The Elvis Christmas album was on heavy rotation when Mary was a kid, and she still has a soft spot for it -- but consider these too!
My Picks for Top Christmas Albums
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.
Admittedly, the seasonal mall music that seems to start around Halloween these days (yikes) is not super inspiring. But a carefully chosen personal collection, brought out of hiding right after Thanksgiving? Priceless.
I love good holiday music and have been collecting it for decades, generally adding two or three to the family library per year. Choosing 10 all-time favorite Christmas albums for this list 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.
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
Ella Fitzgerald's voice crackles with energy and style on this Verve recording from summer of 1960. 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 -- earning, without a doubt, its spot in Ms. Fitzgerald's five top charting albums of all time. Cool news: This was already one of the best Christmas albums on vinyl, but for 2021 a limited-edition, 180-gram, white vinyl edition of this classic Christmas album is due for release. What a great tree-trimming gift! And a tip: If you're an Ella Christmas completist, you'll also want to pick up the 1967 release Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas, featuring religious tracks that compliment the secular ones on her earlier release. If a reliable Christmas top 100 songs list could be created, based on staying power and collective listener love, a significant number of those gems would be found on her two great albums.
This Johnny Mathis masterpiece is the granddaddy of holiday albums in our family. Originally released in October of 1958, it's 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 Mr. Mathis belts out a tune, it seems like nothing too major can go wrong.The enduring charm of this record -- it's been one of the most popular Christmas albums for many decades -- as numerous musical trends have come and gone proves I am far from the only one who believes it's among the best Christmas albums of all time.
A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector
I fretted over including this 1963 classic, in light of Phil Spector's 2009 murder conviction. As another of the most famous Christmas albums for a long time now, it also gets perhaps too much play at stores, restaurants and other public spaces in November and December (or even, sigh, October). But I couldn't leave it out. Honestly, it's one of the very best Christmas compilation albums ever made. Spector's famed wall-of-sound style layers bells, percussion, and piano with powerhouse vocals from the likes of Darlene Love (kudos to her for having the sense of humor to participate in a claymation music video satirizing the holiday-themed Wall of Sound, for SNL in 2005) and the Ronettes -- arguably the real stars here, rather than Spector. A must.
A haunting, atmospheric masterpiece and probably my all-time favorite nontraditional Christmas album, this is not a cocktail-party record. Duluth, Minnesota, band 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." The band released this record in 1999 as a gift to its fans, and what a lasting and meaningful gift it turned out to be.
Barenaked for the Holidays
Canadian popsters Barenaked Ladies are known for their wit, and they don't disappoint here. Simply put, a Barenaked Ladies Christmas is a fun Christmas, full of charming twists and turns. 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 the Barenaked Ladies Christmas album.)
(Chris Isaak) Christmas
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." Though it's not among the most famous ditties, I think Willy Nelson's heart-tugging 1963 tune "Pretty Paper" -- reportedly inspired by a Texas street vendor -- is among the best of Christmas songs. And Isaak's version is in the quality ballpark with Nelson's and Roy Orbison's.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
It's hard to believe that at one point I actually got sick of the Charlie Brown Christmas album. One of my old roommates was a superfan, so I probably heard the record a few times too often in that apartment. I'm over that now, and able to appreciate once more the jazzy genius of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. The vocal pieces have a nostalgic pull after dozens of Charlie Brown Christmas Special viewings. (Can you believe CBS, the TV network that initially aired this show back in 1965, seriously doubted the appeal of this music and even the show itself?) But the instrumentals are the tastiest treats, especially "Skating." How crazy, and wonderful, that one of the best jazz Christmas albums was born from a children's TV special. Seeking a snazzy gift for the record lover in your life? This is among the best Christmas vinyl albums to pick up this year, as it's being released through various big-box stores in red glitter, metallic gold, and as a picture disc.
The aforementioned Sarah McLachlan wraps her lovely voice like a handmade blanket around a dozen holiday songs, 11 well-executed covers ("I'll Be Home for Christmas," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" et al) and one pretty original. The emphasis on winter themes rather than overtly religious ones doesn't diminish the poignancy of tracks like the title one, penned for the singer-songwriter's mother, who passed away from cancer a week before Christmas 2002. 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.
Esquivel! Merry Xmas From the Space-Age Bachelor Pad
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? Don't be scared off if "space-age bachelor pad" evokes, these days, images of a Santa-hatted Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk -- this record will take you far, far away from the 2021 world of overgrown boys and their billionaire toys. 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!"
