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

Posted December 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features



The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album
(Capitol, 1964)

The California sun heard on the Beach Boys’ barbershop harmonies tends to penetrate through the artic winds of winter, despite the jingly bells heard on “Little Saint Nick.” The boys stay true to their musical form on their perky rock n’ roll originals (“The Man With All the Toys,” “Santa’s Beard,” “Merry Christmas, Baby”). Surprisingly so, Brian Wilson and Mike Love leave enough room to rearrange family favorites like “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” using lots of pop-jazz orchestral gloss. The results are quite impressive.



Andy Williams
The Andy Williams Christmas Album
(Columbia, 1963)

They don’t call him Mister Christmas for nothing. Andy Williams – the ‘Moon River” crooner – inherited such a moniker when he culled out his first holiday album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album. “White Christmas” was released as the album’s lead single in 1963, but the album also hosted his eternal holiday classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the year” and the jovial pop-jazz of “Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season.”



Nat King Cole
The Magic of Christmas (The Christmas Song)
(Capitol, 1960)

Hearing the velvety voice of Nat “King” Cole at Christmas is the perfect inspiration to battle the harshly cold winters or any of the Grinch’s shenanigans. Producer Lee Gillette and conductor Ralph Carmichael gives Cole enough space to soothe the holiday lyrics into a frothy lather, while also locking all the tracks at three minutes a pop. Certainly the disc is bombarded with ballads (“The First Noel,” O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Holy Night”), but Cole sings them with such fervency. Magic of Christmas also hosts his fourth version of “The Christmas Song,” the first to be recorded in stereo and the one that’s mass produced to holiday compilations.



James Brown
Funky Christmas
(Polydor, 1995)

Funky Christmas, released in 1995, combines all of Brown’s holiday cheer from 1968 up to 1972. It includes most of the tracks from the 1968 LP A Soulful Christmas, 7” singles (“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” “Tit for Tat”), poverty-line blues tunes (“Santa Claus, Santa Claus”) even holiday b-sides (“Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas”). “I need help, can’t do it alone,” James Brown says on the funky opener “Go Power at Christmas Time.” Clearly, Brown is dressed as Saint Nick while his groovy elves (Bootsy Collins, Bobby Byrd) work the funky workshop. For those looking for juke joint blues with combustible proto-funk for seasons greetings, one needs to navigate towards Brown’s take of “Merry Christmas Baby” or his booty-shakin’ “Soulful Christmas.” Another favorite, “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year” sounds like a James Cleveland Sunday morning rouser, where his cornbread growl is out at its glorious zenith.



Vince Guaraldi Trio
A Charlie Brown Christmas

No Christmas in America could be complete without an introduction to Vince Guaraldi’s piano jazz. His approach to “O Tannenbaum” is simply one for the ages, executing the cool of Miles Davis and the smooth sailings of Herbie Hancock. The holiday disc, possibly the most popular and most beloved of his albums, feels like a labor of love, as Guaraldi’s arrangements transforms a host of holiday carols, such as the drive time kick-ass tempo of “Christmas Is Coming” an33 d “What Child is This?,” into drooling works of art for the smart jazz aficionado. “Linus and Lucy” is also preserved on the set. Executed by his trio (Jerry Granelli on drums, Fred Marshall on double bass), the music of A Charlie Brown Christmas is just as important to American pop culture than Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts itself.

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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