It is almost a pity that The Jackson 5 Christmas Album is a holiday album because, regardless of the season, it is a Motown masterpiece from start to finish.
The album was the fourth for the band –their third album of 1970 — and would top the charts as the best selling Christmas album of the year.
If you find yourself in an argument about the genius of The Funk Brothers, Motown’s crew of session players, spinning this Christmas album will surely settle the score. Pay close attention to the bass work on these songs as it is as funky, inventive, and brilliant as anything released on Motown.
Motown refused to credit their session musicians on records so it isn’t exactly known who is playing on these tracks. It is safe to say that either Wilton Felder or James Jamerson are the bassists on these sessions.
The album opens with a somber version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Although the arrangement is lush with strings, the Funk Brothers rhythm section is holding the whole thing together.
Track two, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, is where this album explodes. Opening up with the chorus, the verse breaks down into a funky half-time feel. The bass work is nothing short of stellar and the electric guitar work, somewhat buried in the mix, is playing extraordinary leads.
Up On The House Top, the fourth track, is another funky groove suitable for any non-Christmas Motown classic. The bass and guitar double on an incredibly complex lead line that is somehow busy and right in the pocket simultaneously.
Frosty the Snowman is a straight ahead rocker but even Motown rockers swing pretty hard and the wah-wah guitar is propelling this song forward.
Little Drummer Boy is usually the low point of most Christmas albums but, again, driven by the Funk Brothers, this track grooves.
Give Love on Christmas Day is a gorgeous ballad that has gone on to be a Christmas standard. Had the subject matter been less tied to the holiday, this track would have certainly been a giant hit for the band.
The album closes with I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, arguably the best version of this song. The track works best with a kid singing lead and the band’s call and response are as iconic as any of their biggest hits.
Overall, this record is anchored in the performances of some of music’s greatest players but the talents of the Jackson 5 as vocalists shouldn’t be undersold. There are great lead and background vocals on every track of this album which is why it has endured.
In a marketplace filled with generic-sounding Christmas albums, the Jackson 5 Christmas album still stands out as the best of the best and deserves to be heard in June as much as it does in December.