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There's nothing like Black Christmas music

The full episode transcript for Christmas, But Make It Black


Into America

Christmas, But Make It Black

Trymaine Lee: When you want to hear a stone cold, classic holiday song, something with the jingle bells jingling and a beat that warms your soul, you put on this Christmas by legendary singer/songwriter Donny Hathaway.

The horns announce it. There's a celebration happening. The bass bubbles up, a Fender Rhodes Electric keyboard slides over, and Donny welcomes you in.

Lee: All of that makes this song a staple this time of year, especially in black households across the country. But what most people might not realize is that the song didn't start with Donny Hathaway or even with professional songwriters.

Nadine Scott McKinnor: I am Nadine Scott McKinnor, the writer, co-writer, and most grateful fan of Donny Edward Hathaway and This Christmas.

Lee: In 1967, Ms. McKinnor was working as a temp at a post office in Chicago when a major snowstorm rolled through. Ms. McKinnor always kept a notebook corner where she would jot down poems and song lyric ideas. The snow and the Christmas decorations around the city got her thinking about Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song, you know the one.

McKinnor: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I love that song. I mean, every year that was my guaranteed Christmas gift, Nat King Cole --

Lee: And she had an idea.

McKinnor: -- because I had a fireside at my father's house and a fireplace at my momma's house, so when I say the fireside is (inaudible), that's the whole truth. Oh, yeah, we had firesides blazing like all the time. And people were singing and caroling, and they actually did come down the street singing. And Christmas is time to sing, and time to eat and light the lights and, you know, cooking and visiting. It's the time for, mm, it's the time for good and shiny, bright things, yeah.

So I'm writing this song. And there was this song I'd like to get to know you if I could. I’d like to get to know you, yes, I would. And that sort of melded into, I call it now, my Christmas soup.

Lee: Ms. McKinnor had no clue that the words she wrote down in a notebook would change her life. In 1970, a friend was working as an interior designer for none other than Donny Hathaway.

McKinnor: He says, I would like you to talk to Don because I sing to everybody, sing these verses and getting some ideas for songs. I said, okay, so who's Donny? He says, Donny has the ghetto on the radio.

Oh, okay. So at that particular time, I was working at the IBM office that was in Hammond, Indiana. I was driving to work, listening to the radio, listen to Donny. And I thought, what a great idea. I didn't know anything better. I get to his office, meet him. I sing it to him. He says we can record this Christmas.

Lee: Donny loved the song so much so that he invited her to a studio in Chicago to record the song later that year.

McKinnor: That first meeting, I didn't say you can play this because I didn't have the arrangement or the music. I had the melody and the words, and he knew what to do with melodies and words. Yes, he did. Bless his soul. He began to work with it in his mind, and he gave it the da da da da da. That's pure Hathawat. He needed something to have as a foundation, a base, but that's the architectural digest color to me for that song.

Lee: Hathaway released this Christmas in 1970. Ms. McKinnor never made a career of songwriting. But 52 years later, she still sees how she left her mark on Christmas and Black America.

McKinnor: My son was in a store a month ago, maybe. There's a little girl with her mom and dad, and she just breaks out middle of the store, ta da da ta da da dan ta tan ta da da. And my son looked. He said, what am I hearing? I think she was maybe five, maybe six. I don't know, but she was a cutie. And she was just having a good time in the store.

And so, my son said, my mother wrote that song. They said, really? That's our favorite song. Hers and ours, too. I think he has a picture and the song, and he showed them my photograph for proof that some brown lady somewhere is responsible for that song. And I got it to a tickle. I said, really? He said, oh, yeah, she was into it. I said, I think I love her.

And that is the very bestest. And when I have seen people over the years walking down the street by themselves singing This Christmas, gives me the goose bumps or the boost gumps. It really does.

Lee: Today, Black Christmas music has grown so much, it's become a genre of its own. We've still got the originals like This Christmas, and we've got our spin on the so-called classics like Eight Days of Christmas by Destiny's Child, which takes a stuffy old British Carol, add some early twenties R&B flavor and turns it into a completely different kind of tune with a playful toy piano and a shopping list of lyrics.

And then there's the late great rapper DMX, who took the campy kiddie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and with his gravelly voice and distinctive flow, somehow made it sound cool.

Let's be real. Christmas just ain't Christmas without our music.

