Music

You’ll find Alicia Keys’ new record, ‘Santa Baby,’ winking under the mistletoe

todayDecember 16, 2022

Background
share close
  • cover play_arrow

    You’ll find Alicia Keys’ new record, ‘Santa Baby,’ winking under the mistletoe NPR

Alicia Keys. Courtesy of the artist

The title of Alicia Keys‘ new, and first, holiday album – it’s kind of hard to believe she hadn’t released one already – is called Santa Baby, after the double-entendre-heavy Eartha Kitt single that was somewhat scandalous at the time of its release in 1953. Keys opens the new record with a cover of it, which she tells Morning Edition is one of her favorites.

Elsewhere on the record she covers Christmas staple Vince Guaraldi, explaining that her cover of “Christmas Time Is Here” is “my mixture of young Michael Jackson, meets Quincy Jones, meets Vince Guaraldi,” the technically challenging “Ave Maria,” John Lennon and Yoko Ono‘s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” among other winter essentials.

Keys also penned a couple of originals for the album, which she wrote to remind listeners that “love, and this good energy that I think we all call towards us and want for the holidays, is something we can have all year-round.”

She spoke to Rachel Martin about finding her own path through well-worn classics and the approach she took on her own additions to the holiday canon.

To hear this conversation, use the audio player at the top of this page.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Alicia Keys Christmas album – does she really need more of an intro than that? I can’t believe she hasn’t done one before now, honestly. It just came out, and it’s named after the first song on the album, “Santa Baby.” Eartha Kitt actually debuted that one back in 1953, and it was quite scandalous at the time – very sultry for a Christmas song. Alicia Keys has the same fun with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SANTA BABY”)

ALICIA KEYS: Hello, Santa. Is this really you? Well, I know that you’re not supposed to do this, but I do have a little list. And I’ve been such a good girl. I know I deserve it. You want to hear it? (Singing) Santa baby, just slip a sable under the tree for me.

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. I love the meaning. As a songwriter, I love the double entendre of this song. I love everything about this song. I love the playfulness. I love the funniness, the cheekiness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SANTA BABY”)

KEYS: (Singing) Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with the duplex and checks. Sign your X on the line.

I love that, you know, this is – it’s even so anti kind of what I usually feel like about the holidays, you know, with it being so material. And I love just enveloping that character of that person who is like, this is all the things I deserve. Which, by the way, I do think on just a other level, we do deserve everything that we could possibly want. I do think that we should have that mentality.

MARTIN: You’ve got some Vince Guaraldi on this album.

KEYS: Yes.

MARTIN: I love Vince Guaraldi. Yeah.

KEYS: Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE”)

KEYS: (Singing) Christmas time is here – happiness and cheer. Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year.

MARTIN: Did you grow up with Charlie Brown specials?

KEYS: Of course.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KEYS: Totally grew up with Charlie Brown specials. I want to say that the “Christmas Time Is Here” song is my mixture of young Michael Jackson meets Quincy Jones meets Vince Guaraldi. And that’s how I was thinking of this song in regards to all the stacks of harmonies. To me, that feels very “Off The Wall” Michael Jackson. And then that jazz element that Vince Guaraldi just does so beautiful.

MARTIN: Yeah. Speaking of Michael Jackson, you’ve got some originals on the album – “December Back 2 June.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “DECEMBER BACK 2 JUNE”)

KEYS: (Singing) For this Christmas – yeah – don’t need wishes – yeah – not since I met you. It’s just Christmas time. Every season – what? – you’ll give reason to love you – what? – from December back to June.

You know, it sounds just like a Jackson 5 sample. That’s my favorite part about this song.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KEYS: It isn’t – it is a sample-free song.

MARTIN: Are you serious?

KEYS: That’s what’s even better about it. I know.

MARTIN: Wow.

KEYS: I know.

MARTIN: It totally sounds like a young Michael Jackson on there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “DECEMBER BACK 2 JUNE”)

KEYS: (Singing) It’s just Christmas time – from December back to June.

The producer, Tommy Parker, who worked with me on this song – he created that whole voice. He pitched up his voice. And so that whole Michael Jackson sound…

MARTIN: No way.

KEYS: …Is actually a brand new copyright. It really is talking about how at this time for Christmas, I don’t even need any wishes because I have the love that I’m looking for. And so I think that definitely is the sentiment of the song, that love and this good energy that I think we all call towards us and want for the holidays is something we can have all year round. And so that’s why it’s called “December Back 2 June.” And when I was thinking about the holiday album, I really wanted there to be a diversity there between kind of the classics that you know, and creating new classics.

MARTIN: Speaking of classics – “Ave Maria,” Alicia.

KEYS: Yes.

MARTIN: It’s a big old song.

KEYS: It really is. I love – my favorite version of “Ave Maria” is the Stevie Wonder version on the Motown Christmas album.

MARTIN: Ah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “AVE MARIA”)

KEYS: (Singing) Ave Maria.

I feel like he kills, kills, kills in the best way…

MARTIN: Yeah.

KEYS: …That vocal and that vibe. And I just love how soulful it still feels.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “AVE MARIA”)

KEYS: (Singing) Ave Maria.

MARTIN: So can I ask technically about this song? Because I will divulge that I – I don’t know how I got wrangled into this, but I sang “Ave Maria” at my brother’s wedding. And I was like…

KEYS: Ay.

MARTIN: …Oh, there’s no problem. Like, everyone knows “Ave Maria.” It’s great, it’s great, it’s great. It is so technically hard to sing. I mean, there’s just like a lot of octaves. It’s just a lot of transitions. Did you find the song challenging or do you just have to take it out of its original framework and just totally re-imagine it for yourself?

KEYS: Yes to all. It is a complex song. It is…

MARTIN: OK, that feels validating. Thank you.

KEYS: You know, it is. It is tricky to sing. The breathwork is tremendously hard, to have those long, drawn-out notes and still be able to get to all of the beautiful, you know, just expressions. It is hard for sure. There’s no question about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “AVE MARIA”)

KEYS: (Singing in Latin).

MARTIN: It’s a prayer – “Ave Maria.” Are you a praying person?

KEYS: I am. I’m all about prayer. I love connecting to a higher source. You know, I’m big on praying before everything – meals, flights, food, at the end of the night with the kids, in the morning when we wake up. It’s like – I feel like gratitude is the ultimate gift. And it’s – I think it’s also the ultimate way to attract good things your way. When you’re able to give thanks and be grateful for every moment, you know, I think you open yourself up to receiving. I love prayer. It’s beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “AVE MARIA”)

KEYS: (Vocalizing).

MARTIN: Alicia Keys, it’s been such a pleasure. Happy holidays to you and yours.

KEYS: Happy holidays to you, too.

MARTIN: Her new Christmas album is called “Santa Baby.” Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Written by: NPR

Rate it

Previous post

Music

Julius Rodriguez, a young pianist fusing (all) the music from inside-out

Julius Rodriguez, whose album Let Sound Tell All was a through line this year for journalist and author Marcus J. Moore. Erik Barden/Courtesy of the artist In June, the pianist/drummer Julius Rodriguez released his debut album, Let Sound Tell All, a project so dynamic that even the umbrella of jazz couldn't quite contain its essence. Though the genre was surely present, the songs "All I Do" and "In Heaven" showed […]

todayDecember 14, 2022


Who we are

HYFIN is a media movement from Radio Milwaukee.

Dedicated to playing the full spectrum of Black music and connecting the culture.

Listen

Our radio is always online!
Listen now completely free!
0%