If I had to narrow “good Christmas music” down to a single genre, it would have to be soul. From James Brown’s three Christmas albums (the best selections compiled on 1995’s James Brown’s Funky Christmas) to A Motown Christmas (1973) (not to be confused with 2014’s Motown Christmas) to Sharon Jones & The Dap-King’s neo-soul It’s a Holiday Soul Party (2015), soul artists have breathed new life into what’s fundamentally a creaky, dare I say square genre of music. Out of all of these albums, though—all of which are worth a listen, particularly A Motown Christmas, which I almost included on this countdown—the one I find myself reaching for most often this year is 1968’s Soul Christmas.
- Various Artists, Soul Christmas (1968)
First of all, “Back Door Santa” is as amazing and hilarious as its title suggests, and its horn riff is indelible enough to have been sampled in another great Christmas song, “Christmas in Hollis.” Second of all, OTIS REDDING. One of the most emotionally powerful vocalists of all time, both his songs on this album are classics; he suffuses “White Christmas” with longing the way only he can, while “Merry Christmas Baby” is just a fucking jam.
The instrumental pieces on this album are solid and enjoyable, but they’re basically necessary breathers between the uniformly electrifying vocal tracks; two more highlights are William Bell’s “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday” and Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” both originals. And perhaps most importantly for this list, absolutely everyone at your Christmas party/holiday gathering/family dinner/after-dinner argument/stranded at the airport will enjoy absolutely everything on this album.
Thanks for doing this countdown with me! Check out the albums I ranked 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2, and feel free to let me know if you think I made an egregious omission, but also art is subjective and there are literally dozens of other best-of lists like this, so probably don’t. Happy holidays, and remember: life is too short for bad Christmas music.