ALBUM OF THE MONTH
FIVE REASONS TO LISTEN:
- Original version of the title track, later re-recorded by Stevie with Andra Day for Apple’s widely-seen Christmas TV commercial.
- Holiday songs created in-house at Motown, including upbeat “What Christmas Means To Me” later covered by CeeLo Green, Al Green, En Vogue and Darlene Love.
- Wonder-ful interpretations of such Christmas standards as “Ave Maria,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Silver Bells.”
- Songwriters include Ron Miller and Bryan Wells, responsible for such Stevie hits as “A Place In The Sun” and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.”
- The inspiration for Stevie’s annual “House Full of Toys” concerts?
FOUR FAST FACTS:
FULL TRACK LISTING:
- When Stevie’s Someday At Christmas LP was released during the last week of November ’67, Motown Records couldn’t have been hotter. Diana Ross & the Supremes’ Greatest Hits was the country’s No. 1 album, the Four Tops’ Greatest Hits was in the Top 10, and the Temptations’ Greatest Hits was still on the charts after six months. Earlier that year, Stevie’s “I Was Made To Love Her” had proved to be his biggest hit since 1963, while the album named after the single was in November still in the Top 10 of the R&B charts.
- Yet holiday albums are no sure sellers in pop music, and when Billboard listed its 1967 “Best Bets for Christmas,” the spotlight was not on Stevie, but on releases by the likes of Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis and Nat “King” Cole. In rhythm & blues, the trade magazine drew attention to Lou Rawls’ Merry Christmas, Ho, Ho, Ho, Booker T. & the M.G.’s In The Christmas Spirit and James Brown Sings Christmas Songs.
- Almost a half-century later, Stevie Wonder had the last laugh. His re-recording of the title track of that ’67 Christmas album was featured in the 2015 holiday TV commercial for just about the world’s hottest brand, Apple. In the advertisement, Stevie sets up his Mac to record both the piano he plays and the vocal track, and sings “Someday At Christmas” with one of the year’s brightest new talents, Andra Day. As Day and Wonder duet, their TV family plays games and makes crafts. The result is seen over and over by millions.
- It was Stevie’s (now ex-) wife Kai Millard Morris who helped discover Andra. An amateur video of the young woman singing outside a Malibu mall caught Mrs. Wonder’s attention, which was followed by a call from her husband to Andra. “He told me he loved my voice,” Day remembered, “said he wanted to write a song with me, he wanted to know what sign I was.” She added, “Kai is a wonderful woman. I owe her so much.” “Someday At Christmas” aside, Stevie also plays harmonica on “City Burns,” part of Andra’s debut album, Cheers To The Fall.
- Someday At Christmas was Motown Records’ third holiday album release, following 1963’s Christmas With The Miracles and the Supremes’ Merry Christmas in 1965. The Wonder LP did not chart significantly at the time, but the title track has since become Motown’s most-covered holiday song. It was recorded by two of the company’s own acts, the Jackson 5 and the Temptations, and subsequently by (among others) Pearl Jam, LeAnn Rimes, Jack Johnson, Jordan Hill, Mint Condition, Rascal Flatts and, at age 17, Justin Bieber. In 1994, Diana Ross cut “Someday At Christmas” for her London-made album, A Very Special Season.
- Motown producer Henry “Hank” Cosby recorded most of the songs on Someday At Christmas with Stevie in Detroit during the summer of ’67, working with arrangers Wade Marcus and David Van DePitte. They included interpretations by the adolescent – Wonder was then 17 – of such seasonal staples as “Ave Maria, “Silver Bells,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “The Christmas Song.” By 1970, Stevie had co-written two holiday songs himself, “It’s Christmas Time” and “I Can Tell When Christmas Is Near.” He recorded and produced them for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ album, The Season For Miracles. Wonder’s co-writer on both songs: Syreeta Wright.
- On another occasion, Stevie and Syreeta hailed the songwriters of “Someday At Christmas,” Ron Miller and Bryan Wells. It was during the latter’s cabaret run at the Pontchartrain Hotel in downtown Detroit in August 1970. Both Motown artists came to the opening night after a recording session, and Stevie joined jazz pianist Wells on stage. “It was,” Wells told Classic Motown, “quite a moment!” By then, he and Miller had written several of Wonder’s biggest hits: “A Place In The Sun” and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.”
