Despite the events of the past six weeks or so, I still feel as though I have lived a blessed life. Even though I complain often about the current attack on intelligence here in the States and a lack of regards to what an inflexible definition there is for the word “fact”, I did receive a “Golden Ticket” to have been born in Western Culture. Where else could I spend my time writing about the seemingly trivial matters in the world of rock & roll. Yet, if it were not for this beautiful thing called rock & roll, I do not know about which topic I would have spent hours learning: track, basketball, microbiology? I would have been interesting to picture a world without rock music. But, I am so thankful that I did not grow up in that culture.
Today, I am giving in to my other Christmas obsession, and that is the Christmas album. Now, anyone can write a single song about Christmas. Ask The Royal Guardsmen. In the mid-Sixties, that band scored a hit with their song “Snoopy vs. The Red Barron”. Yet, few probably remember that song. But, if you hear “Snoopy’s Christmas” during the Yuletide season, you are hearing that band’s one truly enduring hit song. As a songwriter back in the immediate post-World War II era of 1945 through 1970, those people knew that if they could write a Christmas hit song, that one song will make them some money EVERY year during the month of December. So, songwriters put a premium on Christmas music because that song would put money in their pockets each year afterwards.
Then, the cynical Seventies rolled around, and Christmas music was considered “uncool” and childish. And, unfortunately, that attitude was prevalent for nearly two decades. That is, until 1984, when the Feed Africa project “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by the one-off supergroup Band Aid produced a lasting song, along with Wham!’s big hit Christmas song from the same year “Last Christmas”. After those two landmark Christmas songs, the floodgates reopened. The final indication that Christmas music was cool again happened in 1987, when super-producer Jimmy Iovine asked several of the best artists at that moment to record a Christmas song for a compilation he was putting together to raise money for the Special Olympics with the now-classic album A Very Special Christmas. Unfortunately, that album relied on new versions of old Christmas songs, with nothing new to add to the cannon. Yet, the album sold and spawned a whole series of albums that presently stands at nine albums.
I got hooked on one particular Christmas album back in the Sixties when I was a wee lad at the babysitter’s house. During the days leading up to Christmas, she would play Christmas music for us kids. But, when she played The Ventures’ Christmas Album, I fell for that album hard. I totally loved how this surf guitar group would begin each Christmas song with the guitar lick from a popular rock song of the day. It was so cool to me to hear “I Feel Fine” sharing with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Tequila” and “Walk Don’t Run” mashed with “Frosty the Snowman”. When I finally got my own copy of that album, I played the hell out of it, playing it day or night, 12 months a year.
So, today, may I present, in alphabetical order by artist, my 50 Favorite Christmas Albums of All Time. I hope you will find some your favorites in my list, as well as possibly piquing your interest for some other expressions of your Yuletide happiness.
- Ariana Grande – Christmas & Chill (2015). This EP is an interesting artistic turn for this teen star.
- Band of Merrymakers – Welcome to Our Christmas Party (2016). These power pop all-stars made one helluva Christmas album.
- Bob Dylan – Christmas in the Heart (2009). This works better than you would think.
- Boyz II Men – Christmas Interpretations (1993). Even Santa loves to slow dance with Mrs. Claus.
- Cee Lo Green – Magic Moment (2012). I cannot believe that this album is NOT a modern day Christmas classic. Don’t be scared! Jump on the bandwagon.
- Cheap Trick – Christmas Christmas (2017). At first, I hated it. But, now, it’s my favorite Christmas album of 2017.
- Chicago – Chicago 25: The Christmas Album (1998). Chicago was really created to make this album.
- Darlene Love – It’s Christmas, Of Course (2009). THE star of Phil Spector’s coterie of singers makes her own Christmas album…finally! She was David Letterman’s favorite Christmas singer.
- Daryl Hall & John Oates – Home for Christmas (2006). Hall & Oates made a great Christmas album that has their sound running throughout.
- David Crowder* Band – Oh for Joy (2011). My favorite Christian rock band made one great Christmas EP.
- Dwight Twilley – Have a Twilley Christmas (2008). The power popper of the Seventies and Eighties scored a great Christmas album.
- Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957). Elvis’ first Christmas album is still his best.
- Gwen Stefani – You Make It Feel like Christmas (2017). Sure, I am tired of the whole Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani show. But, this album does have a couple cool originals.
- Hanson – Finally It’s Christmas (2017). Please, don’t write these guys off as teeny bopper has-beens. They are becoming one of their generation’s finest power pop bands, and this album proves my point.
- Jacob Miller – Natty Christmas (1978). Want an album of reggae Christmas tunes with overt ganja references? This is your album.
- James Brown – Funky Christmas (1995). The Godfather of Soul released several Christmas albums, and this is a compilation of them. And, this album has all the funk one needs for Christmas.
- Johnny Cash – Christmas with Johnny Cash (2003). The Man in Black could sure sing Christmas carols too.
- Kacey Musgraves – A Very Kacey Christmas (2016). This is one of the funnest Christmas albums of the 21st century.
- Kylie Minogue – Kylie Christmas (2013). I love Kylie Minogue, and she is suited for the Yuletide season.