McKinnor: I mean, our harmonies, just the soul and the vocals, the styling, the same thing that makes Black Christmas music so special is the same thing that makes black music itself so special.

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Today, in the spirit of the holiday season, we take a deep dive into some of the best and most influential Black Christmas songs, from originals to remixes to new classics.

Every time we talked about, you know, an episode around music, I was like, we got a name, we got a name.

Cochrane: Oh, I appreciate that. And what a fun episode. I'm glad you got me for Christmas.

Lee: That's what's up. Naima Cochran was a label executive for 20 years, starting her career at Bad Boy Records in 1998, later joining Columbia Records.

Cochrane: I saw the music industry change from the Bling era, where everybody had money, everybody had deals, everybody had JVs. We were really living light Hype Williams videos to the music business, being in the red for almost two decades.

Lee: Mm.

Cochrane: And now it's profitable again, thankfully.

Lee: Naima eventually transitioned to the artist management side. And today, Naima is most known as a music historian of sorts, and for leading the popular music sermon series on Twitter.

Cochrane: I started music sermon while I was still an artist manager, kind of by accident. I was missing some of the fun in my work.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And I was feeling a little nostalgic. And also, I feel like things that happened before the blog era, we're so used to knowing all the information and behind the scenes details and --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- who these artists are and hearing all these stories.

Lee: In her music sermons, she does hold threads of tweets talking about different songs and their background and cultural significance, like last month when she broke down some of the most problematic R&B artists and songs ever written.

Cochrane: Pre-social media, pre-Internet, pre-blog era, I felt like things were getting lost, and I felt like that's why I’m being connected. And I decided that I was going to talk about X before 2000. Keeping in mind at this point is almost 2020, you know, we got adults who don't really --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- for those of us who were there, we feel like it was yesterday. But we got to remember, like this whole generations of people have grown up since we were listening to certain --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- things. You know, the 90’s, as far away as the Motown 60’s era was for me when I was in high school, which is wild.

Lee: That's crazy.

Naima has covered all kinds of music, but she says Christmas music has a special place in her heart.

Cochrane: Christmas, Thanksgiving, very big in my family. My mom, I think, broke out the Christmas music. She might have broken out in like the first week in November.

Lee: Mm-hm. (Inaudible) Thanksgiving and it was just planned, the temptation was just --

Cochrane: Just planned, yeah. I mean, I think for everybody, that's how, you know, when it's time. It's like when you hear the music, you're like, oh --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- it's time to get festive, but yes, very big, very big Christmas person. And like I said, the music is a huge part of.

Lee: What makes Black Christmas music Black Christmas music? What is it about us? What do we (inaudible)? How would we shape it?

Cochrane: Well, it’s the thing that makes Black music Black music. Okay, so Black Christmas music is usually infused with one or two things, either gospel or heavy soul. Like you’re going do your good singing, do not try to sing a Christmas song if you can't do your good singing.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Definitely don't try to sing your Christmas song that got nothing to do with Jesus if you can’t do no good singing, right?

Lee: Right.

Cochrane: The thing about it is that the way we style these songs, not just the ones that are significantly black, but also like Silent Night --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- like who would have thought to do an ad lib over Silent Night that says, just sleep and relax your mind?

Lee: Hm.

Cochrane: What?

Lee: That’s not real black --

Cochrane: (Inaudible).

Lee: -- that’s not real black though, that’s a --

Cochrane: That’s what? That's how I game. You know what I’m sayin? It’s like, who's thinking of doing that? It's perfect.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Nobody else could have done that but us, but black folks, and I love it. I mean, our harmonies, just the soul and the vocals, the styling, the same thing that makes Black Christmas music so special is the same thing that makes black music itself so special.

Lee: So it's about the unique stylings, right? And we talk about one of our gems.

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: Shout out to New Jersey's own Whitney Houston --

Cochrane: Yes.

Lee: -- the 1996 rendition of Joy to the World --

Cochrane: Yes.

Lee: -- with the Georgia Mass Choir. You talk about making a song your own and changing it just enough in her own way.

Cochrane: Yes.

Lee: And the way she plays the lines, let's talk about the arrangement there --

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: -- but not just the church, it's the black church.

Cochrane: Exactly.

Lee: This version of Joy to the World was produced by Mervyn Warren and the one and only Whitney Houston. Naima told me how they gave this arrangement a distinctly black sound.

