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Jackie WilsonNearly thirty years ago - right after I caught the record collecting bug - I purchased Merry Christmas From Jackie Wilson (Brunswick, 1963) along with the holiday offering from the Everly Brothers (read more). At the time, both were rare (and by current standards, expensive), and both were witheringly disappointing. It wasn't that I found neither well sung. As usual, Jackie Wilson sang as if his life depended on it, and the Everly Brothers could make the phone book sound glorious with their preternatural harmonies. The problem was that neither artist performed in their usual style, each opting instead to record with an orchestra and choir. Jackie Wilson, at least, had a voice well-suited to such a semi-classical approach, but one can't help but imagine what might have resulted had the arrangements deployed the same sanctified abandon on these hoary old carols as found on Wilson's other records - wild rhythm & blues classics like "Reet Petite" and "Lonely Teardrops." I had envisioned "Baby Jesus, Workout." Instead, I got traditional Christmas standards performed in a staid, stiff style.

For better or worse, Merry Christmas From Jackie Wilson has been reissued several times on CD, and it is certainly a requisite purchase for Wilson's fans - of which I am certainly one. The first CD reissue came in 1991 courtesy of Rhino Records, who were preparing to issue the essential boxed set, Mr. Excitement (1992). Then, the album got issued twice as a two-for-one CD in the UK (first in tandem with Al Green's White Christmas, then with Wilson's own You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet). Most recently, Jackie's original label, Brunswick Records, issued it under the banner Christmas Eve With Jackie Wilson - new title, new cover, same boring music.

Jackie WilsonMuch, much better is "Christmas In Heaven" (Federal, 1953), a song Wilson sang during his tenure with Billy Ward & The Dominos (he had replaced Clyde McPhatter when the legendary tenor left to join the Drifters). The overboiled doo wop of "Christmas In Heaven" gives Wilson ample opportunity to shine, though his voice had yet to reach its astounding peak. "It's Christmas in heaven, and it's heaven here with you," sings Jackie, mixing the sacred and profane in ways rather scandalous at the time. "You kiss me, and I hear angels," he swoons, leaving lots of room for interpretation.

By the way, Wilson didn't sing lead on the b-side, "Ringing In A Brand New Year" - that was probably Billy Ward himself. Moreover, Jackie had long departed the group when Ward and the Dominoes cut "O Holy Night" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" for Liberty circa 1957 (apparently unreleased), then again for King Records (released as a single, 1965). Anyway, "Christmas In Heaven" can be found on various King/Federal reissues (read more), but the other tracks are harder to come by. Look for 14 Hits, Volume One or poke around Amazon for downloads. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • Christmas In Heaven (with Billy Ward & The Dominoes, 1953)
  • Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly (1963)
  • Joy To The World (1963)
  • O Holy Night (1963)
  • Silent Night (1963)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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