- Lisa Mychols – Lost Winter’s Dream (1992). This album is a power pop classic, that also happens to be a Christmas classic.
- Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas (1994). What can I say? Except, Mariah looks so young on the cover.
- Merle Haggard – Hag’s Christmas (1973). Want some realism in your Christmas music? Put this one on your turntable.
- R. Kelly – 12 Nights of Christmas (2016). Yep, it is just what you thought it would be. Next!
- Ray Charles – The Spirit of Christmas (1985). You gotta have some Brother Ray for Christmas.
- Relient K – Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer (2007). This Christian pop punk band actually made a fun Christmas album.
- Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party (2015). We just lost this “last of the great soul singers” recently, but she left us with this soul/funk party album so we could dance around the Christmas tree.
- She & Him – Christmas Party (2016). Ironically titled, this duo has made a great moody Christmas album.
- Sia – Everyday Is Christmas (2017). Everyone’s current weirdo pop singer has recorded mostly new songs for her first, highly anticipated Christmas album. And, it nearly rises to the hype.
- South Park – Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics (1999). Yes, this is a classic!
- Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold (2012). For his relatives, Sufjan Stevens recorded an EP of Christmas tunes as gifts. Then, he decided to release those EPs in two collections of five. And, this neo-folkie hit the jackpot with these two collections.
- Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas (2006). See #30. This is the better collection, I might add.
- The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964). It shouldn’t surprise you that the Beach Boys made one great Christmas album. Everything they did back then was great.
- The dB’s & Friends – Christmas Time Again (2006). Power pop aces, The dB’s, gathered power pop versions of Christmas songs and originals from the friends, like Marshall Crenshaw and Alex Chilton, and released this great compilation. Power pop and Christmas music are the perfect mix, in my opinion.
- The Grip Weeds – Under the Influence of Christmas (2011). Another power pop group makes a great Christmas album.
- The Smithereens – Christmas with The Smithereens (2007). We just lost the lead singer of The Smithereens within the past week. But, their Christmas album always makes me smile. You can comfortably place this album with the rest of the band’s catalog without embarrassment.
- The Ventures – The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965). Read the article and you’ll know how I feel about this album.
- Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (1963). Unquestionably the greatest Christmas album of all time.
- Various Artists – A Motown Christmas (1972). This might be the second best Christmas album ever, as the best songs from Motown’s best artists’ Christmas albums are collected on this double-album classic.
- Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas (1987). This album woke up Generation X to the greatness of good Christmas music.
- Various Artists – A Very Special Christmas 2 (1992). The second album in this series is nearly up to the quality of the first one. Except, this one has a Tom Petty original Christmas classic!
- Various Artists – Christmas on Death Row (1997). Want some Nineties Christmas rap? Well, you came to the right place.
- Various Artists – Christmas Rap (1987). The first Christmas rap compilation that I could find to a terrific ode not only to the holiday season but to Eighties rap as well.
- Various Artists – Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time (1989). A Dr. Demento collection is a must! Where else could you find Christmas comedy classics by Cheech & Chong, the Singing Dogs, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bob & Doug McKenzie, and so many other Christmas comedy classics.
- Various Artists – Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Xmas (1996). Take the best Christmas songs recorded during the height of New Wave by the genre’s best artists and you have a great Yuletide classic.
- Various Artists – NOW That’s What I Call Christmas [3 CDs] (2013). The British versions of the NOW album series make the best compilations of Christmas music. These compilations are almost the only albums you need.
- Various Artists – The Christmas Rock Album (1986). I discovered this album at a record store in December 1987, and it has been a great find ever since. What with Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” and Billy Squier’s “Christmas Is the Time to Say ‘I Love You'”, the rest of the album is just icing on the cake.
- Various Artists – Yuletunes (1991). Yet, another classic power pop compilation, with Bill Lloyd and Material Issue, leading the way on this one.
- Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). What else can I possibly say about this soundtrack of minimal jazz to one of TV’s greatest animated Christmas specials of all time?
- Weezer – Christmas with Weezer (2008). Yes, Weezer really did release a Christmas album, and it’s a dandy.
- Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper (1979). Willie Nelson’s natural mix of bewilderment and cynicism works perfectly with the great material he chose for this album. This was made when Willie was at the height of his powers, and it shows.
Yes, 50 Christmas albums are a bit much. But, they will make for a great, well-rounded view of Christmas. I do want to mention three more Christmas albums that are worth owning that did not make by Top 50. They are MercyMe’s The Christmas Sessions, Third Day’s Christmas Offerings Collection, and a compilation of contemporary Christian artists from 1991 entitled Our Christmas, which has recordings by Amy Grant, Sandi Patty and Al Green, among others. Those three each transcend the contemporary Christian moniker and could easily have taken a spot in my Top 50 countdown. Simply put, I wanted you to know about them as well.
And, there you have it. There really are 50 Christmas Albums worth owning. You can use me as a recommendation for these Christmas albums. And, then again, if you think they suck, you can blame me too. I just won’t pay you back if you hate the album. I recommend them, not buy them for you. See you in the new year! I thought I’d take the rest of the year off. Merry Christmas to all! And to all, reduced hearing in your left ear, as I am developing. Peace!