Now, I am certain that most of you jumped to the conclusion that I would have a Now Christmas compilation or two listed. Well, I’ve decided to stay away from now since they SHOULD have many great old AND new standards. So, due to that company’s philosophy, I am keeping them out of this listing. Instead, I want to focus on some great compilations of a label’s stable of artists doing Christmas songs, OR a group of artists that made up a “music scene” who were put together with their versions of Christmas songs on a single album.
Some of these were recorded specifically for these compilations, while others were cherry-picked by the label issuing the album around some musical theme within the Christmas genre. FYI: I am still awaiting a thrash metal and grunge Christmas compilation, two genres that really do not lend themselves to the Yuletide season. So, here we go!
10. Yuletunes (1991). Here we have an early-Nineties Christmas compilation of power pop artists, such as Matthew Sweet, Shoes, Bill Lloyd, The Spongetones, Don Dixon and some other bands that unknown then and remain unknown today. Best song: Material Issue’s blistering “Merry Christmas Will Do”. These guys were once tagged as the “Next Cheap Trick”. Unfortunately, leader Jim Ellison ended his own life as the band was losing the momentum gained from their debut album. Cheap Trick has NEVER recorded a holiday tunes such as this one.
9. A Christmas Record (1981). This is a new wave/post punk holiday extravaganza like no other. On this English album, you can hear seasonal fare by the likes of Was (Not Was), August Darnell, Suicide, Material, and most famously, the Waitresses. Best song: Hands down, it has to be the timeless “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. If you are not familiar with this song, you have been living under a rock.
8. Christmas Raps (1987). Profile Records grabbed that classic song that Run-DMC recorded for a fundraising album, “Christmas in Hollis” and surrounded it with come classic mid-Eighties old school seasonal hip hop songs that paved the way for all other rap Christmas songs and albums that followed. Sure, the Disco 4, Dana Dane and Spyder-D don’t roll off our collective tongues, but at least they gave us this gem. Best song: Run-DMC – “Christmas in Hollis”, of course.
7. Dr. Demento’s Greatest Christmas Novelty CD (1989). Dr, Demento is a genius. He found the nuttiest songs around and built a radio show like no other around those songs. Thanks to the Doctor, we all need to hear Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandmas Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or Bob & Doug McKenzie’s “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The list of artists goes on with “Weird Al” Yankovic, The Chipmunks and The Singing Dogs, who “bark” “Jingle Bells”. Best song: Cheech & Chong – “Santa Claus & His Old Lady”. It was close for me between the McKenzie Brothers, but the druggie duo’s Christmas bit always made my mom laugh, so I’ll with that memory.
6. Christmas Time Again (1986). More of power pop’s royalty gathered in 1986 to record this album. You can find songs by The dB’s, Marshall Crenshaw, my beloved Big Star, former Box Tops and Big Star singer Alex Chilton, Don Dixon, Peter Holsapple and alt-country forerunners Whiskeytown (who included a very young Ryan Adams). Best song: Alex Chilton’s stark and haunting “The Christmas Song”. Leave it to Chilton to discover the pain and loneliness in this song.
5. A Motown Christmas (1973). We all know the great stable of artists Motown had: The Temptations, the Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, among so many others. And, Motown mastermind Berry Gordy Jr. was shrewd enough to know to have his artists record Christmas albums on their own right. But, his brilliance lays in this compilation, where he took only the label very best to create this fantastic album. Best song: With so many to choose from, I will always be partial to Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas”. I have always related to a prayer for Peace on Earth during the holiday season.
4. Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Xmas (1996). Rhino did a fantastic job of getting all of these artists on this compilation: Pretenders, Los Lobos, Squeeze, The Pogues, Captain Sensible, David Bowie & Bing Crosby, among so many others. Best song: David Bowie & Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”. I retired that song from my Top 100 because it has become so very personal to me. Bing was my Grandpa Dart’s favorite singer. And, Bowie has always been one of my very favorite singers. Then, to watch the two of them on Bing’s last Christmas Special from 1977, a mere two years after Grandpa passed. The song remains too special to me to objectively rank in a countdown.
3. Soul Christmas (1968). This is an album of sheer beauty in its depth in the range of songs, from the raunchy (“Back Door Santa”) to the sublime (“This Christmas”). We get all of the artists, such as the Staple Singers, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Booker T. & the MG’s, Otis Redding and so many others. Best Song: Otis Redding’s soulful take on “White Christmas”.
2. A Very Special Christmas (1987). This fundraiser for the Special Olympics reignited the fun that an artist can have writing and/or covering Christmas songs. The list of participating artists is a Who’s Who of The Hot 100 at the time: Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks, etc. In the wake of this album’s success came not only more albums released in this series, but the recording of new holiday albums by all kinds of pop and rock artists. Would we had ever received Mariah Carey’s, The Misfits’, Erasure’s or Twisted Sister’s Christmas albums without the success of this album? I doubt it! Best song: U2 – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”. Sure, it’s Darlene Love’s arrangement, but Bono’s personality and the band’s musicality lift this song to a whole new level.
1. A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector (1963). Allegedly, this is Beach Boy songwriter and producer’s favorite album. Unfortunately, this album got off to a very unfortunate beginning: it was released on the very day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and subsequently lost to the public. Fortunately, Christmas record collectors continued to sing the album’s praise, which is great for us, since it is truly a pop/soul masterpiece and is ranked at 142 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 Albums of All Time. Best song: I really cannot decide. One day, I would say it’s Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, and the next it’s The Ronette’s “Sleigh Ride”. If I want to be solemn, then I choose “White Christmas” by Darlene Love. But, if I want a fun song, I would choose “Marshmallow World” by Darlene Love. Regardless, the album is absolutely a gem. Just, listen to the whole thing and enjoy it for the piece of art that the album is.
Well, music lovers! That’s my 10 favorite compilation albums. Now, I suppose you know in which direction I will be moving tomorrow, my Twelfth day of Christmas. Rock on!