Christmas Blues: Ten Great Songs
Do Christmas Carols Give You the Blues?
Once Thanksgiving is over it’s hard to walk into a shop without hearing a relentless barrage of traditional Christmas music. Even if you are the epitome of the Christmas Spirit, and you love the usual carols, it can start to get to you.
If the steady diet of Jingle Bells, and Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer is giving you the blues, maybe you should check out some of these Christmas blues songs.
Christmas Tears - Eric Clapton (1998)
Blues legend Freddie king wrote and recorded "Christmas Tears" in 1961. It is a heartbreaking blues ballad about lost love at Christmas time.
Clapton’s rendition of the song is from a fundraising benefit concert for the Special Olympics. The concert took place at the White House, and it was filmed for television. The music has been released on a CD "A Very Special Christmas Live from Washington D.C.” Proceeds benefit the Special Olympics.
"I hear sleigh bells ringing,
But I haven't heard a word from you in years."
Canned Heat - Christmas Blues (1968)
Canned Heat, is a rock band, noteworthy for its interpretations of blues material. Formed in 1965, the band has always promoted blues music and its original artists. The band was founded by Alan Wilson and Bob Hite. They got the name from Tommy Johnson's 1928 song "Canned Heat Blues," It was song about an alcoholic who had turned to drinking Sterno, generically called "canned heat".
Well, what's is my life, pretty baby
With another Christmas time without you?"
Koko Taylor - Merry Merry Christmas (1992)
This daughter of a Tennessee sharecropper grew up to be blues royalty. Known by her many fans as the "Queen of the Blues," her most successful song was written by Willie Dixon, "Wang Dang Doodle."
With that raw, powerful voice of hers, Koko could lift a tune solely on the attitude she brought to it. Many people noticed her singing in the Sandra Bullock movie "While You Were Sleeping." "Merry Merry Christmas"
"Christmas in Chicago
New York, too
Way down in New Orleans
And right here with you"
Leon Russel - Slippin' Into Christmas (1972)
Russell’s often overlooked 1972 “Slippin’ Into Christmas” featured his usual band, plus Freddie King. This is a wonderful bluesy arrangement, but it never became a holiday hit.
The lyrics of this song are the perfect expression of how it feels to be apart from the one you love at Christmas time. If you have ever had that experience, you will know exactly what he was singing about in this song.
"And I’m feeling kind of useless
like a secondhand Christmas tree
And I’m sneaking into sorrow
these blues have got a hold on me"
Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa (1968)
Mixing the sacred with the profane is is par for the course for Clarence Carter. The highly sexualized, "Back Door Santa" is one of his most successful songs, along with another sexy song "Slip Away." Both were originally recorded in 1968.
"I ain't like old St. Nick, he don't come but once a year."
Santa Claus is Back in Town - Elvis Presley (1957)
Written for Elvis by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" is almost a burlesque of the blues. This smoking song is an example of Elvis' talent for taking corny or lackluster material and spinning it into gold. Elvis' growling vocals lend a vibrant sexual energy to the recording.
"Hang up your pretty stockings and put out the light, Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight!"
Christmas Celebration - B. B. King (1962)
B.B. King is, by far the most famous blues musician in history. This is a cover of a song written and recorded in 1951 by Jesse Thomas. Thomas' version is subdued, but King's cover is brassier, full of manly bravado and smoking guitar leads that have earned him his well-deserved reputation.
"Here's to you, honey
May Christmas bring you happiness
I want you to have a good time
Like we did on all the rest"
Merry Christmas Baby - Otis Redding 1968)
Otis Redding's rendition of Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby" is a radical reinterpretation. Compared to the original, the song is almost unrecognizable. It was recorded in Memphis in 1967, but it was not released until after Redding's death. Booker T. Jones' contributes the organ and Steve Cropper is on guitar.
"Merry Christmas baby
Sure do treat me nice
Bought me a diamond ring for Christmas
I feel like I'm in paradise"
How I Hate to See Christmas Come Around - Jimmy Whitherspoon (1947)
Great blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon cut this tragic Christmas song in 1947. If you think Christmas is stressful for you, just wait until you hear his story. Jimmy spends the season at the loan company and the pawn shop instead of fighting crowds at the mall.
“Oh Santa may have brought you some stars for your shoes
But Santa only brought me the blues.”
Santa Claus go Straight to the Ghetto - James Brown (1968)
What sets James Browns' Christmas music apart from the rest is their good humor. In this funky song Brown beseeches Santa not to forget the needy residents of the ghetto. It's not exactly "Jingle Bells," but it's a joyful little song with a positive message.
"Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto
Santa Claus, the soul brothers need you so
Santa Claus, tell them James Brown sent you"
© 2016 Sherry Hewins