TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Christmas With The Miracles debuts on the Billboard Christmas LPs countdown for the week ending Saturday, December 19, 1964.
SONGWRITERS: Mel Tormé, Robert Wells.
PRODUCER: Ronnie White.
BACKSTORY: Motown Records promoted this track when Christmas With The Miracles was released in October 1963, although it was another year before Billboard spotlighted the LP among the holiday sales contenders. The liner notes by Ray Scott quoted Claudette Robinson as saying a Christmas album was “what we’ve always wanted to do.” In fact, their version of “The Christmas Song” was recorded in 1962 – and in the heat of a Detroit summer – but there was insufficient material to make up a full album that year. Moreover, the group was minus a member: Pete Moore was on military service, a fact made obvious by his absence from the album’s front cover artwork.
Ronnie White was credited with producing Christmas With The Miracles; Smokey was billed as assistant producer. “The Christmas Song” was already a seasonal standard at that point, made most famous by Nat “King” Cole’s hit version years earlier. One of the song’s writers, Mel Tormé, was also a singer, otherwise known for his 1962 hit, “Comin’ Home Baby.”
Smokey evidently has a soft spot for “The Christmas Song,” since he’s recorded it on three separate occasion: once for Christmas With The Miracles, again for the group’s second holiday set, The Season For Miracles (released in 1970), and once more for his solo album Christmas Everyday, made exclusively for Amazon in 2017. The first version was modest in mood, running time (2:30) and ambition, but with Claudette’s voice unusually audible; the 1970 recording showed off fuller harmonies, added strings and length (closing in on 4:00); the third reverted to a simpler approach, with Smokey’s mature singing voice some distance from his youthful sound in ’63 – and yet still totally distinctive.
When Motown put together highlights of the Miracles’ holiday material in a 1999 album called Our Very Best Christmas, compilation producer Harry Weinger called on Claudette Robinson to write some liner notes. “Christmas for us was family and friends, the Motortown Revue, and the famous Fox Theater in Detroit, Michigan,” she wrote. “Year after year, we decked the halls of the theater with our family of Motown entertainers.” Claudette continued, “Family and friends made the holidays heavenly by bringing us dinner backstage with all the trimmings: turkey, dressing, ham, candied yams, collard greens, green beans with white potatoes, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato pie, sock-it-to-me cake, Jell-o, peach cobbler etc. – etc., etc., etc.!!!”
REMAKES: The Miracles’ “The Christmas Song” was itself a remake of a number written more than 20 years earlier. Nat “King” Cole made four recordings of the tune, and it was also cut by his daughter, Natalie. More recently, there have been versions by Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber with Usher, and Michael Bublé. Call it the gift which keeps on giving.
FOOTNOTE: The Miracles were far from the only Motowners attracted to “The Christmas Song.” The Supremes cut a version in September 1965, although that wasn’t made available until The Never-Before-Released Masters in 1987. Similarly, a live recording by Marvin Gaye at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1962 emerged on The Marvin Gaye Collection in 1990. Recordings of the song by Stevie Wonder and the Temptations came out on their respective holiday albums, Someday At Christmas (1967) and The Temptations’ Christmas Card (1970). And when the Jackson 5 exploded onto the world in ’70, what else but “The Christmas Song” would they include on their Christmas Album, issued that October. Happy holidays!