Hang all the mistletoe, I’m gonna get to know you better!
This Music Monday!
I pre-planned by writing calendar for Christmas Music Monday-themed articles in October, alongside my November songs, and quite frankly, I couldn’t have made a better choice for today’s song, as it just happened to get the music video treatment that premiered on YouTube only a few weeks ago. However, the song – and its amazing positivity – has been spreading its musical love since 1970.
In the very unkind world of 2020, this song is as necessary as it was 50 years ago.
“This Christmas” is a 1970 single by Rhythm and Blues singer Donny Hathaway, and written by Hathaway (using the pen name “Donny Pitts”), and Nadine McKinnor. As McKinnor said of writing the song with Hathaway:
“blessed to have written with Donny a song that celebrates the possibilities, the expectations, and the anticipation of Christmas and the good fun and happy loving times”, and that the creation of the song “was a God plan. God was in this plan. And Donny Hathaway was a genius.” (Source: “Writer Of “This Christmas” Song Describes Its Timeless Appeal” by Clarence Waldron, Jet Magazine, December 24, 2007)
The song was recorded in Chicago at Audio Finishers Studio in the fall of 1970, and was released in December 1970, where it saw little chart success. However, a re-release in 1972 saw it chart for the first – and only – time, on Billboard’s special Christmas Singles chart, where it reached #11 on December 23, 1972. The single was then released as part of Atco Records’ revised 1968 album Soul Christmas in 1991.
Hathaway’s message of Christmas hope fell on an unlistening audience upon its original release, but over the 50 years since it was released, it has seen audiences of all music tastes give it the love it deserves, whether it be through a favorite artist of theirs, or even his version. “This Christmas” has been covered by the likes of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Patt LaBelle, The Whispers, The Temptations, Pentatonix, Lady Antebellum, Train, Gloria Estefan, The Braxtons, Harry Connick Jr., Aretha Franklin, and yes, Chicago (couldn’t get through one Music Monday this time of year without throwing that in, could I?). In fact, the first version I ever heard of this song was the All-4-One version on their 1995 Christmas album.
Couldn’t get through Christmas without mentioning that one either.
Sadly, Hathaway passed away on January 13, 1979, after having jumped from the 15th floor of New York City’s Essex House Hotel. Hathaway had battled mental illness and depression at the peak of his career, which was marred in its final years by instability. Sadly, Hathaway never got to see the impact his song of hope would have in the music world. It truly is a beautiful Christmas song, and one that gives hope, even if the person who helped pen it didn’t always feel that hope.
Rhino Records recently released a music video for this version of “This Christmas,” featuring animation, and a cartoon version of Hathaway, released just in time for the song’s 50th anniversary.
The animation was done by cartoonist Lonnie Millsap of the single panel comic Bacön (yes, with an umlaut on the “o”), and nine books worth of original works. The video has animated likeness of Donny Hathaway (as well as his wife Eulaulah and daughters Lalah and Kenya, both daughters are singers – Kenya was actually born right after this song was originally released) and a city full of people in a festive mood.
I love the names of the stores, and just the positiveness the video depicts.
It’s the video we had no idea we needed, but clearly do!
I especially love the sequence of “Shake a hand, shake a hand now.”
Like the song, this is the message we needed in our world.
Isn’t that what makes songs like this so great?
Have a great Monday, and enjoy the music!