It’s that time of year again when Christmas music begins to fill the air as we decorate for the upcoming holidays. As I think back across the years two collections of Christmas music come to mind; A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector which came out in 1963, and A Motown Christmas released 10 years later in 1973! These two albums are a must for the collection for anyone who loves oldies.
Just think of the track list for the Phil Spector album; “White Christmas" - Darlene Love, "Frosty the Snowman" - The Ronettes, "The Bells of St. Mary's" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - The Crystals, "Sleigh Ride" - The Ronettes, "Marshmallow World" - Darlene Love, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - The Ronettes, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - The Crystals, "Winter Wonderland" - Darlene Love, "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" - The Crystals, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - Darlene Love,"Here Comes Santa Claus" - Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and "Silent Night" - Phil Spector and Artists. Wow – what a collection. Those songs were the highlights of all the radio station’s Holiday play lists back in the 60s.
And they still are! I was listening to the Sirius X/M “Holly” Channel over the weekend and heard at least half of those 13 tracks. That one album has been a high point in Christmas music for 53 years! Many of our favorite TV Christmas specials feature tracks from the album that set the standard for Christmas albums that followed.
“A Motown Christmas” is no slouch when it comes to our favorite Christmas Music. Check out this two record playlist. Side 1: "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" – The Jackson 5. "What Christmas Means to Me" – Stevie Wonder, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" – The Temptations, "My Favorite Things" – The Supremes, "Deck the Halls/Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" – Smokey Robinson, and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" – The Jackson 5. Side 2: "Ave Maria" – Stevie Wonder, "Silent Night" – The Temptations, "Little Christmas Tree" – Michael Jackson, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" – Smokey Robinson, "The Christmas Song" – The Jackson 5, and "Joy to the World" – The Supremes. Side 3: "The Little Drummer Boy" – The Temptations, "Silver Bells" – The Supremes, "Someday at Christmas" – Stevie Wonder, "Frosty the Snowman" – The Jackson 5, "Jingle Bells" – Smokey Robinson and "My Christmas Tree" – The Temptations. Side 4: "White Christmas" – The Supremes, "One Little Christmas Tree" – Stevie Wonder, "Give Love on Christmas Day" – The Jackson 5, "It's Christmas Time" – Smokey Robinson, "Children's Christmas Song" – The Supremes and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" – The Jackson 5!
“A Motown Christmas” reset the Christmas music machine and provided fodder for more Christmas TV Specials of the 70s and beyond.
Singles from these two albums filled the Christmas music playlists for as long as I have been in radio. One of the “happy places” in the hallways of my memories were the days when the program director carried the big cardboard box that usually contained the paper used in our teletype machines into the control room and placed it in front of the stand that held our cart machines. Instead of paper, the box was filled to the brim with 45 RPM records. They were not organized or ordered in any way; it was as if a child had played a game of “toss the record” and created a random pile of records. This was not unlike the “grab bag” box of records that were rejects from the demos that were sent to the station.
I would immediately dive into the pile and find my favorites. Songs like “White Christmas” – Bing Crosby, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” - Gene Autry, “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee, “Jingle Bell Rock” – Bobby Helms and others by Perry Como, Nat King Cole, songs that I sang as a kid! I was in heaven.
We didn’t immediately jump into a Solid Christmas format as many stations do these days. Instead we started the week after Thanksgiving with one or two Christmas songs per hour, increasing the mix until at 6 PM on Christmas Eve we were solid Christmas for twenty four hours. We didn’t cut off cold turkey on Christmas night, pardon the pun, either. Instead we tapered off until finally playing our last Christmas song around noon on New Year’s Eve.
Say what you will, but that still seems like the right way to do it. A side note about Christmas formatting. If your favorite radio station has gone solid Christmas this year, look out! Many radio corporations use Christmas Music as a way of buffering the old music format from a new one that they are planning on changing to after the holidays. I sure hope your favorite station has not done that. That just seems wrong to me, but I’m old school that way.
So this year I’m happily pouring though my Christmas Music collection, remembering my old favorites and listening to the Holly Channel to see if there are new ones that need to be added; Pentatonix has a nice new album for example. You can bet, I’ll be doing the “DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie” and singing holiday cheer at the top of my lungs. It is a good thing that the microphone switch in the studio works. Oh MY!