Saturday, December 13, 2014

Merry Christmas - The Supremes

Merry Christmas
The Supremes
Motown 638

As Supremes albums go this one is mediocre, but as a Christmas record it is very good, one of my favorites.  I put it on while we were trimming the tree this year and it went over quite well.  It has a nice mix of secular and religious songs, standards and new songs and it captures the spirit of the season without being too sappy.  I have to admit that the first time I heard it I was very disappointed.  I was hoping for Motown-ized versions of the Christmas classics akin to what Phil Spector did with his Christmas album.  Most of these arrangements would be suitable for Andy Williams or the Lettermen, traditional easy listening pop.  Eventually I came around to realizing that was pretty much what I wanted, that's what I grew up listening to at Christmas and as a result I play this more at Christmas than the Spector album (even though I consider that a much better record.)  The standards are all pretty good aside from "The Little Drummer Boy" which I find tedious.  "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells" feature nice vocal arrangements.  "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" gets a big band arrangement and is most notable for Diana Ross' bizarre impersonation of Santa Claus.  "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is one of the few tracks that sounds like a Motown song and is all the better for it.  It is my favorite cut on the album.  "Joy to the World" is given an energetic performance but I could do without the martial drumming and the mechanized tightness of the vocals.  I don't know why people consider "My Favorite Things" (from "The Sound of Music") to be a Christmas song but I'm not complaining too much because I like the Supremes' version quite a bit.  It has a swinging big band arrangement and features the persistent ringing of sleigh bells to try to make it sound more Christmas-like I suppose.  Ross' vocal is vibrant and the song is another one of my favorites on the record.  I like all of the newer songs to varying degrees.  The best one is Jimmy Webb's poignant "My Christmas Tree" which is about a woman spending Christmas alone and missing her lover who has left her.  Ross' vocal is moving and the song is full of expressive images typical of Webb's work.  I also like Al Capps and Mary Dean's "Little Bright Star" which is given a jumping Motown arrangement and features some strong vocal work.  "Children's Christmas Song" was written by Isabelle Freeman and Harvey Fuqua and it also has a Motown-style melody and arrangement.  The song is inane but extremely catchy, it sticks in my brain for days after I play it.  Diana Ross does a lot of talking in the song as she bosses around her younger brother Chico and Berry Gordy's three kids who participate in the vocal.  Her Christmas cheeriness sounds phony to me, but the song is so silly that I can't really blame her.  Ronald Miller and William O'Malley's "Twinkle Twinkle Little Me" is also pretty dumb. It is written from the perspective of the star on top of a Christmas tree.  It has a good Motown-style tune though and I dig the harmony vocals in support of Ross' lead.  Don Gustafson's "Born of Mary" has an evocative melody that sounds like it was lifted from a classic western.  The song has an ensemble vocal from the group.  It is not a memorable song but it sounds nice.  I think this is one of the better Christmas albums of its era.  I wish my parents had been cool enough to have had a copy, I think I would have loved it when I was a kid.  I think part of why I like it so much is that it reminds me of being a kid at Christmas time.  The exuberance and warm feelings that permeate much of this record brings out the holiday spirit in me.  Recommended to people who need to tame their inner Scrooge.

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