #12 Xmas in 1968. Born in Dawson, GA in 1941. Died in a plane crash on 10 Dec 1967. He has the first posthumous #1 pop song. Sitting On The Dock of the Bay, #1 pop for four weeks, #1 for three weeks RB in 1968.
Silver Bells – Booker T. and The MG’s. Booker T. Jones was born in 1944 in Memphis, TN. Green Onions went #1 for four weeks RB, #3 pop in 1962.
Gee Whiz It’s Christmas  – Carla Thomas (Thomas, Steve Cropper, Vinny Trauth/trumpeter) #23 on the Christmas charts in 1963. Her B-A-B-Y was #3 RB, #14 pop in 1966.

Merry Christmas Baby  – Otis Redding, #9 Xmas in 1968
Presents For Christmas  – Solomon Burke. Born in Philadelphia, probably in 1940, d. 2010). Got To Get You Off My Mind was #1 for three weeks RB, but only #22 pop.
Jingle Bells – Booker T. and The MG’s, #20 Xmas in 1966
Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday  – William Bell (Bell, Booker T. Jones), #33 RB in 1968. Born in 1939 in Memphis. Prolific songwriter.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve  – King Curtis 

Music: Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’

I got a letter today, just about noon
she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be home soon”

black santaAs you may know, Stax Records was the great record label out of Memphis, TN. Motown may have been “The Sound of Young America,” But Stax was “Soulsville U.S.A.”, the title of a tremdous book by Rob Bowman.

For this holiday season, I decided to reprise some songs from the Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles box sets I have. But I had forgotten that there are THREE box sets of nine CDs each. I only bought the first two. So the third set is new to me, and possibly to you.

Volume 3: 1972-1975

What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas – The Emotions; OK, you don’t hear a lot of sad Christmas songs that make the playlist

Season’s Greetings – Cix Bits; totally unfamiliar with this group

Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Albert King; what it says

Volume 2: 1968-1971

Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas – Staple Singers; a downer, social justice song – no airplay for you

Black Christmas – Emotions; the trio returns with a song that won’t make most seasonal playlists

The Mistletoe And Me – Isaac Hayes; I contend that this is a GREAT Christmas song, which I’ve never heard on the radio

Volume 1: 1959-1968

Jingle Bells – Booker T. and the M.G.’s; this actually got to #20 on the Xmas charts in 1966, a special designation that Billboard has had on and off. Of the songs listed here, it’s probably the one you’ve most likely heard in December

Winter Snow – Booker T. and the M.G.’s; I love, LOVE this song. Yes, it is melancholy, but it’s an instrumental

Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday – William Bell; this song, written by Bell and Booker T. Jones, actually made #33 on the R&B charts in 1968. Not strictly a holiday song, it would be a fine addition to a playlist

Everyday will be like a holiday
When my baby, when my baby comes home

Now she’s been gone
for such a long time
ever since she’s been gone,
she been on my mind

I got a letter today,
just about noon
she said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be home soon”

Music, September 1971: widely un-bought

Stax had to “promote a white rock record through a black promotion and distribution system.”

“Not all the fresh music made in 1971 made an impact in that year. Some of it didn’t come out until years later the people who made it had made it had moved on, had become different people, or died.” That’s the first sentence in the September chapter of Never A Dull Moment by David Hepworth.

The Modern Lovers included future Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison and leader Jonathan Richman, who is considered by some to be the ‘godfather of punk rock.”

Roxy Music was primarily wanted to be perceived as an art project, as most of the members, including Bryan Ferry, were students. Likewise, David Byrne was meeting up with Chris Frantz at the Phode Island School of Design and thinking about a band called the Artistics; Byrne and Franz would, of course, also help create Talking Heads.

Kraftwerk was formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1969. Their second album had “more in common with the workshopping approach to improvised theater than the performance-oriented approach of traditional rock.”

When the critics suggest who ought to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they often mention this band, certainly not for its commercial success, but its influence. The Wikipedia notes: “Kraftwerk’s musical style and image can be heard and seen in 1980s synthpop groups such as Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Human League, Depeche Mode, Visage, and Soft Cell.”

Alex Chilton had experience some success with a band called the Box Tops, but the experience left him drained. He and some mates ended up starting a band called Big Star. Their album, #1 Record, released in 1972, did nothing, maybe because it was released on the soul label Stax, which had just bought itself out “of a distribution deal with Columbia” [Records] and therefore had to “promote a white rock record through a black promotion and distribution system.”

The records of the Velvet Underground and Big Star, “like those of of the Stooges, MC5 and Nick Drake, were widely available and widely un-bought.” But those artists inspired music that eventually topped the charts.

Listen to

George Jackson – Bob Dylan here or here

Motel Blues – Loudon Wainwright III here or here

Hospital – Modern Lovers here or here

Andy Warhol – David Bowie here or here

Life Is a Carnival – the Band here or here