Cochrane: Well, the thing about black gospel is that they’re going to take you some places. They’re going to bring you high, they’re going to slow it down. We’re going to bring the voice down. We're going to modulate. We’re going to go up, you know, is you got to go a bunch --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- it’s tiring. It's a workout to be in a black choir, like for real, you’ll be tired. Like at the end, you’re sweating this hot, rolls it hot, doing like you’re clapping, you’re moving like it’s an active thing, right? It's an act of engagement.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And this arrangement gives you everything that you want. When somebody says, I'll put a choir on the back of this, that's all of that. They give you all of that.

I mean, we got key changes. We got tempo changes. We got vocal changes, swells around resounding joy. Going from lows to shouts to parts. You know, I mean --

Lee: 00:14:48 Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- it gives you every single thing that you want in a choral arrangement.

Lee: Now, what Whitney does with this, it makes it so unique and such a --

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: -- different take on this song that people have heard for a very long time. Give us the background to this song.

Cochrane: Well, first of all, the joys of mass choir is the mass choir. Like you want to talk about a mass gospel choir --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- like if anybody ever said, I never heard of black Gospel mass choir, who should I listen to? I'm going to say, go listen to anything by the Georgia Mass Choir. Also, that is from the Preacher's Wife soundtrack, which is one of the greatest Christmas holiday movie soundtracks of all time.

And they were also recording it live in a church setting, which I think added to the spirit, right --

Lee: That's everything.

Cochrane: -- because just now I'm not crying.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: No, no, you know, I started clapping my hands. I'm ready to put somebody in the collection plate. And for Whitney, that had to feel like home. We don't have as many black singers who come out of the church as we used to.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: But when somebody starts in a church, you put them in a pulpit and give them a mic, and see if that voice don't change. You tap into something different when you're there. And Whitney, especially, I think when she was in that setting, you felt something different from her, you know, in terms of her energy.

You know, Whitney was a really polished singer. And what I love about this Joy to the World rendition is not that Whitney couldn't get really soulful and funky, but you don't --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- you don’t usually hear her get that gritty.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: You know, and even her choices early, even like that, like heaven and nature that's not usual of her.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And that's what I love about it.

Lee: She’s a pop princess for a long time, but that’s what --

Cochrane: Exactly, but, yeah, that was her just really making choices. It still sounded amazing, but I'm using unpolished as a compliment here.

Lee: And this was a new take on an old song.

Cochrane: Right.

Lee: But then there's another song that maybe for many of us, you know, embodies what it means to be black and experiencing Christmas, like Black Christmas.

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: And that is Silent Night by The Temptations. Now, this is not just an old song, this is a very, very old song. It's originally --

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: -- it was originally an Austrian song from 1818, but the Temptations made it their own. Talk to us about what The Temptations did to really give this their Motown sound.

Cochrane: Okay. First of all, Motown's Christmas catalog is a gem, and a gift, and a precious resource, and a national treasure, and a black treasure, and all of those things. Any Motown artist? I mean, obviously, Stevie, obviously, The Sensations, obviously the Jackson Five, obviously, the Supremes. I mean, really literally, any Motown artist, their Christmas album is unmatched, like it’s just up there.

But this rendition of Silent Night, and what’s funny is like what I really think happened, so you'll be listening to the Quiet Storm and it plays his rendition of his --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- Silent Night back in the day. And when I was a kid, Nat King Cole's Christmas Song was the official as Christmas now.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And then somewhere around like early 2000’s, late nineties, early 2000’s, it was like, no, when we hit In My Mind --

Lee: I think (inaudible) though --

Cochrane: It’s officially (inaudible) this up.

Lee: -- (inaudible) for that --

Cochrane: Maybe you have (inaudible).

Lee: -- only because I’ve been listening to it for a long time maybe, (inaudible).

Cochrane: No, I’ve been listening to it for a long time, but it wasn't the --

Lee: Right.

Cochrane: -- it wasn't the kick off.

Lee: There weren’t a consensus.

Cochrane: It wasn't like Nat was the kickoff --

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: -- for my people still.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: You know?

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: I think our generation, even though this Silent Night was much older than that, I think it’s our generation now, it was like, no, this is the one we’re going to start with --

Lee: That makes sense.

Cochrane: -- because I hardly ever even hear us play Nat King Cole's Christmas song because we love it. It's a classic, it don’t slip.

Lee: And what did the Temptations do to the song? Again, it’s a very old song, but made --

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: -- their own and made it black in a way that has never been done before --

Cochrane: Uh-huh.

