TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Debuts on the Billboard Top Christmas Sellers chart for the week ending Saturday, December 11, 1965.
SONGWRITERS: Isabelle Freeman, Harvey Fuqua.
PRODUCER: Harvey Fuqua.
BACKSTORY: Even for those who can’t wait for the holiday season, singing about Christmas only a few weeks after summer must be tough. But that’s exactly what Diana Ross had to do with “Children’s Christmas Song” and other material for the Supremes’ 1965 album, Merry Christmas. She cut her vocals for this tune on September 15 that year, over instrumental tracks recorded in Los Angeles the previous month, supervised by Motown’s California captains, Marc Gordon and Hal Davis.
“I even took my vacation time to do a whole Christmas album while the other girls went on vacation,” Diana told Soul Illustrated in 1970. “But I figured I wanted to get that settled and straight. Then they came in and did the background later. The lead voice took more time to record than the background, so I never took a vacation.” No wonder: in addition to “Children’s Christmas Song,” the singer taped her interpretations of “White Christmas,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Silver Bells,” “Little Bright Star” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me” during a two-day period in mid-September ’65, and other material around the same time.
When released that November, the Merry Christmas album contained a 12-song mix of standards and originals. “Children’s Christmas Song” was one of the latter, co-written by Harvey Fuqua, who also produced the vocals. “I used to freak out on The Supremes ’cause they were so good,” he later told Goldmine magazine. They did everything you told them to…’Don’t do that anymore’ – they don’t do it anymore. ‘Do a little more of this’ – they do a little more of that.” Fuqua had all the necessary experience for the task: he was leader of hitmaking act the Moonglows in the 1950s, mentored Marvin Gaye when he was a member of that group, and helped bring him to Motown. The Supremes were just one of the acts Fuqua produced – and wrote songs for – during his time at Hitsville U.S.A.
“Children’s Christmas Song” was issued November 18, 1965 on a Motown 45 just as the Supremes’ “I Hear A Symphony” climbed to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. “Strong contender for the top teen holiday record of the year,” declared the trade magazine’s review of the new release. “Beautiful rhythm ballad with wide appeal.” As was Billboard practice, both the single and Merry Christmas were tracked on separate holiday charts, where both figured in the Top 10. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me,” the flip of “Children’s Christmas Song” also charted strongly. The Supremes sang the topside during a December 13, 1965 edition of TV’s Hullabaloo.
REMAKES: Harvey Fuqua wrote songs which were covered by many other artists, but “Children’s Christmas Song” was not among them. Nevertheless, it and other tracks from Merry Christmas have for years been holiday staples for radio broadcasters worldwide, and the album continues to serve. It has been reissued on vinyl, compact disc and through streaming services, the most recent being a deluxe, two-CD edition in 2017 from Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records, under license from Motown/Universal Music. The Ultimate Merry Christmas package includes extensive liner notes by reissue producer Joe Marchese, together with the original mono and stereo versions of the vinyl LP, plus alternate takes and bonus tracks. A gift for the holidays!
FOOTNOTE: One of the most celebrated songwriters of the ’60s, Jimmy Webb, had his moment with the Supremes and Merry Christmas. The composer of “Up, Up And Away,” “Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park” was signed to Motown’s Jobete Music in 1965, before those songs made him a household name. Among Jimmy’s work for Jobete was “My Christmas Tree,” recorded by the Supremes for their holiday album. “I learned everything that I would ever need to know about record producing and songwriting from the wonderful people at Motown,” Jimmy declared in the liner notes of The Ultimate Merry Christmas. He added, “The Supremes’ recording of ‘My Christmas Tree’ was my first release with a major artist and it convinced me that I could have an actual career in the music business.”