Various Artists – A Motown Christmas (1973)

FrontCover1A Motown Christmas is a Christmas music compilation album, originally released as a 2-LP set by Motown Records in 1973. It contains various seasonal singles and album tracks recorded by some of the label’s artists from the 1960s and early 1970s. Much of the music had previously been collected on the 1968 UK compilation Merry Christmas from Motown.

The music has several times been recycled into different packagings. (by wikipedia)

“I really did see mommy kissing Santa Claus/And I’m gonna tell my dad!,” a too-cute 1970 Michael Jackson tells his doubting brothers in what might be Xmas-pop’s most adorable moment. The rest of this 1973 double album is pretty fantastic too. Motown culls tunes from the Miracles, Supremes, Jacksons, Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, with highlights ranging from the Miracles’ subtly grooving “Jingle Bells” to Wonder’s lovely “What Christmas Means to Me” to the Supremes’ awesomely pedagogic “Children’s Christmas Song,” featuring Diana Ross in Sunday school-teacher mode leading a kids choir. (by rollingstone.com)

MotownChristmasEvery holiday season, I marvel that every record collector – hell, every person – on the face of the planet doesn’t own A Motown Christmas.  A Motown Christmas is simply magnificent, but it tends to gather dust in record store bins. Perhaps this is because oldies radio stations play the same handful of Motown songs over and over and over, obscuring the fact that the label was an incredibly inventive and prolific hit factory for more than a decade. Containing nearly all the best Christmas tracks from Motown’s vaults, A Motown Christmas qualifies as a consumer’s delight, and it is far superior to the rest of Motown’s many other various artist Christmas packages, which tend to be brief and random in their selection (more below). I recommend it without reservation.

The important thing to remember about Motown’s Christmas songs is that they were more Motown than Christmas, translating the big beat and pop savvy of Hitsville USA into yuletide cheer. To name just a few of the highlights: the Temptations’ lush “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer;” the Jackson Five’s frenetic “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town;” and Stevie Wonder’s earnest “Someday At Christmas.”  In addition, two tracks are otherwise hard-to-find: Michael Jackson’s “Little Christmas Tree” (recorded specifically for the original 1973 LP), and Marvin Gaye’s gently pacifist “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” (recorded but not released in 1972, then added to the CD reissue). Even at their most maudlin – the Supremes tracks, for instance – these songs are hipper than almost anything else released for the holidays throughout the 60’s and early 70’s. (by hipchristmas.com)

BackCoverTracklist:
01. The Jackson 5: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (Coots/Gillespie) 2.26
02. Stevie Wonder: What Christmas Means To Me (Gaye/Gordy/Story) 2.28
03. The Temptations: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (Marks) 2.59
04. Diana Ross & the Supremes: My Favorite Things (Hammerstein/Rodgers) 2.51
05. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Deck The Halls/Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabell (Traditional) 4.07
06. The Jackson 5: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Connors) 3.02
07. Stevie Wonder: Ave Maria (Schubert) 3.55
08. The Temptations: Silent Night (Gruber/Mohr) 2.25
09. Michael Jackson: Little Christmas Tree (Clinton/Wayne) 3.39
10. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional) 3.10  11. The Jackson 5: The Christmas Song (Tormé/Wells) 2.54
12. Diana Ross & the Supremes: Joy To The World (Mason/WattsI 2.11
13. The Temptations: The Little Drummer Boy (Davis/Onorati/Simeone) 3.25
14. Diana Ross & the Supremes: Silver Bells (Evans/Livingston) 3.02
15. Stevie Wonder: Someday At Christmas (Miller/Wells) 2.52
16. The Jackson 5: Frosty The Snowman (Nelson/Rollins) 2:41
17. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Jingle Bells (Pierpont) 2.48
18. The Temptations: My Christmas Tree (Webb) 3.20
19. Diana Ross & the Supremes: White Christmas (Berlin) 3.56
20. Stevie Wonder: One Little Christmas Tree (Miller/Wells) 2.45
21. The Jackson 5: Give Love On Christmas Day (Gordy, Jr./Mizell/Perren/Richards) 3.00
22. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: It’s Christmas Time (Wonder) 3.29
23. Diana Ross & the Supremes: The Children’s Christmas Song (Freeman/Fuqua) 2.53
24. The Jackson 5: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin) 5.16

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Ray Charles – Genius & Friends (2005)

FrontCover1Atlantic/Rhino’s 2005 Genius & Friends is the end result of a project Ray Charles initiated a few months before his death in June 2004. According to James Austin’s liner notes, Charles called Austin in December of 2003, asking if he could find the masters to an unreleased duets record Ray recorded in 1997 and 1998. Austin found the tapes, but Charles was too sick to work on them, so after his passing — and after his final studio album, the duets record Genius Loves Company, became a number one hit in August of 2004 — Atlantic/Rhino decided to finish off the project, bringing in producer Phil Ramone to oversee the completion of the album. This included bringing in singers to record their parts, since apart from two tracks — a 1994 duet with Diana Ross on “Big Bad Love” and a live 1991 version of “Busted” with Willie Nelson (taken from the television special Ray Charles: 50 Years in Music) — these are all studio constructions, with vocalists duetting with a previously recorded Ray. While not quite the monstrosity it could have been — posthumous duets albums like this always bear an unsettling ghoulish undertow — Genius & Friends is also not a particularly good album either. This isn’t because the pairings are ill conceived — apart from the woefully outmatched American Idol winner Ruben Studdard on “Imagine” (which boasts perhaps Ray’s best vocal performance on this record), there’s nobody here who doesn’t hold his or her own, and Ramone has skillfully edited the new recordings with the existing tapes so it sounds like they were recorded at the same time, even if it rarely sounds as if the vocalists were in the same room together. Rather, the problem is that the productions are caught halfway between ’90s adult contemporary and modern neo-soul, sounding too slick and polished to really be memorable. It’s pleasant enough — and it’s top-loaded, too, with the duets with Angie Stone, Chris Isaak, and Mary J. Blige being among the best cuts — but it’s not as relaxed or appealing as Genius Loves Company, which had the feeling of being a real duets album. This feels like what it is — a professional studio creation. Not a terrible thing per se, but not something that makes for a good album, either.( by Stepen Thomas Erlewine)

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Tracklist:
01. Angie Stone:  All I Want to Do (McKinney/Walden) 4.00
02. Chris Isaak: You Are My Sunshine (Davis/Mitchell) 3.48
03. Mary J. Blige: It All Goes by So Fast (Hirsch/Levy) 5.07
04. Gladys Knight: You Were There (unknown) 3.41
05. The Harlem Gospel Singers / Ruben Studdard: Imagine (Lennon) 3.41
06. Leela James: Compared to What (McDaniels) 3.42
07. Diana Ross: Big Bad Love (Sample/Stephanie Tyrell/Steve Tyrell) 3.42
08. Idina Menzel: I Will Be There (Dakota/Walden) 4.43
09. George Michael: Blame It On The Sun (Wonder/Wright) 4.46
10. John Legend: Touch (McKinney/Walden) 4.40
11. Patti LaBelle / The Andraé Crouch Singers: Shout (Hilden/Walden) 5.10
12. Laura Pausini: Surrender To Love (unknown) 4.13
13. Willie Nelson: Busted (Howard) 2.32
14. Alicia Keys: America the Beautiful (Bates/Ward) 2.58

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