Lee: -- and certainly not really after.

Cochrane: Yeah, yeah, not really after. I think (inaudible) we talked about the terms of gospel, and so we just heard Whitney with a full gospel mass choir. But there was also a tradition back in the day of gospel groups, quartets, quintets, et cetera, male gospel groups, specifically, and that's what the Temptations gave us with those chords, that bass line, the parts.

It really sounds like clapboard church and the country-type soul. But then you get the ad libs and --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- get a little voiceover, you know, because in my mind, I want you to be free --

Lee: Right there.

Cochrane: -- you know? And I just want you to sleep and relax your mind. So our family and friends, just remember this line. That part has a little extra something on it. That's just I say some black cool.

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: You know, you can't really name it. It doesn't have a name, but it's something I think that only we get away with because there may be other Christmas songs where someone is speaking or giving a narrative over it, but it feels more like narrative voice. This is more like I'm just riffing. I'm just in the studio and I'm just talking.

Lee: And then melting with that deep voice?

Cochrane: Yeah, yeah.

Lee: You know? And Dennis Edwards, I might watch The Temptations moving, I might watch that. That's awesome (inaudible).

Cochrane: And nobody kind of see you always. Oh.

Lee: You're always on the road, that part with me.

Cochrane: I love that movie. That is the best. That is blackest miniseries of all --

Lee: It really is.

Cochrane: -- time, of all time. And I watch all 16 hours every time it comes on, too. It’s the best thing ever.

Lee: That's the holidays.

We have to take a quick break. But when we come back, Naima breaks down some of the best, wholly original black holiday music.

We're back with Naima Cochran talking about Black Christmas music. We talked about some of the best covers by black artists. Now, let's get into the originals. First up, let us know by Boyz II Men featuring Brian McKnight.

Now, certainly we can't leave off Let It Snow by Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight.

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: The original Let It Snow is, you know, kind of a pop standard from the 40’s.

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: But this basically takes the name the song, riffs on (inaudible).

Cochrane: That’s a completely different song.

Lee: That’s completely different.

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: But what is like the sound and production choices that they make in this song? What makes it an R&B classic as well as just kind of a Christmas holiday classic?

Cochrane: Mm, well, first of all, the voices, Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight together, I mean, there’s --

Lee: It’s a lot.

Cochrane: -- it's a lot. And these are vocals. These are vocals that you can pick. Again, church-bred vocals, first of all, but very polished vocals.

Commissioned inspired vocals, I’ll also say that --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- the gospel group commission, but also these are R&B artist voices that you could pick out a sonic lineup, right?

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: That's Brian. Oh, that's Boyz II Men. You know them when you hear them.

Lee: Wanya is going Wanya, (inaudible).

Cochrane: Wanya, you’re going no (inaudible) wherever. You’re going no Wanya. At least Nathan and Wanya, you’re going to know them. And what I love about it is it is really difficult. Like I don't think people really appreciate how hard it is to write a new song, a new Christmas song that becomes a classic.

Think about the vast catalog of Christmas music we have, and the thing that's unique about it is that it is perennial. Like you use it, it’s back every year --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- which is why you also want to be careful when you modernize it because you don't want it stuck in your era.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Right? You don't want it to sound too much like this specific time. And they made a classic that is, you know, it's a holiday love song. You know, it's less cozy of.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And like you said, they took the concept from the very kind of jaunty, let it snow, let it snow --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- and just turned it into something very smooth.

Lee: Very sexy.

Cochrane: Very sexy, you know, very mellow.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And again, just like with just the right touch is not too much.

Lee: You know, not unlike how we've touched everything else in America, you either created it or we have touched on it.

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: These aren't people just singing.

Cochrane: No, no, no.

Lee: You’re putting your touch on it. You're going to do your thing with that thing.

Cochrane: They’re doing (inaudible).

Lee: Right.

Cochrane: I got to imagine that they were actually, like, almost egging each other on in the studio --

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: -- right, like, because Brian comes in with more risk than he usually got, like, he usually gets there eventually, but --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- usually starts out with a little straight line.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Brian came in with it. You know what I mean? Because he got to keep up with Wanya, you know. And also to note, even though Brian is a solo artist, his brother is in Take 6.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Brian knows how to harmonize.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: Like, the harmonies are --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- pristine. That blend is perfection. And, you know, I'm not really trying to hear nobody sing the song who can't sing --

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: -- this song.

