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Charles BrownCharles Brown (read more), whose ambling, relaxed, sophisticated blues are now but a footnote to musical history, is the unofficial but undisputed king of hip Christmas music. He earned his crown primarily on the basis of two songs: "Merry Christmas Baby," first recorded with Johnny Moore's Three Blazers in 1947, and "Please Come Home For Christmas," a 1960 hit on King Records covered with great success the Eagles in 1978. Brown recorded both of these songs many times, including roughly a dozen versions of "Merry Christmas Baby" for a myriad of labels. The tinkling original version (recorded for Exclusive Records) hit #3 on the R&B charts, and a 1964 release on Imperial hit #4 on the Christmas charts. But, it's the 1956 version for Aladdin Records that has proved the most enduring - and arguably best - rendition of "Merry Christmas Baby."

"Please Come For Christmas" reached #26 R&B for King Records in 1960 and would make the Christmas charts consistently for another decade. The label capitalized on that success by releasing Charles Brown's first holiday LP, Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs (pictured above), in 1961. The next year, the label reissued the album with another fine reworking of "Merry Christmas Baby" replacing (for obvious marketing reasons) the delightfully downcast "My Most Miserable Christmas."

Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs is filled with the same seductive, melancholy, yet charming grooves that made his two big holiday hits so great and that characterized his earlier hits like "Drifting Blues" (1946) and "Trouble Blues" (1949), and "Black Night" (1951). You'll find nary a standard on Sings Christmas Songs - no "Jingle Bells," "Frosty," or "Rudolph." But, the album evokes the holiday with conviction, albeit in a thoroughly adult manner. For reasons I can't entirely explain, Charles Brown simply had an affinity for Christmas music; whether praising his lover or lamenting his loneliness, every yule tune he crooned found him, in the words of his signature song, "all lit up like a Christmas tree."

Charles BrownIn 1972, King reissued this material as Please Come Home For Christmas (pictured right), replacing the odd little snowman cover with a similarly odd portrait of an ornament; Brown's black face appears nowhere on either issue - a not uncommon practice in the early days of rock 'n roll, but inexcusable a decade later. Without explanation, King appends four rather nondescript instrumentals by organist Bill Doggett from his 1958 LP, Songs Of Christmas, considered by some to be the first-ever rhythm & blues Christmas album. Anyway, this is the version most likely to be found in your local record store (though King has reissued both editions - albeit in typically shoddy fashion - on CD).

Over the years, Brown waxed many more holiday sides. Highlights include a stellar session for Ace in 1960 that yielded "Christmas Finds Me Oh So Sad" (included on Brown's Blue Over You: The Ace Recordings or Ace Records' Rock and Roll Christmas) and a 1970 revision of "Merry Christmas Baby" for Jewel Records featuring strident wah-wah guitar licks (available with other Jewel & Paula holiday sides on Paula's own Merry Christmas Baby). He also recorded a little-known second holiday LP called Merry Christmas Baby for the Big Town label in 1977 which has never been reissued.

Charles Brown died in 1999, and he never achieved widespread fame. Still, he was a big star in the post-war blues scene and a major influence on a generation of singers, Ray Charles foremost among them. Happily, in his latter days, Charles Brown experienced something of a comeback, recording with Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, and John Lee Hooker, and earning some long overdue recognition for his accomplishments. During this period, Brown released a third seasonal album, Cool Christmas Blues (Bullseye, 1994), also highly recommended. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Christmas Blues (1961)
  • Christmas Finds Me Oh So Sad (1960)
  • Christmas With No One To Love (1961)
  • It's Christmas All Year Round (1961)
  • Merry Christmas Baby (1956)
  • My Most Miserable Christmas (1961)
  • Please Come Home For Christmas (1960)
  • Wrap Yourself In A Christmas Package (1961)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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