Saturday, December 23, 2023



I'm bonkers about Christmas music. Bonkers! I've owned more holiday albums than most people have in their entire library. I've got playlists galore, because most holiday albums aren't great from start to finish. Heck, you're lucky to find one great new song or one fresh cover in a holiday album. And for many reasons, more artists are putting out holiday albums than ever before. So DON'T just turn on the radio or tell your home speaker to "play Christmas music!" You'll hear the same obvious songs over and over again. Instead, here are some of the best Christmas albums of all time. Enjoy! 

Below that I have playlists which contain tracks from all of these albums and classic Christmas tunes (like John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and Wham's "Last Christmas" to name just two) that don't appear on a Christmas album by those artists. You'll find links to my themed playlists perfect for all  occasions. 

First, here's a link to my take on 100+ Christmas albums.


ELLA FITZGERALD -- Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas 

No singer is more effortlessly joyful than Ella Fitzgerald. So it's no surprise her holiday album would be a winner. You'll find some religious-themed albums among my Hall of Famers below. But I'm strongly biased towards secular Christmas songs. "What Child Is This?" has its place, but usually not while I'm tootling around town or hosting a party. Ella swings Christmas classics from the jaunty opener "Jingle Bells" (which ends with Ella declaring with glee "I'm just crazy 'bout horses!") to the inevitable closer "White Christmas." It's effervescent and spirit-raising and impeccable from start to finish. A delight. 

NOTE: A CD reissue and some streaming services tack on another three to six tracks, including alternate takes. You may not think it matters much -- and there's nothing wrong with the extra tracks. But no. Stop it after "White Christmas" or turn the album into a playlist and cut off the bonus tracks. It's twelve songs long and works best that way. Trust me!


Here are holidays albums I consider nigh on perfect. You can play them from start to finish with nary a bum track. They're a rarity among the hundreds or maybe thousands of Christmas albums I've listened to over the decades. If you love the artist and/or the genre, you'll probably enjoy them. 

All these albums earned either *** 1/2 or a perfect **** out of **** stars. You've got jazzy easy listening with Herb Alpert, a Latin classic with Willie Colon and friends, Ella's swinging gem, the nostalgic glow of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Odetta taking us to church, Phil Spector rocking out Christmas songs like no one ever before and more. Something for everyone!

HERB ALPERT -- Christmas Album (1968)   

THE CARPENTERS -- Christmas Portrait ((1978 original version) 

JUDY COLLINS -- Winter Stories (w Jonas Fjeld and Chatham County Line) 

WILLIE COLON, HECTOR LAVOE AND YOMO TORO -- Asalto Navideño (1971/1973)  

BING CROSBY --  Merry Christmas aka White Christmas (many editions)  
                                 Sings Christmas Songs 

ELLA FITZGERALD -- Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas   

VINCE GUARALDI -- A Charlie Brown Christmas   

EMMYLOU HARRIS  -- Light Of The Stable  

THE LIVING SISTERS -- Harmony Is Real: Songs For A Happy Holiday  

LOS LOBOS -- Llegó Navidad  

AIMEE MANN -- One More Drifter In The Snow   

WYNTON MARSALIS -- Crescent City Christmas Card  

JOHNNY MATHIS -- Merry Christmas    

WILLIE NELSON -- Pretty Paper   

ODETTA -- Christmas Spirituals (1960)  
                     Christmas Spirituals aka Beautiful Star (1987)  (new recordings of songs from 1960) 

THE PERSUASIONS -- You're All I Want For Christmas  

LOU RAWLS -- Merry Christmas From Lou Rawls (2009 ep reissue)  
                             Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (1967)  

MARTIN SEXTON -- Camp Holiday  

SIA -- Everyday Is Christmas

FRANK SINATRA -- Christmas Dreaming (1950 Columbia)  
                                      Christmas Songs By Frank Sinatra (1949 Columbia)  