Lee: (Inaudible).

Cochrane: I need some riffs. You know, I need you to do some runs.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: I need you to be able to take this thing some places.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: You can't just sing a straight line on this. You got to really be able to play with it.

Lee: You know, another song that I happen to love because even though these holiday songs can be timeless, right --

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: -- there's also something kind of contemporary and speaks to like the context of the moment. And we could talk about James Brown's Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto. First of all, James Brown, you know, the Godfather of Soul, but the Godfather of Black America --

Cochrane: Yes, for real, for real.

Lee: -- so black, so no for real for us, so black, so brilliant, so bold, so audacious. He did his thing --

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: -- the way that he can do it. And Go Straight to the Ghetto is the first song on James Brown's album, A Soulful Christmas. And this was just a few months after Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud was released.

Cochrane: Right.

Lee: Talk to us about how this, in so many ways, if folks listen to early James Brown before he got real funky, then he got funky --

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: -- so this is like him in his groove a little bit. Talk to us about the significance of this song, in particular, but put it in the context of the time we're living in.

Cochrane: Yeah. I mean, well, first of all, the thing about James that I do think is lost because James was a wild boy and people --

Lee: He was a wild boy, yeah, right.

Cochrane: -- well, I remember that James is a wild boy, that James was really one of the most prominent leaders in the Black Pride movement and the Black is Beautiful movement, right? I'm Black and I'm Proud was massive. That was a massive, massive anthem. He was about, you know, re-investment in the community. He used to have a version of Green Book stamps. It was the James Brown stamps --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- that you could actually trade for groceries and other items at certain grocery stores. And he was really trying to get into like the black banking, you know, black economics. So James was really in this black liberation, black community building, black sustainability --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- et cetera. So to think about directing Santa Claus, because this song is to Santa Claus, directing Santa Claus to go straight to the ghetto, is that when you think about it, if you think Santa Claus comes down the chimney, projects ain't got no chimneys.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: You know, you ain't got a chimney in the high rise. You know --

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: -- if you're not in a house, where sound is supposed to come in your 18-foot --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- project apartment building, right?

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: So this idea, Santa Claus goes straight to the ghetto, also, even James saying, I know what you're going to see because it used to be me, this acknowledgment of like this is where I come from, it's a much more powerful song than it seems on the surface.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: But he's like, this is who needs you. This is who needs the spirit of Christmas. And I think that's the other thing that's really kind of powerful about certain Black Christmas songs is that this is coming from people who very often will be very just in bah humbugging everything, right?

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And this idea, you know, songs like Give Love on Christmas Day, Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto, etc., like even a Christmas song, like the fact that we tap into this sense of benevolence, and joy, and giving, and the actual again reason for the season, black holes don't bring up Jesus if we all do nothing else.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: I think it's very special about us.

Lee: Now, for many people, for many, many people, the Christmas song is Mariah Carey's modern classic All I Want for Christmas is You. And this one --

Cochrane: Uh-huh.

Lee: -- it encompasses a number of different genres.

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: This ain't just Black Christmas music, but is she black, so it's black music?

Cochrane: Is she black? As Mariah continuously reminds all, she is black.

Lee: They’re black, no.

Cochrane: She is black.

Lee: She, like some other folks who have been, you know, we see in the documentary --

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: -- who have been living black their whole life, she knew she is black.

Cochrane: Right.

Lee: We’ll get into that later. Now, certainly this has become the biggest Christmas song in the entire world, but again a blend of genres --

Cochrane: Very much so.

Lee: -- right, Motown, pop gospel, also building on a Tchaikovsky Sugar Plum fairy, right? You got --

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: -- specter in there. You have all these different influences along the way. If you listen closely --

Cochrane: Right.

Lee: -- you can hear them all.

Cochrane: Also, shout out to Kelly Price on the background vocals.

Lee: I don't think I know that was Kelly Price.

Cochrane: You can hear it, though, once you know it.

Lee: What? No, no.

Cochrane: Kelly is on most of Mariah's early background.

Lee: That's a big deal. That calls for some investigation.

Cochrane: Yeah.

Lee: But of all these influences, as you listen, what stands out most to you when you listen to a song?

Cochrane: Well, it's kind of like what I said about Let It Snow. Writing a new thing and making it sound instantly familiar, and recognizable, and classic, I remember there was a time when people kept saying, what song did she remake? Who did the original? Who did the original? Because it sounds like it was vintage when it came out, but it also sounds very current.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: I don't think people really realize that's a hard thing to do. It's the arrangement, like you said, melded the various influences. It sounds like something from the doo-wop era, but also something from the wall of sound era.

It also, again, sounds very current, but familiar. And then it’s easy to sing along to, which is also important. It’s very easy to sing along to. It’s earworm. It’s very catchy --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- very repetitive, is fun, is upbeat.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: It's got jingle bells in it, literally, imagine there, you know? So it feels very Christmassy. You would think that is as easy as throwing a bunch of elements together, but it doesn't always come together.

Lee: I mean, one of the piece of this, I mean, you know, we think about Phil Spector, another guy who was a wild boy in real life, but let's talk about the wall of sound influence on the production style.

Cochrane: So the Phil Spector production, so the wall of sound is like this layer of live instrumentation elements that Phil Spector was known for creating. My favorite example of it is Tina Turner River Deep Mountain High. So you got strings, you got horns. It's very lush.

Lee: Yeah.

Cochrane: It has a lot of depth to it. And that's kind of what she did with this. I mean, you got horns, you got jingle bells, you got keys, you got the vocals. It feels big, right? Like that song, it doesn't feel thin, it feels very thick. There's a lot happening in it.

Which is a very 60’s and early 70’s sound, because by the late 80’s we were moving more to automated production, so you don't get that really heavy, layered feel in music anymore because people weren't doing live recording sessions anymore, like people used to have full orchestras and bands and studio, you know? So that's part of what makes it feel so retro is that there is all of that in there.

Just on another note, Mariah clearly never do anything and she knows she got our chick coming.

Lee: She’s waiting for that chick to come here.

Cochrane: (Inaudible).

Lee: Right, right.

Cochrane: High residuals for this like off the meter because it's her and one other writer, like off --

Lee: That’s crazy.

Cochrane: -- this is why Mariah is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, like off the meter. So, you know, All Hail Queen Mariah, you know, black folks acknowledge this to our start may be Silent Night officially, but Mariah has claimed the season.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And this is something that has happened in the social media era. This wasn't always the case because even she gets in on it, which I love, like literally --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- day after Halloween, you know, or December 1st at least --

Lee: There have been commercials. I start seeing commercial on TV of her coming out like, yeah, you all ready?

Cochrane: It’s my time.

Lee: Like, let's go.

Cochrane: Yeah, she'll be on Instagram, like, it's time. Let's go, let's get it. You know? And I appreciate her getting in on the fun. I mean, the song has actually been breaking chart records of late.

Lee: Naima says she tends to be a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music, going from jazz arrangements, from artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls, but she really can't be contained to one genre. And so, over the years, Naima has put together a bunch of different Christmas music playlists. And there was one that I just had to ask her about.

Now you have a very black, very holiday playlist, Baby Jesus Bells and Body Roll, that sound real black, first of all. And all that together? All that together is (inaudible).

Cochrane: We can say in multitudes.

Lee: That's right.

Cochrane: Mm-hm.

Lee: When you were putting together this playlist, what went into, like, the perfect song? Like, why are these songs on this playlist?

Cochrane: It was a combination of things because I tried to go between like modern, quote-unquote, "modern updates." And I say quote-unquote because these quote-unquote "modern updates" are now like 20, 30 years old.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: And like the actual traditional classics. So I was looking for that tinge of gospel, that tinge of soul, that song that is unique to us, right?

Lee: Right.

Cochrane: But ultimately, I just wanted it to flow, and I wanted it to have a little something for everybody. Because what I really want for the playlist is I want people to be able to put it on and the whole family be good, and not be like, not anybody grandma will be offended or, you know, little nay, little cousin be (inaudible) is born.

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: You know, I just want everybody to have something in there --

Lee: Mm-hm.

Cochrane: -- they go back to.

Lee: You can test to see if Naima’s playlist really does have something for everyone at your family's holiday party. We'll put a link to that playlist in our show notes along with Naima’s other Christmas music playlist. And as you're sipping your eggnog and baking those cookies this season, take a moment to rate and review Into America on Apple Podcast or wherever you're listening right now.

Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Mike Brown, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, and Janmaris Perez. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Our Executive Producer is Aisha Turner. I'm Trymaine Lee. Merry Christmas! We'll be back next Thursday.