"Soul Christmas" /
After James Brown yesterday, I just couldn't resist.
You know -- or maybe you don't -- what an over-the-top Graham Parker fan I am. I realize that not too many of you may own his delicious 1994 EP Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker (although that is a lack you could quickly remedy by clicking this link.) But if you are among the lucky few who are currently in possession of this gem, you'll know that "Soul Christmas" is a holiday classic just waiting to be discovered.
It's as if GP has invited us to his own personal holiday bash. Okay, okay, things start out traditional -- Christmas tree, "A Wonderful Life," yadda yadda yadda -- but when the kids get bored, our cool cat Chairman kicks it up a notch, inviting all of his classic soul heroes to step up to the mike. He does it all in a syncopated talking blues that's as cool-cat as a cool cat can get. And for good measure, he's got the inimitable Nona Hendryx throwing in backing vocals.
It's like a holiday edition of Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music," name-checking all the greats: Sam and Dave, James Brown, Mary Wells, Eddie Floyd, and all the Stax house band -- Booker T, Al Jackson, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Steve Cropper. We get Sam Cooke, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the whole Memphis crew.
But wait -- there's more! GP dips into the stocking and pulls out Don Covay, Little Milton, Al Green, Junior Walker. This is a man who seriously knows his soul music roots. Yeah, okay, in his own records he has brewed those soul influences up with reggae, folk, country, and everything else in the book. (Because that's what a creative genius does: he digests all the classic stuff and makes something new and wonderful and uniquely his own.) But this track has forever wed me to the vision of a young Graham Parker in his teenage bedroom spinning these soul platters and drinking in their essence to the core of his musical DNA.
And of course, the great question is -- where's Aretha? "Where is the Queen of Soul?" he asks. "Is that sweet Mama gonna grace us with her presence / Hey, when is Aretha gonna show?" And don't we all love Aretha? (Although GP has another song about that...)
Does Aretha ever get to the party? She doesn't like to fly, we all know that, but I like to think she drives up in her pink Cadillac as the chorus goes into a fade. Because Graham has thrown the ultimate soul Christmas party here, and it would be a shame if Aretha wasn't there.