Maybe This Christmas Tree
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: a languid cover of "Christmas Time is Here" from Ivy (RIP Adam Schlesinger), Death Cab for Cutie's earnestly tuneful "(Christmas) Baby Please Come Home," Polyphonic Spree's slightly otherworldly take on "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." If you think the best Christmas songs rock -- sweetly and seductively, with '60s flair -- the Raveonettes are here for you with their "Christmas Song" and its tasteful guitar work.
Sound off: What style?
Any of these albums would be an awesome addition to your collection, too!
- A Dave Brubeck Christmas -- Acquiring this beautiful Christmas album, relatively recently, was a "where have you been all my life?" moment, and it's hard to believe the cool-jazz master was reluctant to record it Thank goodness he did, or we'd have missed out on one of the best Christmas jazz albums ever.
- Christmas With the Beach Boys -- Prefer sand beneath your feet to snow? You need this. There's a sameness to the sound that somewhat polarizes my household, but as part of the overall holiday mix it's a classic. Rumor has it that Brian Wilson intended it as a response to the Phil Spector Christmas album that had come out the year before, after having attended recording sessions for that album. Whatever its origins, this is arguably among the best Christmas vinyl records.
- The Best of BB King: Christmas Collection -- "Lucille" is deployed masterfully for the Christmas cause. This one never fails to soothes my frayed nerves, when the holidays get to be a bit too much. And when I need a post-Christmas pick-me-up and cheerful goodbye to the chaos, King's funky take on "Auld Lang Syne" is just the ticket.
- James Taylor at Christmas -- Perennial soundtrack of malls and department stores in December -- but that doesn't make it any less loveable. A novel touch, and a track you might not hear at the mall, is "Mon Beau Sapin," which is the French version of "O Christmas Tree." Tres bien!
- Pentatonix The Best of Pentatonix Christmas -- released in 2019, the first compilation album from this beloved a capella group includes tracks from the group's four previous holiday records plus several new songs: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"; "God Only Knows" (speaking of the Beach Boys!); "Joyful, Joyful"; and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
- The 25th Day of December -- Staple Singers -- Originally recorded in 1962, this is a deeply soulful album. Whether December 25th (or midnight on the 24th) involves churchgoing for you or not, the spirit will move you in the hands of this legendary family. Here's hoping my favorite gospel Christmas album will become yours too.
- 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. (Just the hilarity of "Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland" justifies grabbing an affordable used copy of this album. You're welcome.)
- 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, Ray Charles 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 (named for the 12 bells of Christchurch Cathedral, where Dubliners traditionally gather to ring in the new year) features Marianne Faithful, Jackson Browne, Elivs Costello and other luminaries. I personally could do without Rickie Lee Jones on "O Holy Night," but the rest is rock solid.
- Spirit of Christmas -- Ray Charles -- The Genius recorded only one Christmas album, and this is it. An obvious must for any Ray Charles fan, this 10-song collection will please anyone who likes their holiday season with a hearty helping of classic R&B.
- Sufjan Stevens Presents Songs for Christmas -- In this five-volume set, the indie prince delivers low-fi recordings from his Brooklyn home and a studio in Astoria, Queens. The packaging of this CD set with a colorful little songbook, complete with chords and full lyrics; a poster; and stickers make it an excellent gift for the holiday-music-loving hipster in your life.
- James Brown’s Funky Christmas -- The sure cure if you've overdosed on somber hymns, family holiday drama, or Christmas cookies (dance 'em off!). Modern classics like "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto" swirl poignant content into the party.
- 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.There are artists you will recognize (Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, Lightnin' Hopkins) and those you might never have heard of (Norman Edmonds, Buell Kazee, "Lord Beginner"), but I guarantee you'll get a new, quirktastic take on Christmas music.
- It's A Holiday Soul Party -- Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings -- I love this soul-nourishing Christmas album so so much and mourn the loss of the divine Ms Jones in 2016. This is a top new candidate for best Christmas vinyl, to be released in November 2021.
- Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar -- Joel Paterson -- I bought this CD at a Paterson holiday show at Chicago's legendary Green Mill jazz club, and what a terrific addition to our collection this polished but playful set of 14 instrumental tunes, inspired by Les Paul, Chet Atkins and other great guitarists has turned out to be. Perfect cocktail party music.
Quiz: Best selling Christmas albums of all time
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- From my top 10, which artists' albums are among the top 20 best selling Christmas albums of all time, per RIAA data?
- Johnny Mathis and Ella Fitzgerald
- Ella Fitzgerald and Phil Spector
- Phil Spector and Vince Guaraldi
- Vince Guaraldi and Johnny Mathis
- Ella Fitzgerald and Vince Guaraldi
- Johnny Mathis and Phil Spector
- Vince Guaraldi and Johnny Mathis
Why not a New Year's album?
