“Let’s make this Christmas mean something this year!”
Between 1966 and 1970, James Brown recorded three stellar Christmas albums. For years the only readily available versions of these albums were single compilations such as the original Funky Christmas and the remastered (and wonderful sounding) 20th Century Masters Christmas Collection edition of that same album (a short review of that album can be found here). While these albums are indeed excellent, I always wondered what was left on the cutting room floor and now, finally, after years of waiting, my Christmas wish has come true.
The Complete James Brown Christmas contains all three original Christmas albums – 1966’s Christmas Songs, 1968’s A Soulful Christmas, and 1970’s Hey America – spread across two discs with a generous serving of gravy bonus tracks for good measure. If you’ve ever wondered what these original albums sounded like, now is your chance!
The first thing we should comment on here is the sound, which is most certainly impeccable. But, how does it compare to the 2oth Century Masters edition? Well, after a few weeks of exhaustive research we can honestly say it’s not too different but there are indeed differences. Generally speaking, the sound has just a smidge more clarity than the 20th Century Masters edition, although with that clarity comes a bit of loss in the bottom end. In a head to head play, most of the songs on the 20th Century Masters edition had just a bit more funk in the mix thanks to a slightly heavier bass and thicker sound.
After much deliberation we actually prefer the mastering on the 20th Century Masters edition although you would probably never even notice except during the most critical listening sessions. Note: “Hey America” is a full 20 seconds shorter on the new release, a decision that is quite perplexing considering this is the “Complete” James Brown. There is also an instrumental track version that really brings the funk to the forefront.
Mastering aside, the real reason to pick up this set is the pleasure of hearing all the songs that didn’t make the original compilation (or, if you’ve never had any of the JB Christmas albums, getting it all together in one place). Considering how fantastic all the material is I can imagine how difficult it must have been to choose a track list for the compilation album. That being said, the track list on the comp is and always has been absolutely perfect. Try as we may, we just can’t listen to it any other way and instead chose to reassemble all the songs that weren’t on the 20th Century Masters edition into a James Brown Christmas Volume 2 disc. And you know what? Christmas just got twice as funky.
Our “Volume 2” looks something like this. Well, exactly like this actually.
“I’m Your Christmas Friend, Don’t Be Hungry” is almost as great an opener as “Go Power” and quickly sets the tone for a funky Christmas night. At times sounding a bit like a spokesperson for good health and exercise, JB delivers some impassioned vocals about being your friend. Very nice. “This Is My Lonely Christmas Pts. 1 & 2” hits a late night jazzy stride complete with some wonderful JB organ, note perfect horn lines, and some very tasty string accompaniment. “The Christmas Song (Version 2)” is an alternate take that is just as soulfully powerful as the original, while the alternate version of “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay” is as tearfully beautiful as always. The instrumental version of this song is simply beautiful, and peels back the layers just enough to fully realize what a splendid and gorgeous arrangement this song really is. Those horn lines, that melody, amazing!
Throughout the album are some wonderful slices of cocktail Christmas jazz, brimming with organ, horns, and some excellently placed vibes that sit just right for the holiday season. Tracks such as “You Know It” (present in a vibes version and a searing, smokey organ version), a very funky “Christmas is Coming,” a hypnotic “In the Middle,” a fantabulous “Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer)” (also present in a both vibes and organ version), and a cheerful drink-in-hand “Santa Claus Gave Me a Brand New Start,” remind everyone that James Brown and the band were hitting a serious musical stride during this period. You will dance. You will groove. Oh yes, you will.
In the Mook household, it just isn’t Christmas until the JB Christmas albums come out. The season starts with a funk and doesn’t let up until we can’t dance no more. After years of listening to the absolutely perfect 20th Century Masters edition, The Complete James Brown Christmas was a more than welcome addition. Essential, really. The music cooks, and the quality of the material, along with the fantabulous packaging, makes it a Christmas music gift of epic proportions. We can wholeheartedly recommend picking this up without any reservation. Even if you have one of either Funky Christmas or 20th Century Masters, you need this. It’s just more JB for your Christmas spirit.
And don’t we all need a little more JB around the holidays?
- Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year – 6:30
- Sweet Little Baby Boy, Pts. 1-2 – 5:16
- Merry Christmas, I Love You – 2:33
- Signs of Christmas – 4:38
- The Christmas Song Version 2 – 2:48
- Merry Christmas Baby – 3:55
- The Christmas Song Version – 2:45
- Please Come Home For Christmas – 3:24
- This is My Lonely Christmas, Pt. 1 – 3:03
- This is My Lonely Christmas, Pt. 2 – 4:49
- Christmas In Heaven – 2:58
- Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto – 3:04
- Santa Claus, Santa Claus – 4:06
- Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer) – 2:18
- Soulful Christmas – 3:09
- Tit For Tat (Ain’t No Taking Back) – 3:07
- Christmas is Coming – 2:40
- Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, Pts. 1-2 – 4:49
- In the Middle – 2:45
- Let’s Unite the Whole World At Christmas – 2:46
- You Know It – 2:23
- Santa Claus Gave Me a Brand New Start – 3:49
- Hey America – 3:36
- A Lonely Little Boy Around One Little Christmas Toy – 4:02
- Go Power At Christmas Time – 3:12
- Christmas is Love – 6:05
- Santa Claus is Definitely Here To Stay – 4:23
- My Rapp – 6:02
- I’m Your Christmas Friend, Don’t Be Hungry – 3:10
- Merry Christmas My Baby and a Very, Very, Happy New Year – 3:59
- It’s Christmas Time, Pt. 1 – 3:11
- It’s Christmas Time, Pt. 2 – 3:16
- You Know It (Single Version) – 2:53
- Believers Shall Enjoy (Non Believers Shall Suffer) (Single Version) – 2:42
- Hey America (Sing Along Version) – 3:47
- Santa Claus is Definitely Here To Stay (Single Version) – 4:24
- Santa Claus is Definitely Here To Stay (Sing Along Version) – 4:24