Radio stations across America started playing Christmas (sorry, holiday) music at least a few weeks ago, but I refuse to acknowledge any of it until Thanksgiving dessert is done. So now that it’s officially safe to enjoy some holiday tuneage, I thought I’d pass along some of my personal favorites to you. Because not all Christmas music is crap.
Let’s just get this one out of the way now. I defy anyone to hear any part of “Skating” or “My Little Drum” and not be instantly transported back to their childhood. I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said a million times about A Charlie Brown Christmas, so I’ll just implore you to add this to your collection even if you hate Christmas music. Just be careful what version you purchase, as a 2006 remaster edition released by Concord Records has been met with much scorn (details on that here).
Los Straitjackets, for those not familiar, are a modern-day surf rock revival band known for their wild live shows and their penchant for wearing Mexican wrestling masks. ‘Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets! is basically their surf-tinged take on a baker’s dozen of holiday standards like “A Marshmallow World” and “Sleigh Ride.” It’s fun without being silly, and offers a fresh perspective on some very old songs.
The Christmas line of the uber-retro Ultra-Lounge series is definitely an example of the law of diminishing returns, but the first entry is splendid. While the presence of gold standard yuletide tunes like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Dean Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” lend this set the appropriate amount of suave ’50s hipness, it’s the offbeat period pieces like “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo”, “Holiday on Skis”, and “Jingle Bells Bossa Nova” that will keep you coming back for more.
For those who like a little less schmaltz and a little more soul with their holidays, you can’t go wrong with The Jackson 5 Christmas Album. Wait until you’ve downed a few egg nogs before listening to this, however — you’ll still look like a dumbass while dancing to “Up on the House Top” but at least you won’t care.
You’ve probably heard “Little Saint Nick” at least 20 times, so why not make it 21? Not everything on The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album is a keeper, but the highlights (“The Man with All the Toys”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” among them) are well worth the price of admission. Newer editions of this LP contain the group’s a capella rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.” While it’s not a holiday song per se, the harmonies are to die for and it’s worth hearing.
What could be more classy and timelessly hip during the holidays than unwrapping presents while A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra plays in the background? Nothing, pally, that’s what. So don’t give me any of that bunk about how those new holiday albums are where it’s at. You haven’t experienced Christmas until you’ve heard Ol’ Blue Eyes croon “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “Silent Night.” Ring-a-ding-ding, indeed.
You’ve heard Tchaikovsky’s immortal work countless times, so isn’t it time to mix things up a bit? Nutcracker Suite for Guitar is the 1985 debut of the extremely talented classical guitarist, Stevan Pasero. You may have a hard time tracking this down, but it’s worth it if you can. It’s a very mellow and relaxing take on the Nutcracker — perfect for any moments of down time you can get during the holidays.
— various artists
Hey, why not? Hawaiin slack key guitar may not be your cup of tea, but Ki Ho’alu Christmas: Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar is not without its charms. Most of the songs here are tastefully done instrumentals, and can lend some much-needed tranquility to your Christmas proceedings.
GFS Bonus: Christmas songs you need to own
- Pretty much anything featuring Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters
- “Wonderful Christmastime” — Wings
- “Blue Christmas” — Elvis Presley
- “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” — The Chipmunks
- “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” — John Lennon
- “Jingle Bell Rock” — Bobby Helms
- “Little Drummer Boy” — Low
- “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” — Andy Williams
- “A Holly Jolly Christmas” — Burl Ives
- “Christmas at Ground Zero” — “Weird Al” Yankovic
- “Jungle Bells” — The Four Seasons
- “Frosty the Snowman” — Jimmy Durante
- Just about anything by Louis Armstrong, but particularly “Christmas in New Orleans” and “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”
- “The Christmas Song” — Mel Tormé
- “Christmas in Hollis” — Run-D.M.C.
- “Thank God It’s Christmas” — Queen
- “Christmas Wrapping” — The Waitresses
- “Peace on Earth / The Little Drummer Boy” — Bing Crosby and David Bowie
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