I owe Charles Brown an apology. By all rights, and in the tradition of Multiple Mondays, his picture, or one of his album covers, should be over there to the right. (Keep reading to learn why I photoshopped a Santa hat on Chuck instead.)
You see, waaaaay back in 1947, rhythm and blues singer Charles Brown met a songwriter named Lou Baxter, who wanted him to record a song called "Merry Christmas Blues." Brown reworked the song and took it into the studio, where his usual collaborators, Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, provided the backing track. (Apparently it's actually Brown on the celeste, not an instrument you hear often on blues records.) Since then, Charles Brown rerecorded the song at least ten more times for about as many labels. I've included a version he did with Bonnie Raitt down below as a sample.
In 1958, Chuck Berry recorded his
version (the single included his new song "Run Run Rudolph" -- talk about a double A-side!). Chuck's version of this song is prime cover territory -- Johnnie Johnson's tinkly piano stands in for the celeste, while Chuck's almost-mournful guitar chills the happiness of the lyrics, showcasing the mellowness of this song. Also, Chuck doesn't include Brown's lyric "all lit up like a Christmas tree" -- this is a mellow version for cuddling by the fire with your baby, not rocking out or even swaying in time to the music. My good friend Steven Rusling suggested this song as his guest-post, and also sent along that alternate take down below, which just got released ten months ago in a massive box set I'm drooling over.
This post contains eight versions out of literally dozens and dozens that've been recorded. You get to hear B. B. King blast through the song, Ike and Tina rave it up, and Elvis starts out slow then builds to a rocking climax. Otis Redding's version is probably the happiest record he ever made. Next year I'll probably post a part two, and I'll inflict Mae West's version on you then. (I have a lot of good versions too, but hers will burn into your brain, like the rest of her full-length Christmas album.)
Johnny Moore's Three Blazers with Charles Brown
Chuck Berry (released take + alternate version_
Ike and Tina Turner
B. B. King
Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown