Top Ten Christmas Albums
1. A Christmas Present For You From Phil Spector (1963)
Phil Spector made so many incredible records in his time as the best pop producer in the world, but the best album he ever made was this one, which is also the best Christmas album of all time by a distance. Ironically, it wasn’t a success at the time, with festive spirit rather sapped by it being released on the day of JFK’s assassination, but it’s grown in popularity ever since, and with so many definitive versions of Christmas classics by the likes of The Crystals and The Ronettes as well as the awesome Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love, this is the best present anyone’s ever given us.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guaraldi (1965)
The first proper Peanuts cartoon was one of the best Christmas films of all time, and the soundtrack from it is just as great. Vince Guaraldi’s piano jazz music became synonymous with the Peanuts cartoons down the years and his Linus and Lucy theme is instantly recognisable, but the rest of the music here is just wonderful and smooth Christmas music. The opening song of the show, Christmastime Is Here is delightful and so are all of the tunes here that aren’t even in the TV special (after all, this album is longer than that was)…
3. The McGarrigle Christmas Hour – Kate & Anna McGarrigle (2005)
The McGarrigle Hour was a landmark album for the Canadian folk sister act, bringing in their family and friends for an album that sounded like the best party you never got invited to, so it was only fitting that they should repeat the formula for a Christmas record. With family like Rufus and Martha Wainwright and friends like Teddy Thompson and Emmylou Harris, it’s not difficult to see why this is such an awesome record, and the mixture of old Christmas tunes, new Christmas tunes and the vast array of talent make this a Christmas album for people who don’t want to listen to Slade.
4. Barenaked For The Holidays – Barenaked Ladies (2004)
Not ones to just cash in on the festive spirit, Barenaked Ladies give value for money on their Christmas album with a collection of carols (all delivered in their trademark jokey way), festive favourites and original tracks. Being polite Canadian types, they also through in a few Hanukkah songs as well and it all makes for an album that is fun and intelligent and while at times it can get a little irritating, the positives outweight the negatives.
5. Songs for Christmas – Sufjan Stevens (2006)
When you get a Sufjan Stevens album, you know that you’re going to get a lot for your money and you also know that it’s going to take a while to really get into because it’s so long. Clocking in at over two hours of material, Songs For Christmas is actually a compilation for a few different festive EPs recorded between 2001 and 2006, and features all the usual songs plus a whole load of original songs. It doesn’t all work, but it’s certainly the best album you can get for that indie kid.
6. Dig That Crazy Christmas – The Brian Setzer Orchestra (2005)
His second collection of Christmas tunes in three years, this is probably the best of Setzer’s holiday albums, mainly because of the song choices. Jingle Bell Rock, Zat You Santa Claus? and Cool Yule all benefit from his big-band-meets-surf-rock style of music, while originals like Santa Drives A Hot Rod make this a very cool and very fun alternative at Christmas.
7. The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album – The Beach Boys (1964)
A rather rushed cash-in album, this doesn’t come close to standing up to the kind of music that the Beach Boys were making at this time,but there’s enough great stuff here to make it worthwhile. The best part is the first half, with original tracks like Little Saint Nick, Santa’s Beard and Merry Christmas Baby all having that Brian Wilson magic, and while the second half – arranged by Dick Reynolds and featuring carols and Xmas favourites – is a bit dreary, it’s still a decent album altogether.
8. One More Drifter in the Snow – Aimee Mann (2006)
Aimee Mann and Christmas shouldn’t really go together, but somehow this works. Perhaps it’s because she was inspired to make it by A Charlie Brown Christmas, or perhaps it’s just the sheer wonder of hearing her and Grant Lee Phillips sing You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch. But whatever it is, One More Drifter In The Snow manages to tread the line between depressing Christmas and merry Christmas well and with plenty of class.
9. Winter Carols – Blackmore’s Night (2006)
Those who haven’t heard Blackmore’s Night before might be rather surprised if they get Winter Carols on the basis of Ritchie Blackmore’s work with Deep Purple and Rainbow, because this is a world away from those rock bands. This group is basically a Rennaissance folk group (seriously) with Blackmore on acoustic guitar and Candice Night (get it?) on vocals. However, this works perfectly for a collection of carols and a couple of original tracks, as the music sounds like what Christmas music was before Wizzard or even Bing Crosby were around. Lord Of The Dance is never a good thing, but there’s plenty of other good stuff to make up for it.
10. A Christmas Together – John Denver & The Muppets (1979)
It’s from a TV special by country legend Denver and those crazy Muppets, where they sing a bunch of Christmas tunes together, making for a real contrast between his sweet vocals and some of the more ‘colourful’ singing voices of the various characters. Musically, it’s sublime and the presence of the Muppets helps cut through the treacle to make it an album with heart and a sense of fun. 12 Days Of Christmas is a particular favourite, mainly for Beaker’s contributions…