Rock Flashback: Leon Russell’s “Slippin’ Into Christmas”

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Leon Russell, who bears a resemblance to a certain elderly white-bearded man famous in this season, is seen here at his induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. (Getty Images/Jemal Countess)

Leon Russell, who bears a resemblance to a certain elderly white-bearded man famous in this season, is seen here at his induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. (Getty Images/Jemal Countess)

Although [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Leon Russell[/lastfm] has been a working musician for 50 years and lacks neither critical accolades nor impressive credits, his best year by the numbers was 1972. His album Carney spent a month at #2 that summer. In August, a show in California was recorded; when it was released the next year as Leon Live, it would become a Top-10 hit, too. In the fall of 1972, “Tight Rope” became his highest charting single.

But before 1972 came to a close, Russell had one more hit up his sleeve.

Russell’s “Slippin’ Into Christmas” featured “his usual Tulsa session men plus ace guitar man [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Freddie King[/lastfm],” according to the sleeve notes on promotional copies of the record. “Flipside is another laid-back Russell composition, ‘Christmas in Chicago.'”

The single was recorded in August, and it was tipped in Billboard and other music trade publications in November. On a Christmas chart in December, Billboard would place it at #4. But the laconic blues of “Slippin’ Into Christmas” doesn’t fit the cheery singalong mode of the most popular Christmas singles, so it never became a holiday perennial. I don’t believe it’s ever gotten an official CD release.

Russell returned to Christmas music in 1995 with Hymns of Christmas, an album of piano instrumentals with orchestra backing. But “Slippin’ Into Christmas” is the one you want. It’s a mighty fine listen this time of year.


The B-side, “Christmas in Chicago,” is pretty cool, too.


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