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Best Motown Christmas Songs: An Essential Seasonal Playlist

For the perfect soundtrack for a festive get-together, the Motown Christmas playlist features the best Motown Christmas songs from the legendary label.

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Photo: Motown Records Archives

Christmas is a time for fun – and what could be more festive than dancing to a classic such as ‘Frosty The Snowman’, delivered Motown-style? As part of the Motown Christmas playlist full of Motown’s holiday magic, Jackson 5 deliver a twinkly version of the song which has the unmistakable groove of classic Motor City cool – as, indeed, do all the best Motown Christmas songs.

Follow the Motown Christmas playlist right now, and scroll down for our Top 10 best Motown Christmas songs.

Jackson 5: ‘Frosty The Snowman’

‘Frosty The Snowman’, written by Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson, started out as a country song and was a hit for Gene Autry in 1950. But under the direction of Detroit-based arrangers, it became a Motown classic for Jackson 5 in 1970, with 12-year-old Michael Jackson capturing the uplifting spirit of Christmas with a track on their best-selling festive album that year.

The Temptations: ‘Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer’

1970 was a good year for Motown holiday albums, and The Temptations Christmas Card produced a number of hits, including their splendid version of another song originally covered by Gene Autry, ‘Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer’. Eddie Kendricks, known for his distinctive falsetto voice, took the lead vocals, smoothly backed by Paul Williams, Dennis Edwards, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin.

Stevie Wonder: ‘What Christmas Means To Me’

In ‘What Christmas Means to Me’, bells jingle-jangle incessantly but otherwise it’s pure Tamla, with a teenaged Stevie Wonder singing gloriously on an upbeat melody before delivering some angelic harmonica on a song co-written by Anna Gaye (the sister of Berry Gordy, and first wife of Marvin Gaye).

Lionel Ritchie: ‘Joy To The World’

Lionel Richie has sold more than 100 million records in a 50-year career, and it was natural for him to record a festive album. Sounds Of The Season, recorded during advent in 2004, contains a lovely version of ‘Joy To The World’, a carol penned by English writer Isaac Watts and first published in 1719.

Diana Ross: ‘This Christmas’

Pianist and singer Don Hathaway was only 33 when he died. He left behind a legacy of fantastic songs, including ‘The Ghetto’ and ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’. When he was in an upbeat mood in 1970, he wrote the festive song ‘This Christmas’, which has become a modern seasonal classic. Diana Ross recorded a lovely version in 1974.

The Supremes: ‘Silver Bells’

‘Silver Bells’ had long been an American favourite by the time The Supremes recorded the song for their 1965 album Merry Christmas, which was recorded at the legendary Hitsville USA Studio, the name by which Motown’s headquarters was known. ‘Silver Bells’, written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, had been sung by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the past, but The Supremes add their own super Motown groove.

Four Tops: ‘Away In A Manger’

Abdul “Duke” Fakir, singer and founding member of Four Tops, created his own lavish arrangements for the group’s 1995 version of the Christmas classic ‘Away In A Manger’. The song was on the album Christmas Here With You, which featured saxophones, flugelhorn, French horn and copious strings – and some guest vocals from Aretha Franklin.

Marvin Gaye: ‘Purple Snowflakes’

Marvin Gaye took his song ‘Pretty Little Baby’ and re-worked it in 1973 into a seasonal song called ‘Purple Snowflakes’, which has a psychedelic feel. Gaye’s haunting yet magical song describes how something as simple as watching snow fall can have a life-affirming effect. One of the best Motown Christmas songs out there, it’s also one of the more unusual songs from the maestro who gave us ‘What’s Going On’.

Kim Weston: ‘Wish You A Merry Christmas’

Without a figgy pudding in sight, Kim Weston’s Motown gem from 1962 is unrelated to the traditional song ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’. Weston – known for the hit duet ‘It Takes Two’ with Marvin Gaye – recorded her festive classic when she was just 22 and newly signed to Motown. It was written and produced by Mickey Stevenson, the company’s A&R manager.

Boyz II Men: ‘Let It Snow’

Motown hit the charts with a modern version of a Christmas song in 1993 when Boyz II Men teamed up with R&B singer Brian McKnight to record a version of ‘Let It Snow’. One of the best Motown Christmas songs of recent decades, the track was the only single from their holiday album, Christmas Interpretations, and reached the Top 50 of the Billboard charts.

Follow the Christmas playlist for the best Christmas songs of all time.

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