33 1/3 Holiday Albums You Better Have…Or Else

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Posted December 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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Various Artists
A Motown Christmas
(Motown, 1973)

Originally released as a gatefold double-LP affair, A Motown Christmas hastened Berry Gordy’s finest acts around the mistletoe and the spiked egg nog, becoming one of the greatest holiday albums ever to be assembled by an American music label. The Jackson 5 offer up their teen pop delicacies (“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Give Love on Christmas Day”), the Supremes recycles some of holiday treats before their big 1970 breakup (“Silver Bells,” “My Favorite Things”) and Stevie Wonder echoes the youthfulness of his Little Stevie era (“Someday at Christmas,” “What Christmas Means to Me”). There’s plenty to be merry about: The Temptations gives Eddie Kendricks more front time on “Rudolph the Red Noised Reindeer” and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles delight with “Jingle Bells” and their clever medley of “Deck the Halls” with “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” Certainly an overabundance of Motown gems have popped up over the years (see 2009’s The Ultimate Motown Christmas) and there’s simply too many Motown acts missing from this compilation, but this 1972 set presents the label in their finest garb of tinsel.

 

3

Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
(Verve, 1960)

The jazzy Ella, bolstered with her bubbly personality, offers up some of her finest scatting on a Big Band showdown that puts Santa on the dance floors of the Cotton Club. Frank DeVol’s excellent orchestra plays with inventive arrangements of household favorites. Picking favorites are virtually impossible, but the one-two punch of Duke Ellington-spiked “Jingle Bells” and the flirtatious jazz-pop of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” are inexpungible to the brain.

 

2

Elvis Presley
Elvis’ Christmas Album
(RCA, 1957)

Elvis wasn’t called the king by happenstance. You can hear him shaking his blue suede shoes to “Santa Bring My Baby Back” on his illustrious sought-out 1957 holiday album. And his rendering of the Leiber/Stoller bluesy showdown “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” is one for the ages. But Presley’s charm, soulful stride and hunk o’ burnin’ love is equally matched with the Jordanaires’ tight-knit harmonies and a perfect balance of sacred (“Silent Night,” “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” “Peace in the Valley”) and secular (“Here Comes Santa Claus,” the ever-popular “Blue Christmas”).

 

1

Various Artists
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
(Philles, 1963)

The first family of the Wall of Sound pulls off the finest representation of a rock n’ roll Christmas. Inside, Darlene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and Bobb B. Soxx & Blue Jeans cozy up for a festive shindig sprouting baroque pop arrangements of lesser-known holiday gems (“The Bells of St. Mary,” “Marshmallow World”) and trusty youth-driven reinventions. Look at the Crystals’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” where it sounds like something coming out of the sessions of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. No wonder the Boss decided to deck the halls with his own cover of the holiday classic in 1981. And it is those arrangements on A Christmas Gift for You that are best remembered as the official blueprints of Christmas pop. Just listen to Darlene Love fantasizing of white snow while nestled in sunny L.A. on the string induced “White Christmas.” The lyrical add-on makes better sense than dreaming of a white Christmas in typical New York.  But it is Love’s magical sleigh ride on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that easily steals the show. The begging and pleading is so good, it could be played all year-long.

 

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About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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