One Track Mind: Donny Hathaway, “This Christmas” (1970)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSBvJG2yLJQ&w=420&h=315]

According to Wikipedia, the modern holiday standard “This Christmas” has been covered on record no less than thirty times, and it’s getting ever more popular: five of those recordings are from this Christmas season. Everyone from Diana Ross, to Chicago, to now, CeeLo Green, has made their own rendition. Green, like others before him, does a fine job with this soul carol, but perhaps it’s time to give the song’s originator his due.

Donny Hathaway co-wrote “This Christmas” with Nadine McKinnor for a single issued in 1970, a year when he first gained fame for his single, “The Ghetto – Part 1.” For the yuletide tune, he and McKinnor smoothly folds a love song into a Christmas song, and sets it to a memorable soul-jazz melody that would have made for a great song regardless of the topic. Strings, horns and Hathaway’s own underrated piano came together in a fairly elaborate arrangement, which was his own. All topped by Hathaway’s own sincere, soulful vocal. The little horn statement that opens the song and punctuates the refrain is the final touch that sets apart this song from any other Christmas song, or any other soul song crafted by anyone but Hathaway.

It’s all just a small part of the genius of a great soul man who left us much too early. Fortunately, Donny Hathaway left us with several memorable songs, including this one that — in some rendition or another — gets played more and more this time of year.

May you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends…this Christmas.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.