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

Posted December 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features



Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
(Rhino, 1999)

Take the 26-minute story of Dr. Seuss’s beloved-and-hated Grinch, decked with Whoville carols (“Trim Up the Tree,” “Welcome Christmas”) and transplant it on vinyl (or CD) and you’re bound to give kids both young and old a delightful stocking stuffer. Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) narrates the story, while Thurl Ravenscroft provides the infamous ghoulish Bing Crosby-esque vocal on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”



Barbra Streisand
A Christmas Album
(Columbia, 1967)

Barbra Streisand’s palette of easy listening is extended well into the holiday season on her 1967 best-selling holiday effort. Decked out with Marty Paich’s arrangements and Jack Gold’s super-glossy productions, the song selection visits a corral of hymns, carols and wise non-holiday choices. “My Favorite Things” gets dipped in “Evergreen” balladry, so does “Sleep in Heavenly Peace (Silent Night)” and her angelic take on “Godnod’s Ave Maria.” Only “Jingle Bells?” sounds totally different from the rest of the playlist. It plays like a speedy two-minute roller coaster that sounds like Dionne Warwick’s “Promises Promises” with ADHD. Overall, this kind of album proves to be the lifeline for the gauntlet of holiday albums distributed by the likes of Susan Boyle and Jackie Evancho. Streisand did it better.



It’s Christmas
(Verve, 2008)

Despite its underwhelming low profile, It’s Christmas, the holiday album by Oakland singer Ledisi, is a marvelous R&B-meets-jazz workout that exposes everything delectable about her Chaka-esque pipes. “Children Go Where I Send Thee” easily steals the show, but the originals “This Christmas (Could Be the One) and “Be There for Christmas” are just as tantalizing. Even with Ledisi’s killer chops getting much of the attention, the wise range of old school (“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”), Motown magic (“Give Love on Christmas Day”) and laidback lounge jazz (“It’s Christmas”) and lively production balances the affair.



Various Artists
A Very Special Christmas
(A&M, 1987)

A rare benefit holiday album combining Eighties pop music ambassadors, A Very Special Christmas was the brainchild of record producer Jimmy Iovine to help raise awareness for the Special Olympics. It had the numb illusion of looking like many year-round compilations, but the disc is an all-star program controlled by the artists themselves. There’s plenty to celebrate, like the Pointer Sisters’ gospel stamp on Bruce Springsteen’s take on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Bon Jovi’s bad boy rock on Clarence Carter’s ‘Back Door Santa,” Bono & the Edge rocking out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Run-D.M.C. spitting out their Queens, New York swag on their Stax-sampled funk (“Christmas in Hollis”). And of course, Madonna’s best pre-Breathless Mahoney impression on “Santa Baby” certainly became the album’s biggest punch-line. Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Sting, John Mellencamp, Bryan Adams and the Eurythmics help complete the set.



Mariah Carey
Merry Christmas
(Columbia, 1994)

Right before Mariah Carey set her attention on battling the next wind of R&B-turned-pop divas like Beyonce and Leona Lewis, she suited up for a Christmas event equivalent to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. Like the aforementioned, MC’s Merry Christmas was a crossover success, reaching epic proportions. Much of the album’s magnetism is drawn towards Mariah’s original “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Possibly the finest performance of a modern-day pop spectacle, the track marinates Phil Spector’s rock n’ roll with Motown fervor.  But it is her Aretha stuff that steals the show: “Silent Night,” “Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child” and “O Holy Night” put her into the pulpit of Whitney Houston gospel. And “Jesus Born On This Day,” another original, twists Handel’s Messiah into adult contemporary glory. Who would’ve thought that the “Touch My Body” had a knack for the newborn king.



Michael Bublé
(143/Reprise, 2011)

Bublé’s Christmas accomplishes what Frank Sinatra wish he had done on his holiday discs. He sounds cherry and fully enthused. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is a face-off with a mean double bass, the extra festive “Jingle Bells” swings with Andrews Sisters jazz, and household classics like “It’s Beginning to Look at Lot Like Christmas” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are warmly soaked with Bublé’s cozy vocals. “Santa Baby” may be awkwardly digested, since Eartha’s timeless coos for Saint Nick easily comes to mind, but his love for easy listening nostalgia and ability to tweak it for his generation of smooth crooning puts him in good company.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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