Lou Rawls’ ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ Sure Will Treat You Nice
You definitely hear “Merry Christmas Baby” again and again during the Christmas season. It’s an R&B staple and is probably older than you think, first recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore and the Three Blazers, which is pretty much the best band name ever. The sweet soul singer versions you’re probably most used to don’t really take off until the 1960s, when both Chuck Berry and Otis Redding recorded it.
Otis’s version is all Stax records through and through. He ramps up to full soul shouting and there’s great horn stabs throughout. It sounds exactly like you expect a sweat-drenched soul record to sound.
Low Rawls’s version is much, much smoother. The horns hang out for much more of the song and a piano noodles around the edges of the melody. It’s a version that would fade into the background but for Rawls’s voice, which is as wonderful an instrument as you could ever hope for. Rawls walks the line between soul and smooth in all his music, and that’s especially evident here. He doesn’t try to shout his way through the song, because that wouldn’t sound right at all, but he makes sure to drop down into the lower growlier end of his range just to remind you that he can. If you’re not already familiar with how great Rawls can sound, pick up Lou Rawls Livewhich is as great an R&B live album as you’ll ever hear, for real.
Special bonus: Ray Charles’ great slowed-down bluesy version from 1979, performed in a German monastary:
It must have been awful hard to keep all churchmouse still in those pews while listening to Ray.
There’s a lot of other versions of the song you should check out (hello, YouTube hole!) but do avoid the Jessica Simpson version, won’t you?