JIMMY SMITH -- Christmas Cookin' aka Christmas '64  
PHIL SPECTOR -- A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records   

SUFJAN STEVENS -- Songs For Christmas Vol 1-5  

SUFJAN STEVENS -- Silver & Gold Vol. 6-10 

DYLAN THOMAS -- A Child's Christmas In Wales and other poems  

TRACEY THORN -- Tinsel and Lights   


GEORGE WINSTON -- December  


A Big Band Christmas (Columbia, 1988)  

Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas (Verve, 1989)  

Hipster's Holiday (1989)  

I'll Be Home For Christmas: Songs That Won The War  

The Original Soul Christmas (Atlantic, 1968)  

Where Will You Be Christmas Day 


If you have access to Amazon Music, here are links to my Christmas playlists. I'm nuts, as you can see and prefer playlists that run about 40-50 minutes. Plus, I need playlists for different audiences, so I have 20 or so in different styles. Traditional is for when I'm around my mom and older folks, pop for people who just want the hits and Hip is for the cool folk who aren't afraid to get offbeat. But I realize most folk are NOT that particular and just want to tap on a playlist and let it ride. So here are four. When I get the chance, I'll list the songs in each in case some fanatic like me wants to recreate my playlists on their own streaming service. 


(This contains hundreds of songs in every style. For maximum enjoyment, play it on SHUFFLE. Otherwise you'll hear all Traditional songs, then Pop and then Hip and that won't work well. You will DEFINITELY discover some new holiday songs that will become favorites. But you won't go a song or two before hearing another gem you know well.) 


(This has the oldies but goodies by Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee and so on. Perfect for that warm glow of nostalgia when you're around parents or grandparents or those who like it very old school. I've actually programmed it to flow naturally. So while you CAN spin it on shuffle, I'd recommend you just click on the first track and let it play it in order.) 


(This has the big pop hits from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Kelly Clarkson and so on. Hey, I guess to some folks this is oldies music, but you get the idea. Again, I'm not just throwing in tons of songs randomly. Like the Traditional MegaMix, this combines about five or six playlists. Each playlist was crafted for maximum pleasure, so I recommend you just start at the begining. Shuffle works fine too, but don't blame me if you hear three slow songs in a row!)


(Ok, I'm not THAT hip. But this playlist contains all sorts of tracks in various styles and is a little off the beaten track. Canada's Barenaked Ladies with an amusing spin on "Deck The Halls," organist Jimmy Smith with a very cool jam on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Ron Sexsmith's mournful gem "Maybe This Christmas" and much more in every imaginable genre. For the cool people in your life. As with the Traditional and Pop mixes, you can spin this on shuffle but just playing it in order is ideal.) 




Michael -- Well Done!

Three exceptional albums (exceptional as in "pretty damn great" and exceptional as in "they ain't on many other lists) come to mind:

Bruce Cockburn -- Christmas

Folk treatments of traditional religious songs -- all wrapped with Bruce's guitar and lovely voice.

The Roches -- We Three Kings

The sisters' beautiful harmonies lift a nice collection of religious and secular faves.

Salsoul Orchestra -- Christmas Jollies

Set the WayBack Machine to the seventies! I always thought I was the only fan of this baby then this week I heard Questlove on NPR and one of the ten in his "Questlove Christmas" Spotify playlist including a cut from the Orchestra!

I could go on :-) but let's leave it there and get ready for the traditional Christmas eve with Phil Spector and Sharon Jones!

Ho Ho Ho

Michael Giltz said...

Hey fellow Burning Wood fan! Thanks for the suggestions! I will be checking them out pronto and don't hesitate to go on. I haven't listed every Xmas album I've checked out but chances are if you love it and it's not on the list, your suggestions will be new to me. Happy holidays! Stay safe and warm.

Michael Giltz said...

Almost done w The Roches and a lot to love. I suppose the era of the CD is how we got a 24 track Christmas album lasting an hour!