I wanted nothing but music.
Every year for Christmas, Mama outdid herself, buying just about everything on the "wish lists" my two sisters and I put together immediately after Thanksgiving. Although Mama bought me clothes, board games, Hot Wheels and other things, I only cared about the records. All the other stuff was pushed aside as I tore the plastic off the new LPs.
Now as a grown single man with no kids, Christmas has lost that magical glow. I don't expect gifts, and I only buy for a few close friends and relatives. I have long stopped writing wish lists. But Mama, bless her heart, still calls every year after Thanksgiving, wanting to know what I want. "I know you don't need no more CDs," she says. "You should have enough."
Lord knows I do. But if I were to write a Christmas wish list of new music, what would I put on it? What type of collaborations would I like to hear? I pondered it and came up with these dream CDs from artists living and dead. D'Angelo The Return
This tremendously talented singer-songwriter-musician showed so much potential on his 1995 debut, Brown Sugar. Along with Erykah Badu and Maxwell, he helped usher in the mid-'90s "neo-soul" movement, where R&B; folded in more organic, sincere and substantive lyrical and musical elements. It took the Virginia native five years to release a follow-up. And although 2000's Voodoo made its debut atop the pop charts, the uneven second album didn't deliver on the promise of the first. Since then, we haven't heard a single note from D'Angelo. But on The Return, the album I wish he could make, he'd sound completely invested. He'd even duet with Marvin Gaye on a remake of the Motown legend's 1976 joint, "Come Live With Me, Angel." On the track the two would be backed by Thom Bell's wondrous orchestration. Another highlight would be a high-octane funk collaboration with Prince in Dirty Mind mode.
The Beatles & Friends
On this dynamite double-disc set, the Fab Four would collaborate with Elton John, Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Laura Nyro, (Court and Spark-era) Joni Mitchell and others. On Disc One, the band would revisit various Beatles classics such as "Get Back," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and, of course, "Yesterday." Disc Two would be new material -- all of it adventurous and melodically sterling. Lauryn Hill The Rebirth of Lauryn Hill
The multi-Grammy winner and one of the most gifted artists to emerge in the '90s insists on being called Miss Hill these days. Since the huge success of 1998's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, things just haven't been the same for the former L-Boogie. There has been a string of disjointed performances and several instances of erratic behavior. She put out an emotionally stark (and at times fascinating) double-disc live set, 2002's MTV Unplugged No. 2.0. Lately, there has been talk of a Fugees reunion. On The Rebirth of Lauryn Hill, the hip-hop/soul star would return to dropping knowledge over thickly layered beats. And when not blessing the mike with intelligent rhymes, she'd croon sensual love songs over spare, live instrumentation. Her aching remake of Angela Bofill's "I Try" would absolutely smolder.
Aretha Franklin Sings the Percy Mayfield Songbook
The Queen of Soul would give up trying to be so contemporary. She'd call up Jerry Wexler, her producer during her '60s heyday on Atlantic Records, and do a scaled-down affair, wailing Mayfield's blues poetry. With Aretha on piano, Roy Haynes on drums and Charles Mingus on bass, the soul legend would add new life to "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and swing herself into bad health on "Hit the Road, Jack."
Biggie Smalls Death After Life
Hip-hop would get a much-needed shot in the arm on this concise, hard-hitting album of epic ghetto tales. Feel-good dance joints would balance the more serious cuts. Biggie would share the mike with 2Pac on "The Conspiracy Pt. I and II." Over a searing, dramatic production courtesy of DJ Premier and Dr. Dre, the two would reveal who murdered them.
Donny Hathaway Take a Love Song
On this gorgeous set, overseen by Arif Mardin and Joel Dorn, Hathaway would croon songs of spiritual and romantic love. The title track would be an all-acoustic remake of a soaring, orchestral ballad from his 1971 self-titled album. Take a Love Song would also feature beautiful duets, including a touching take of "For All We Know" with daughter Lalah and a nearly eight-minute, jazz-funk version of "Superwoman/Where Were You When I Needed You" with Stevie Wonder.
Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Chaka Khan Four Women
This once-in-a-lifetime quartet of marvelous black voices would sing mostly self-penned tunes of love, faith and pride. The centerpiece of this album would be a Sweet Honey in the Rock-like rendition of the Simone classic "Four Women." Underscored by a conga drum and a trilling flute, the drama would simmer, then roil as Chaka wails the famous last line, "My name is Peaches!"