Prof Pals are well aware what the Prof will be doing in the next few weeks aside from saving the brains of the youth of America--burning Xmas mixes! Yes, cats and kittenheads, he's up to volume 46 of the customized "Jingle Jammin'" CDRs and will attempt to reach a half o' hundred by New Year. So the Prof herewith initiates a series within a series, featured cuts and albums from his humble estimation of the bestest of Kringlepop music. (That's ol' Fezziwig above gettin' down at the archetypal holiday office party just to get you in the mood. The illustration is by John Leech from the first edition of A Christmas Carol. You can check out a cool site dedicated to the book and other Dickens by clicking your mouse (a creature that isn't stirring, I guess.)
We begin with one of the biggies, the number which is probably the first R & B Christmas composition, written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore and first recorded in 1947 by Moore's Blue Blazers with an assist in the studio by Johnny's brother Oscar, guitarist for Nat Cole's trio.
The track begins with bluesy arpeggios wrapped around the chords of a celesta (suggesting the jingling season subliminaly) and leads into the smoky vocals of the keyboard player Charles Brown (photo below), who switches to piano a few measures later. Brown and Moore keep it simple and urbane so that the music glows with its easy good-time feel and Moore gets in a jazzy Jingle Bells quote that spirals back down into the blues.
The lyrics are iconic American secular Xmas good-times hipness-- the first verse evokes the bling (she gave him a diamond ring so he's "livin' in Paradise," no, not that Paradise), the second verse gets all self-reflexive (he's feelin' mighty fine coz there's good music on the radio), and the last provides a good-natured gag about not drinking but feeling all lit up like a Christmas tree (they did call what Johnny and Charles and Nat and Osacar did cocktail music, after all).
This formula proved so potent that Brown recorded the song at least a dozen more times (and the Prof has interlarded them throughout his Xmas Mix), most notably in a duet with Bonnie Raitt. Brown also became a specialist in Yuletide piano blues--as we shall see later in this series.
A durable blueprint for so many great versions:
1950 Lionel Hampton Orchestra with a blistering vocal by Sonny Parker in the jump manner of Wynone Harris.
1960 Chuck Berry sliding some twangy chords that influenced snake around Jimmy Johnson's classic Chess Chicago-style fills that update Johnny's and Charles' original conception.
1964 Ike and Tina Turner burn up the Yule log with a choogling version that ends with Tina screaming "Jingle all the way!"
1968 Otis Redding Kicking off with a "dashing through the snow" riff by Booker T on the organ and cushioned by the jubilant Stax horns, this version features an exultant O at his best. You can hear him grinning through the whole track.
1971 Elvis Presley stretches out and gives it his all changing the last line from "I'm livin' in paradise" to "I'll play it through Al's mike." He plays an electric guitar solo as D J Fontana urges "Play it dirty." El is one bad Santa, know what ahm sayin?