The Temptations – 1970 – Christmas Card
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The Temptations began things by taking a kid’s song and transforming it into a funked-out and rollicking Yuletide hoot — making this celebratory, but not entirely reverant, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” the high point in their first holiday release, 1970’s The Temptations Christmas Card.
Also included are memorable uptempo remakes of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Little Drummer Boy ”. The album, open-hearted and direct, knows how to play it straight, too — notably on “Silver Bells”, “Let It Snow” and “White Christmas”. That was all the more remarkable since the Temps had just released an uneven head-long dive in the trendy sound of the day, Psychedelic Shack from the same year.
There is an uncommon joy from the start on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, something that’s contagious and evergreen. Maybe it’s because this tune sounds more like their earlier selves, as every Temptation gets his moment.
First, Paul Williams sings: “You know there’s Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,” only to be followed by Dennis Edwards — who adds: “Comet and Cupid an Donner and Blitzen.” Eddie Kendricks then soars in falsetto: “Oh, but do you recall …” and is answered by Otis Williams: “The most famous reindeer of all?” Next, Kendricks lets loose a “Whoa-o-o-o-o,” and you’re right there with him, bfore Melvin Franklin finishes with: “His name is … Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!”
Timelessly produced by Barrett Strong — you’ll hear none of what were increasingly becoming funk-rock distractions from this period by fellow Temps producer Norman Whitfield — “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is a fun, not overly lush, never-dated take among a series of instant-classic holiday remakes. “Hey, Rudolph!” the Temps later yelp in unison, before repeating the conventional chorus. Talk about shouting out with glee.
The original album also includes a couple of Motown originals, Kendricks’ “My Christmas Tree” and Franklin’s mostly spoken-word version of “Someday At Christmas” — the label’s holiday standard. Still, if Christmas Cardas a whole came off a touch too conventional, that was OK. It was, after all, supposed to be holiday music. And you always had this lead-off tune, which stands on its own as a dazzling blast of groovy December cheer.
A 2001 compilation cherry-picked “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the best of the 1970 album it was culled from, along with some cuts from the subsequent 1980 collection Give Love on Christmas. Dubbed The Best of the Temptations Christmas, the more recent CD includes liner notes from columnist Leonard Pitts asserting that every Christmas needs a little Temptations in it. If for no other reason than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” who are we to argue?