I’m proud of the Christmas music collection I’ve curated over the years – dozens of albums covering all the classics and spanning every conceivable genre. But there are a few songs in the collection, my “alternative classics”, that I need to hear for the season to really be complete. Hope you enjoy them. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.
At the top of the list is “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown. The song is from the Funky Christmas album, an incredible set all around from the Godfather of Soul, full of great grooves and great lyrics.
The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” is a bouncy piece of fun that hooks you, ’cause you just have to hear how the story ends.
The special harmonies of the Beach Boys make for creative takes on Christmas classics. But if you live in a cold winter climate, like I do, and wonder how Christmas feels when palm trees are outside you window, “Little St. Nick” by the Beach Boys is what I imagine.
And finally, the most bizarre Christmas song every recorded, “Christmas at K-Mart” by the late Root Boy Slim. K-mart sued to keep this song off the radio for many years, though it’s 7-11 that really takes it on the chin in the lyrics. And if this is your first exposure to Root Boy, do root around on YouTube to hear his madness and political commentary, 70’s style, with tremendous backing musicians.
The James Brown biopic “Get On Up” is not only a fine movie, it relates many fascinating moments from the career of The Godfather of Soul and reminds us of incredible musicians from his band. The movie was produced by Mick Jagger, directed by Tate Taylor (who’s credits include “The Help”), and features a great performance by Chadwick Boseman who also played Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42”.
One entertaining moment recreated in the film is the appearance of James Brown and the Famous Flames in the 1965 Frankie Avalon movie “Ski Party”. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” was the highest charting single of Brown’s career.
The film also recreates Brown’s performance at the Teenage Awards Music International (TAMI) Show in 1964. Here is Brown performing “Please, Please, Please”, his first major release from 1956. The Rolling Stones had to follow this performance as the closing act at the TAMI Show.
Among the musicians from Brown’s band were sax player Maceo Parker, trombonist Fred Wesley, and bassist Bootsy Collins. Parker has had a long and varied musical career, recording 11 solo albums and playing with Parliament Funkadelic, Prince and dozens of other top rock, soul and jazz artists. In this video, after a couple of minutes of band intros Parker brings the funk (and that’s Fred Wesley, a man with his own titanic musical career, on trombone).
Bootsy Collins’ stint with Brown was brief, but came at the time of Brown’s turn from soul to funk. Collins joined Parker and Wesley as members of Parliament Funkadelic in the 1970’s and became a key member of the band. Here’s a clip of Bootsy, all decked out P-funk style, on his tune “Stretchin’ Out” with David Sanborn jumping in on sax.
Fascinating obits ran recently, noting the passing on May 17th of Mack Emmerman, founder of Criteria Recording Studios in North Miami, Florida. The story of Criteria is not too different from the story of Sound City in Los Angeles, which was richly chronicled by Dave Grohl in his recent documentary (see our earlier post Dave Grohl’s “Sound City”), though Criteria was arguably even more successful.
Opened in 1959, Criteria’s history of landmark recordings includes The Allman Brothers’ “Eat A Peach” as well as Eric Clapton’s “Layla”, which featured the iconic slide guitar work of none other than Duane Allman.
Savor these tracks from Criteria’s catalog.
Criteria was purchased by New York’s Hit Factory in 1999 and continued to put out big albums including Michael Jackson’s last studio recording “Invincible”. While the Hit Factory’s original New York location closed in 2005, the Miami facility lives on to this day, apparently a favorite of many rap and hip-hop acts.