I remember the first time I heard The Temptations’ version of Silent Night. I was in the restroom at a company Christmas party. We were a little early and most people had not yet arrived. I was alone in the bathroom when the first strands of the song started pouring through the walls.
The non-traditional start quickly caught my attention. I stayed alone in the quiet of the restroom while the song continued to play. When the baritone of Otis Williams (or possibly Dennis Edwards) started the third verse, I was transported to that stable of long ago in Bethlehem. Grown men shaking and falling to their knees at the sight of a baby sleeping in the manger. The chorus of angels singing over Him. I still get goosebumps when I hear them sing the words, “Christ, Christ the savior is born. Oh yes he is.”
Of course, I had heard Silent Night sang many, many times before, but the Spirit of the words had never touched me like in that version of the song. There was something about the melting together of the voices, the falsetto of Eddie Kendricks offset by the baritone of Williams. Then, closer to the end, you have Dennis Edwards narrating his feelings while the group continues to sing behind him.
I listened to this song yesterday on the way to work, tears streaming. This version of the song has always spoken to me on a spiritual level, and while it still does, it has new meaning to me this year.
The Temptations recorded this song sometime between 1968 and ’70, only a few short years after the passage of The Civil Rights Act. Fifty years later, all men are still not free, at least not all in the same way. I don’t want to put my thoughts or feelings into Edwards’ words, but being a little older and a little wiser, I think I have a better understanding of his Christmas wish. So this year, mine will echo his —
“If I had one wish in this world, it would be that all men would be free…”
If you have never heard this version, please give it a listen.