Especially in these days of low-key celebrations at home, there really should be an album of all New Year songs with lyrics that speak specifically to this holiday, rather than the whole season. Want to make a playlist? Five tunes to include are Bing Crosby's "Let's Start the New Year Right," Taylor Swift's "New Year's Day," Death Cab for Cutie's "The New Year," and your preferred versions of classic New Year's Eve songs "Auld Lang Syne" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Day?"
Are any of your favorites on my list? What musts did I neglect?
© 2009 Mary
Mary (author) from Chicago area on January 17, 2013:
@anonymous: oh my gosh, I don't know the first group :( -- will need to check 'em out!
anonymous on January 14, 2013:
The Johnny Mann Singers, Mitch Miller, Arthur Fiedler!
TedWritesStuff on December 26, 2012:
How quickly does Xmas disappear.. only 363 days to go!
Sheilamarie from British Columbia on December 13, 2012:
So many greats here! I love many of your choices but have found a couple of new-to-me classics I look forward to discovering. Thanks for your Christmas music selections. I love Christmas music.
xtianfriborg13 on December 13, 2012:
Classic Christmas music!!
Elizabeth Sheppard from Bowling Green, Kentucky on October 19, 2012:
Frank Sinatra is great, I also love Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney.
AJ from Australia on February 29, 2012:
Christmas will be here before we know it!
nephthys lm on December 13, 2011:
love4randomness1 on December 03, 2011:
Cool lens! Squid-liked! Cheers :)
smicks on November 24, 2011:
cool lens happy xmas :)
trektark lm on October 27, 2011:
Love Christmas Music!! Nice lens!
Doctone on October 17, 2011:
Great selection of cd's
Indigo Janson from UK on September 25, 2011:
I've got a couple of the CDs on your top Christmas CD list. Must check out the others! I've already seen Christmas merchandise in the stores and we'll be hearing Christmas music before we know it.
agoofyidea on August 20, 2011:
I love the Spike Jones albums. They are funny Christmas songs. Nice lens.
DanMoriarity LM on January 17, 2011:
Nice lens. I especially liked the inclusion of the BNL album, one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite bands.
gbrettmiller on January 16, 2011:
Charlie Brown Christmas is the best, though I also like good rock Christmas CDs like Merry Axemass or Ho-Ho-Hoey.
Spartak LM on December 29, 2010:
I love this lens - all the xmas classics at one place :)
wondersmoke lm on December 28, 2010:
love it love it!
Nightowl John on December 25, 2010:
Delivering Christmas Day blessings from a Squid Angel.
pyngthyngs on December 24, 2010:
The Jackson Five had a great Christmas album
anonymous on December 14, 2010:
Have to say that even though I buy the new released albums still prefer the classics like Bing Crosby White Christmas etc
anonymous on December 14, 2010:
great lens, I love old christimas music.
GoPoochYourself on December 14, 2010:
Good list. I'm not the biggest Christmas music fan, but I adore "A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector."
MargoPArrowsmith on December 14, 2010:
Nice list, but I would add Leon Redbone! Yes, he did a Christmas album and I have it!
pcgamehardware on December 13, 2010:
Charlie Brown Christmas music And the Movies rule all.
Great lens, A Like, A Share and A Roll with my Christmas Gift Ideas 2010 lens.
Thanks for sharing this cool lens...
Mary (author) from Chicago area on December 12, 2010:
@petermurray: not my style so much, but I read a great article about TSO in the Chicago Tribune that made me want to see one of their live shows! sounds like quite the experience.
Peter Murray from Izmir, Turkey on December 12, 2010:
Great lens, but you have missed the Christmas Trilogy by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. See my lens at http://squidoo.com/trans-siberian-christmas.
MagpieNest on December 11, 2010:
I didn't know Sarah Mclachlan had a Christmas CD. You've got some great choices in there.
Cath1125 on December 10, 2010:
Jackie Block from SE Michigan on December 09, 2010:
I have a few of these! Nice list. Thanks.
GrinningFool on December 09, 2010:
Christmas Music is one of my favorite! Thanks for sharing.
kougar lm on December 03, 2010:
Great Holiday music lens. I might have to go buy some mp3s. Thank-you
Mary (author) from Chicago area on December 03, 2010:
@anonymous: hi Stan! I do love the James Taylor album & play it a bunch. Never have been much of a Chicago fan, except for the name [ have lived in or near Chicago most of my life ;) ]
anonymous on December 03, 2010:
Any list that does not include the James Taylor CD and Chicago CD is well just an incomplete list.
sarita from Hisar on December 02, 2010:
Great lens... Thanks for sharing...
Yeti_Works on November 29, 2010:
Great lens! Quest helper!
noobeegin on November 21, 2010:
I personally love dean martin christmas songs. They are my favorite. However, Tony Bennett is a very close second.