- The late Ron Miller is best known as the co-writer of Stevie’s No. 1 smash, “For Once In My Life,” and he was said to have connected with Motown when delivering pizza to a hotel room occupied by A&R chief Mickey Stevenson. Bryan Wells said he, in turn, was discovered by Miller while playing piano at a Detroit restaurant, sometime in the fall of 1966. “We soon thereafter started writing together,” Wells confirmed. “I wrote the melody and he wrote the lyrics. Our division of labor was well-defined.” Two such collaborations on Stevie’s Someday At Christmas album: “A Warm Little Home On A Hill” and “One Little Christmas Tree,” both recorded in August 1967.
- With producer Hank Cosby, Stevie cut the song “Someday At Christmas” in September 1966. It was released as a single on the Tamla label in November, coupled with “The Miracles Of Christmas,” written by Ron Miller and wife Aurora. The latter song eventually showed up as a bonus track on a subsequent reissue of the Someday At Christmas album, as did “Everyone’s A Kid At Christmas Time,” also written by the Millers.
- “What Christmas Means To Me” was co-written by Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna, and his brother, George. The third writer was Allen “Bo” Story, previously known for recording “Blue Moon” for Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy’s Anna Records. Fuqua produced Stevie Wonder’s version of “What Christmas Means To Me” with another Anna associate, Johnny Bristol, and the result was released as a Tamla 45 in November 1971. It failed to chart, but the song attracted later remakes by America’s En Vogue, England’s Paul Young, Ireland’s Boyzone and Holland’s Trijntje Oosterhuis.
- For the past two decades, Stevie Wonder has been celebrating Christmas at his “House Full of Toys” charity concert, with proceeds from ticket sales going to the We Are You Foundation, which assists children and families in need. Concertgoers are asked to bring an unwrapped toy or gift as a donation. Wonder began playing the shows in 1996 in Los Angeles at a former Hollywood venue, the House of Blues. Among those who have since given their services to “House Full of Toys” are Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Common, Drake, Dave Chappelle, Alicia Keys, Jonelle Monae and Ziggy Marley. The 2016 show took place Dec. 9 at L.A. Live’s Microsoft Theater, with John Legend, Lionel Richie and Sheryl Crow among those who joined Wonder.
“Stevie Wonder, at the age of 17, is certainly regarded as one of this decade’s great entertainers. His destiny is greatness. He possesses boundless energy and a keen sense of humor. Stevie talks about his blindness freely and without hesitation and considers it a gift from God” – DJ Scott Regan, WKNR Detroit, in sleeve notes for a Motown album in 1967.
VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE TRACK ON THE ALBUM:
Producers: Johnny Bristol, Henry “Hank” Cosby, Harvey Fuqua.
Songwriters: Katherine Davis, Ray Evans, Anna Gordy Gaye, George Gordy, Jay Livingston, Aurora Miller, Deborah Miller, Ron Miller, Orlando Murden, William O’Malley, Henry Onorati, Franz Schubert, Sol Selegna, Harry Simeone, Allen Story, Mel Torme, Bryan Wells, Robert Wells, Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright.
Pre-makes: “The Christmas Song” (Nat “King” Cole, 1946; Mel Torme, 1954; Frank Sinatra, 1957; The Miracles, 1963; The Supremes, 1965), “The Little Drummer Boy” (The Trapp Family Singers, 1951; The Harry Simeone Chorale, 1958; Johnny Mathis, 1963; The Supremes, 1965), “Silver Bells” (Bing Crosby & Carol Richards, 1950), “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me (The Supremes, 1965).
Re-makes: “Someday At Christmas” (The Jackson 5, 1970; The Temptations, 1970; Pearl Jam, 2004; Jack Johnson, 2008; Justin Bieber, 2011; LeAnn Rimes, 2014; Stevie Wonder & Andra Day, 2015), “What Christmas Means To Me” (Al Green, 1983; Paul Young, 1992; Hanson, 1997; En Vogue, 2002; Darlene Love, 2007; Ceelo Green, 2012).