I love Christmas music. I figure I have a couple dozen Christmas albums in my iTunes collection that I either ripped from CDs that I bought over the years or downloaded from iTunes or Amazon and I’m always on the lookout for good stuff to add to the collection. At this time of year, they all live happily on my iPod so I can play them at work or bring them to any Christmas party to which I’m invited.
I’m also aware there is a lot of bad Christmas music out there and it’s not always easy to put together a ready collection of, say, ten albums that you can just drop into a playlist and set to shuffle. So I figured I’d give you my own list of ten albums you can play over and over for the next couple days without wanting to drop kick an elf through your window.
As a bonus, these albums are all downloadable from Amazon and cost $5 or less, so even if you get them all, you won’t crush what’s left of your Christmas budget.
- Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas: Ella’s smooth, swing is perfect for Christmas and the lead track, “Jingle Bells” will set you up perfectly for the rest of the album. Great variety of sacred and secular Christmas music. I think my favorite is her version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”.
- Bing Crosby – White Christmas: Bing Crosby and Christmas? Come on. “White Christmas” alone is worth the price of the album, but “Christmas in Killarny” and “Silent Night” are fantastic as well. There isn’t a bad song on this album.
- Christmas With The Rat Pack: Again I say: Come on. Frank, Dino, and Sammy? Your highlights are Frank singing “Mistletoe and Holly”, Dean doing a medley of “Peace on Earth” and “Silent Night”, and Sammy bouncing through a rendition of “Jingle Bells”. Christmas music does not get more cool than it is in this album.
- Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas: If you have the original release of this album, pick up this expanded edition. Not only do you get the impeccably-performed jazz version of “O Christmas Tree” to lead off the album, but also a couple alternate takes that are worth hearing. And, hey, what’s wrong with another version of that great ice-skating theme?
- Frank Sinatra – A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra: Okay. Okay. One more jazz-based album. How can you do Christmas without a collection from the Chairman of the Board? Seriously, Christmas and Jazz just belong together. I don’t know if Sinatra especially liked Christmas music, but the way he handles each piece with care and respect while infusing each with his own style suggests that he did.
- Mannheim Steamroller – Christmas: As modern Christmas albums go, this is the Granddaddy. It’s probably most famous because Rush Limbaugh plays the heck out of it every year during his show, but you should grab it even if you’re not a Limbaugh fan. Chip Davis knows how to orchestrate for electronic instruments in a way that makes you forget after a song or two that you’re even listening to a bank of synthesizers. The whole album has a very Renaissance feel to it, even when the pieces pick up the tempo and swing a little bit. It’ll fit in nicely as background gift-opening music.
- Mannheim Steamroller – A Fresh Aire Christmas: Yes, more Chip Davis. This album has an even stronger Renaissance feel than his first album and the pieces he selected are far less “pop” and more traditional. His versions of “In Dulco Jubilo” and “Still, Still, Still” are the jewels of this album.
- Chanticleer – A Chanticleer Christmas: There may be no better small choral ensemble performing today than Chanticleer, an all-male group with a couple of the best counter-tenors (the voices you will hear singing the high Soprano parts) I’ve ever heard. This album is a mix of classical Christmas pieces and a couple more contemporary works. I recommend you listen to this one on Christmas night with the lights turned down low, with a glass of wine and a heart full of contentment.
- The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – O Come All Ye Faithful – Favourite Christmas Carols: King’s College, Cambridge boasts one of the finest choral programs in the world and this album shows off the considerable skill of its showcase choir. The songs are all arranged and performed in the Anglican church style, plainly and quite elegantly. This would make a great Christmas morning album, especially if you play it before you head out to a church service.
- Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song: If your heart is hurting this Christmas season, Nat King Cole’s singing will fix it. This may be my favorite of all the Christmas albums I own. Not only will you get his incomparable rendition of “The Christmas Song” but you’ll also get the most beautiful Christmas song I’ve ever heard, “A Cradle in Bethlehem”. His rendition of “O Tannenbaum” is alto top-notch and he sings at least one of the verses in German. You won’t hear that often.
Because I intended for this to be a list of albums you could shuffle-play, I did not include a couple of the excellent Trans Siberian Orchestra albums. Most of them are story albums, which means they’re meant to be played in sequence to tell a particular story. As such, some of the songs just won’t make sense when played in between Bing and Chanticleer. However, if you want to grab a couple of them, I highly recommend Christmas Eve And Other Stories ($7.99) and The Lost Christmas Eve ($10.99).