Jhangora LM on November 19, 2010:
Like your selection. Thanx for the share.
supermom_in_ny on November 18, 2010:
Wow. You have a lot of stuff here that I never heard of. So cool. I love to listen to new stuff. Tired of the same old Christmas music in all of the malls...
Thumbs up for you!
anonymous on November 17, 2010:
You have a good selection here. Thumbs up.
delawson734 on November 15, 2010:
I'm glad to see Sarah MacLachlan's CD made your list. It is a great CD. I also like Jewel's Christmas CD.
chrissuard lm on November 10, 2010:
Great Choices, can't wait to go shopping and hear them in the stores.
Heidi Reina from USA on November 05, 2010:
What? No Mannheim Steamroller? Still a wonderful collection. I'll be sure to check out Ella's christmas music CD. Thanks for sharing it.
Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 28, 2010:
@anonymous: hi Michael--I previewed your CD--pretty stuff! Can't part with any of my all-time top 10, but congrats on making such a nice album, and thanks for stopping by.
anonymous on June 21, 2010:
Hi Would you please give a listen to my 'Dashing Through the Snow" CD to see if you might considerate it for your 2010 list? http://michaeljohnhallmusic.com/music.html
Ceeshell on December 13, 2009:
I had no idea that Low, Death Cab and The Polyphonic Spree had Christmas songs. It's nice that you featured cool Christmas albums for a wide variety of musical tastes.
Violin-Student on December 11, 2009:
I love Gardiner's 3-disc set of Messiah, as well as Trans Siberian Orchestra's and Mannheim Steamroller's albums. I had the good fortune to play with TSO's stringmaster Mark Wood a couple times. Great fun. Great albums.
Carolan Ross from St. Louis, MO on November 25, 2009:
Loved many of these in the past, having a different feeling about the holidays these days and made a lens about a totally different type of xmas music that's kinda quirky and crazy - lensrolled it here, very nice page presentation! 5*s!
Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on November 18, 2009:
Blessed, and featured, by a Christmas Angel (squidoo.com/angel-christmas)
lasertek lm on November 10, 2009:
Nice! Will purchase the A Charlie Brown Christmas for my kids. They will definitely enjoy listening to the carols. Thanks for adding it on your list.
Hope you could visit my lenses as well. Thanks again.
Kerri Bee from Upstate, NY on November 03, 2009:
Yay! Barenaked for the Holidays! I'm singing Elf's Lament all year long.
HorseAndPony LM on November 03, 2009:
Love the Christmas music. I am the same no shopping and out with the Christmas music. What a great lens. This has me excited for Christmas and it is not even Thanksgiving.
sheriangell on October 31, 2009:
Well my vote goes to Sarah McLachlan with her hauntingly beautiful voice. Great Lens!
Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on October 22, 2009:
love the lens, and my fave is Chris Isaak.
justholidays on October 18, 2009:
Nice lens! Will lensroll to my Marvelous Xmas Songs and Carols!
capriliz lm on October 17, 2009:
Great selections! I like the idea of Ella singing Christmas music.
Carol Goss on October 14, 2009:
Very nice lens, Music is my life. Thanks :)
momto4 lm on October 09, 2009:
One of my favorite things about Christmas time is the music. Great top 10 list! I'll have to get the Charlie Brown cd. My kids would love it! 5*'s!!
squid-janices7 on October 03, 2009:
Great list of CDs....I also love the Amy Grant holiday albums. Thanks and 5*!
SherryHolderHunt on September 30, 2009:
Super great music! See lots of my favorites here. 5*s
ElizabethJeanAl on September 30, 2009:
Lensroll to Using Lists to Lower Your Holiday Stress
ElizabethJeanAl on September 13, 2009:
I'm so looking forward to Christmas. If my husband would let me, I would play the music year-round.
Thanks for sharing.
clouda9 lm on June 27, 2009:
I love Christmas songs too. Actually could listen to em' all year long, if I could get away with it ;) Super list, most I had not heard of before. And your personal recommendations added real value to my visit here.
Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on June 25, 2009:
Very nice list! :)
Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 25, 2009:
[in reply to stargazer00] Dianne, thank you for the cute border images I borrowed from you for this lens!
Dianne Loomos on June 25, 2009:
I also love getting out my Christmas CDs after Thanksgiving. Well done.
bdkz on June 24, 2009:
Great list here!
bdkz on June 24, 2009:
Great list here!
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on June 23, 2009:
Nicely done; I love Christmas music in December.
seashell2 on June 23, 2009:
Love Christmas Music... for a couple of months! :-) We like Michael W. Smith and 98 Degrees! Lots of others too! Fun lens!