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Far Out 40: The soul and Motown Christmas playlist


Winter is the season of soul. No time of year matches the coffee and sweater vibe of Al Green or Nina Simone’s stirring styles quite like the frosts of the festive season. If Nat King Cole doesn’t cry out for a crackling fire or The Ronettes rally for mistletoe, then nothing will. And if you don’t like soul, then you don’t like music.

In fact, Christmas is inherent to the soul sound. As Ronnie Spector, one of soul’s proudest daughters, said: “I didn’t just like Christmas, like most kids, or even love it. I was obsessed!” Thus, she started singing Christmas songs and learnt the way of delivering the gift of a rasping voice to warm the heart and tap the toes. 

Unlike other genres, where artists have sometimes swerved well clear of jangling sleigh bells and twinkling triangles, just about every soul star who you can shake a stick at has donned a Christmas hat and pulled a cracking jam. Many of these have become classics, like Stevie Wonder’s ‘What Christmas Means to Me’ while others are hidden festive gems like Daisy Mae & Her Hepcats ‘Frosty’s Groove’. 

Listen to the soaring isolated vocals of Minnie Riperton for ‘Loving You’

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Forever with an eye for a commercial opportunity, Christmas also came with a big red bow on it for the mogul at the head of Motown, Berry Gordy. The hitmaking impresario had his massive slew of soul stars all churning out something on the festive side at this time of year, many of the session gems have sadly been lost to the sands of time, but others remain Christmas classics that we’ve wrapped up in the playlist below. 

Throughout the month we’ll be loading up with more festive treats with playlists from all sorts of genres and more, but for now, we begin with the realm that seems most befitting. Just as the beloved ‘Buddy’ proclaims in Elf: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Below we’re serving up Christmas tracks from Marvin Gaye to Louis Armstrong and The Staple Singers, please tuck in the festive vibe of Hammond Organs and purring vocals.  

The ultimate soul Christmas playlist:

  • ‘White Christmas’ by Otis Redding
  • ‘What Christmas Means To Me’ by Stevie Wonder
  • ‘Winter Wonderland’ by Aretha Franklin
  • ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ Al Green
  • ‘Jingle Bells’ by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  • ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ by Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan
  • ‘Every Day is Christmas’ by Charles Bradley
  • ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ by The Jackson 5
  • ‘Sleigh Ride’ by The Ronettes
  • ‘Christmas in the City’ by Marvin Gaye
  • ‘Christmas Night in Harlem’ by Louis Armstrong. Benny Carter
  • ‘Who Took The Merry out of Christmas’ by The Staple Singers
  • ‘I Wish It Would Snow’ by Gloria Lynne
  • ‘Everybody Eats When They Come to My House’ by Cab Calloway
  • ‘Merry Mending’ by Nina Simone
  • ‘Joy, Joy to My Soul’ by Sam Cooke, The Soul Stirrers
  • ‘I’ll Be Your Santa Baby’ by Rufus Thomas
  • ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ by Ike & Tina Turner
  • ‘Santa Claus Go Straight to The Ghetto’ by James Brown
  • ‘Santa Claus’ by Sonny Boy Williamson III
  • ‘Joy To The World’ by Nat King Cole
  • ‘This Christmas’ by Diana Ross
  • ‘Away in a Manger’ by Four Tops
  • ‘Wish You A Merry Christmas’ by Kim Weston
  • ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm’ by Billie Holiday
  • ‘Too Fat for the Chimney’ by Les Brown
  • ‘Frosty’s Groove’ by Daisy Mae & Her Hepcats
  • ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ by Luther Johnson
  • ‘Jingle Bells’ by Ella Logan
  • ‘There’s Frost on the Moon’ by Dick McDonough
  • ‘Noel’ by The Miracles
  • ‘You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch’ by Cliff Beach & The MB’s
  • ‘Christmas in Dixieland’ by Dixie Rag a Jazz Band
  • ‘Christmas Will Really Be Christmas’ by Lou Rawls
  • ‘No Time to be Sad’ by Kelly Finnigan
  • ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ by Carla Thomas
  • ‘Stormy Weather’ by Etta James
  • ‘It’s Raining’ by Irma Thomas
  • ‘Silver Bells’ by Jackie Wilson
  • ‘White Christmas’ by The Drifters