To call it a classic is an understatement. It is the Christmas song. It’s in the name. Written by Mel Torme, and recorded by Torme in 1954, the song’s first, and best-known occupant was Nat “King” Cole, though his original 1946 version with the Nat King Cole trio is lesser-known compared to the seminal 1961 recording.
It’s this 1961 version that Aretha draws her cues from. Her version, recorded during sessions for 1964’s Runnin Out Of Fools, was only released as a single, with “Winter Wonderland” as its B-side. Both cuts are beautiful, but for some reason, as the years went by, “Winter Wonderland” was the one that ended up being more well known, thanks to numerous placements on holiday compilations.
Steeped in strings, Aretha veres away from the R&B direction she headed in on Runnin’ Out Of Fools. Instead she leans into a pop/jazz arrangement like that of her Columbia recordings before. And of course, Aretha doesn’t sing it straight: she embellishes where she sees fit, once again showcasing the brilliance of her voice.
Listen to Aretha make “The Christmas Song” her own: