A Memphis Christmas music mix: From Elvis to Carla, here's a soundtrack for the season

The holiday season means holiday music. But what does "holiday music" mean?

Christmas carols sung by a choir. Pop songs about reindeer. Hymns in church. The variety is endless.

But this is Memphis, so here is a Memphis mixtape — 12 recordings (but no cover of "The 12 Days of Christmas") that exist courtesy of artists, studios and/or record labels from Memphis and the Mid-South. Call it a Memphis soundtrack for the season. We've supplied the songs; it's up to you to spike the eggnog.

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Elvis Presley, 'Santa Claus Is Back in Town'

The third LP released by Memphis' most famous resident ever, the unimaginatively if helpfully titled "Elvis' Christmas Album" remains not only Elvis Presley's most popular long-player (with more than 20 million copies sold) but the best-selling Christmas album in the U.S. Released in 1957, its 12 tracks range from reverent ("Silent Night") to rollicking ("Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me"), but only this cut by "Hound Dog" composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller makes the case that you can't spell Xmas Eve without S-E-X, as Santa Elvis — arriving in "a big black Cadillac" — implores his baby to: "Hang up your pretty stockings/ And turn off the light/ Santa Claus is comin'/ Down your chimney tonight."

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Carla Thomas, 'Gee Whiz, It's Christmas'

This 1963 follow-up to the Stax Queen of Soul's 1961 Top 10 hit "Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)" failed to make the charts, but it's the gift that keeps on giving: a Christmas classic to charm every demographic.

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Booker T. & the MG's, 'Jingle Bells'

You can't go wrong with any cut from the classic 1966 instrumental album "In the Christmas Spirit," which finds the Stax house band slathering sonic Christmas cookies with their own flavorful brand of often-imitated-but-never-duplicated soul icing. So why not go with the first-among-equals (it's the first cut on the album) "Jingle Bells," which proves that even sleigh bells can be funky?

Big Star, 'Jesus Christ'

Essentially an Alex Chilton solo record, the third album credited to Memphis power pop paragons Big Star (named for a Memphis grocery chain, not a Bethlehem astral phenomenon) is overall "the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown," to quote journalist Mark Caro. But here's a touch of redemption: a celebratory, apparently unironic jangle-pop hymn honoring the Reason for the Season, with a chorus that proclaims: "Jesus Christ was born today/ Jesus Christ was born."

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Robby Grant, 'I Found the Christmas Presents'

For years, Memphis music MVP Robby Grant — member of Big Ass Truck and Mouserocket; one-man-band solo artist; current executive director of the Crosstown Concourse-based "freeform" community radio station WYXR 91.7-FM — crafted sonic stocking stuffers in the form of homemade giveaway collections of original Christmas music. This infectious pop-rocker from 2018 comedically dramatizes a familiar domestic dilemma: Wily kids vs. hapless parents, in the eternal pre-Christmas struggle of hide-the-presents. (A full album of Grant's holiday songs is available at robbygrant.com.)

Alex Greene and Rinderkinder, 'Christmastime in the Pharaoh City'

Recorded in 1998 at the Easley/McCain studio and released on the no longer extant Loverly Music label, this oddity of a holiday novelty finds alt-scene veteran Alex Greene leading a Santa's workshop of fellow travelers (Lorette Velvette, Steve Selvidge, more) in an unexpected reggae rocker-plus-jazz meditation that includes a spoken-word visit from Nick Name (actually, Loverly founder Ed Porter) as "Frigidario, Holy Spirit of Ice and Snow," who counsels the citizens of "Pharaoh City" (an Egyptian name, like, you know, Memphis?) to ignore "false idols and works of the pharaoh's vanity" (like, a pyramid?) and instead celebrate their uniqueness. "For you are like unto snowflakes from the firmament," declares Frigidario. "Melt ye not into obscurity, but bond together to cover Babylon as like a blizzard of love." The song can be found on Soundcloud.

Harlan T. Bobo, 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town'

Day-Glo blacklight spectacles that mixed the artisanal craft of a Rankin-Bass holiday special with the psilocybin trauma of the Japanese sci-fi film "Attack of the Mushroom People," Bobo's annual Christmas concerts became fixtures at the original Hi Tone Cafe on Poplar after the release of the self-flagellating rocker's 2005 album "Merry Christmas Spaceman." Recorded with some of Memphis' most inventive art-rockers, the collection leads with a barely recognizable deconstruction of the peppy tune that inspired a stop-motion TV special in 1970 from, yes, Rankin-Bass; as twisted as the stripes on a candy cane, the instrumentation — is that a pennywhistle? a xylophone?? a theremin??? — turns the song's title from a promise into a threat. The album can be found at https://harlantbobo1.bandcamp.com/releases.

Sir Mack Rice, 'Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin''

The 1974 Albert King version is more familiar; so is the Bill Murray cover, found in the actor's 2015 Netflix special, "A Very Murray Christmas." But let's raise a glass of spiked eggnog to the song's composer and originator, the Clarksdale-born sui generis soul idiosyncrat Mack Rice, whose other credits range from "Mustang Sally" to "Do the Robot." Sings Sir Mack: "Now mama's in the kitchen cookin'/ Children upstairs asleep/ Time for ol' Santa Claus to make/ His midnight creep."

Cordell Jackson, 'Rock and Roll Christmas / Beboppers' Christmas'

In 1956, pioneering woman record producer Cordell Jackson released a holiday single on her Moon Records label. Recorded in the living room of pianist J. P. "Doc" McQueen at 24 N. Cooper, the inspired A side was titled "Rock and Roll Christmas"; the equally dumbfounding B side was "Beboppers' Christmas"; and together they represent an embarrassment of riches, kind of like the "Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever" of Memphis do-it-yourself hick-genius slap-bass comedy rockabilly. On the A side, Cordell offers Kris Kringle a wish list of the 45s she covets: "'Don't Be Cruel'/ 'I Almost Lost My Mind'/ Ooooh, 'Hound Dog'/ 'I Walk the Line.'" On the B side, Cordell introduces Santa as a "red-dressed Daddy-O," and reports: "He had white fuzz all over his chin/ He came boppin' up and said, 'Gimme some skin.'" You make the call between the two, I don't have the willpower.

Don Bryant, 'White Christmas'

A top Memphis soul artist in the 1970s, when his Hi Records co-stars included Al Green and his wife, Ann Peebles, Bryant has re-emerged in recent years with a series of stellar new tracks (including a Grammy-nominated album, "You Make Me Feel") cut at Scott Bomar's Electraphonic Recording studio in Memphis, often in the company of some of Bryant's old Hi Rhythm Section bandmates. One outlier among these sessions was a 2017 revisit of Irving Berlin's holiday fixture, created especially for Amazon's streaming service. Demonstrating that you don't need Bing when you know how to swing, the song can be found on Amazon.

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The Emotions, 'Black Christmas'

A "beautiful Black Christmas" with a "Soul Santa" is promised in this 1970 Stax/Volt single from the Emotions, a female vocal trio from Chicago who cut this track in Muscle Shoals under the guidance of such Memphis music masters as David Porter and keyboardist Ronnie Williams. The song was written by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers, who died May 6 at 85.

Jessie Mae Hemphill, 'Merry Christmas, Pretty Baby'

Recorded in Memphis in 1987, this Yuletide lope is as irresistible as any of the more traditional blues-narrative mesmerizers credited to the so-called "She-Wolf" of the North Mississippi hill country blues tradition. "You shoulda been there," Hemphill sings; she's referring to a meeting with Santa, but listeners instead may think about being in the studio with the She-Wolf, so they'll be quick to agree: Yes, we shoulda.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: What are the best Christmas songs by Memphis artists?