Top 10 Christmas CDs
My picks for all time best
Ah, Black Friday. Some brave souls look forward to battling other shoppers for the perfect discounted gifts. Me, I get excited about dusting off our box of Christmas music.
I love good holiday music and have been collecting it for decades. Choosing 10 all-time favorite Christmas CDs for this lens was not easy. I had to focus hard and think, what 10 albums would I take to a desert island in December? Below, a diverse mix of Christmas CDs that made the cut.
(Rockin' Christmas card: KKG)
This is the granddaddy of Christmas albums in our family. An absolute classic. We trim the tree to Johnny's rich, warm voice every year. This CD was one of the first gifts I gave to my husband's family, before we were married. As stressful as the holidays can be, when this guy belts it out, it seems like nothing can go wrong.
Ella's voice crackles with energy and style. Santa, Rudolph & Frosty are all here for the kids--but done in the classiest way you'll ever hear. Adults will appreciate less-traveled tracks like "Good Morning Blues" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Day?" An aptly titled CD, this swings from start to finish.
I fretted over including this 1963 classic, in light of Phil Spector's recent murder conviction. But I couldn't leave it out. Honestly, it's one of the very best Christmas albums ever made. Spector's famed wall-of-sound style layers bells, percussion, and piano with powerhouse vocals from the likes of Darlene Love and the Ronettes. A must.
A haunting, atmospheric masterpiece and probably my all-time favorite nontraditional Christmas album. Low's minimalist style sheds a whole new light on chestnuts like "Little Drummer Boy," "Blue Christmas," and "Silent Night." Inspired originals round out the mix, from the instinctive joy of "Just Like Christmas" to the sobering "If You Were Born Today."
What's new in Christmas music for 2014?
There's an interesting mix of holiday releases this year, including offerings from Darius Rucker, Sara Evans, opera icon Renee Fleming and a capella stars Pentatonix. But TV- and film-inspired records could be a mini trend in the making, with Idina Menzel of Frozen fame throwing her hat in the holiday ring, along with the casts of Nashville and Downtown Abbey. In a nutshell -- something for everyone!
It's hard to believe that at one point I actually got sick of this album. One of my old roommates was a huge fan, and I probably heard it a few times too often. I'm over that now, and able to appreciate once more the jazzy genius of Vince Guaraldi. The vocal pieces have a nostalgic pull for me, after dozens of Charlie Brown Christmas special viewings. But the instrumentals are the tastiest treats, especially "Skating."
These Canadian popsters are known for their wit, and they don't disappoint here. My kids love the silliness of "Jingle Bells" (yep, Batman does indeed smell in this version) and "Deck the Stills." "I Saw Three Ships" fast-tracks me to the holiday spirit, as does "God Rest Ye/We Three Kings" (with Sarah McLachlan). The BNL cover of the 1984 famine-relief song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" is the best of many I've heard. The guys break the mold by mixing in several Hanukkah tunes, too. (If you've tried to create a soundtrack for a class holiday party, as I have, where half the kids are Christian and half Jewish, that alone is enough reason to buy this album.)
Sarah McLachlan wraps her lovely voice like a handmade blanket around a dozen holiday songs, 11 well-executed covers and one pretty original. I still prefer Joni Mitchell on "The River," but McLachlan holds her own--which is no easy feat. Bonus: When the school-break honeymoon's over and the kids start climbing the walls, this album will mellow them out.
Combine 3 parts rockabilly, 2 parts country, 1 part gospel & a splash of pop-rock. Stir with an Elvis swizzle stick and serve in a hula-dancer glass. YUM! Start to finish, Chris Isaak just seems to be having a blast on this album. Rarely can originals compete with classics on holiday disks, but Isaak pulls it off with panache. I love his melancholy "Washington Square," rockin' "Hey Santa," and intimate "Brightest Star."
When the backup singers twirp "zoot-zoot-doobee-wah," you know you're in for a kitschy treat. To say this is not your typical Christmas record is like saying Vegas ain't your typical American town. Wonder what it says about me (or my friends) that I received not one but two copies of this as Christmas gifts? 1950s/60s Mexican sci-fi lounge maestro Juan Esquivel kicks things off with a little flattery for you, the listener ("The cut of that suit is impeccable!"), then takes you on a 12-track carnival ride that's perfect for an offbeat holiday cocktail party. "Feliz Navidad, baby!"
There are more alt-Christmas compilations out now than you can shake a mistletoe branch at, but this one strikes a better balance--hip, yet festive--than some of its counterparts. Highlights: Ivy's languid "Christmas Time is Here," Death Cab for Cutie's earnestly tuneful "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home," Polyphonic Spree's slightly otherworldly take on "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."
Sound off: What style?
What's your favorite Christmas music genre?
Any of these albums would be an awesome addition to your collection, too!
Christmas With the Beach Boys -- Prefer sand beneath your feet to snow? You need this.
The Best of BB King: Christmas Collection -- "Lucille" is deployed masterfully for the Christmas cause.
James Taylor at Christmas -- Perennial soundtrack of department stores in December -- but that doesn't make it any less loveable.
XFM: It’s a Cool Cool Christmas -- The two "cools" are justified, with tracks from the Flaming Lips, Belle & Sebastian, Eels, Calexico, Teenage Fanclub.....ahh....almost too much for the indie heart to take.
The Best of Louis Armstrong: Christmas Collection -- If Louis's not enough, check out the ladies: Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne. What a wonderful world.
Christmas With Sinatra and Friends -- Who can resist Sinatra, any time of year? Fast-track to a more glamorous era with this collection featuring Mel Torme, Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney.
Nat King Cole, Christmas for Kids: From One to Ninety Two `` Ultra-playful holiday album from one of the silkiest voices ever. Even "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" sounds classy, coming from Nat.
Chieftains Christmas: The Bells of Dublin -- One my hubby's faves, this Celtic-flavored classic features Marianne Faithful, Jackson Browne, Elivs Costello & other luminaries. I personally could do without Rickie Lee Jones on "O Holy Night," but the rest is rock solid.
James Brown’s Funky Christmas -- The sure cure if you've overdosed on somber hymns, family holiday drama, or Christmas cookies (dance 'em off!).
Where Will You Be Christmas Day? (compilation) -- Wasn't it Jeff Tweedy who reminisced about "the old, weird America" in music history? He'd enjoy this crazy-quilt of recordings from 1917 to 1959.
Are any of your favorites on my list? What musts did I neglect?