If you’re like me, most Christmas music makes you want to stab yourself in the eyeball with a sharpened candy cane. Luckily, since everyone and their mother has attempted a holiday album (I mean, most of them are X-mas-centric), there are some gems in the mix.
The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album/Christmas With the Beach Boys
The Beach Boys and Christmas music go together like Christmas and getting drunk. It’s an obvious choice, sure, but this album also wins because of the originals, which they put just as much effort into as their regular classics. “The Man With All the Toys” kicks enough ass to be listened to all year round.
Some would say the greatest Christmas album of all time, featuring classic productions by Phil Spector, with The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love and other Spector favorites. Every other version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” sucks compared to this one.
Bing Crosby is the king of Christmas music, and with good reason. So why include this compilation instead of his better-known Merry Christmas or White Christmas albums? Because this one includes his insane duet of “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie. It was recorded for a TV special shortly before Crosby’s death in 1977, while Bowie was in the midst of his “Berlin” phase. Bowie didn’t love “Drummer Boy,” so the counterpoint “Peace on Earth” tune was written especially for this performance. It’s a strange pairing for the ages, one you can giggle about while your family enjoys the good ol’ classics.
These two, five-disc sets of holiday music by the indie troubador define overkill, sure, but they’re a lot to sift through. You’ll find a Guided By Voices-ish goof on “Jingle Bells” and a nine-minute glitchy, Kraftwerkian take on “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” but you’ll also find lots of legitimate, literary acoustic loveliness throughout. Now someone make me a one-disc set of highlights, please.
Johnny Cash’s rough hewn voice sounds grandfatherly singing originals and classics. His “Christmas As I Knew It” lends a much-needed dose of gratefulness and humility in this era of grandma punching at Walmart for cheap towels, while his duet with wife June Carter Cash on “Christmas With You” is as sweet as can be.
Something about the holidays makes you want to curl up and relive fuzzy childhood memories. The Carpenters are sort of the musical equivalent of that feeling, and their Christmas Collection is slow, schmaltzy and strangely morose, just like all those feelings!
“Everyone grab their egg nog and Hennessey!” There are about a million great quotes on this.
A must if you have kids (or for the kid in YOU!!!). This was reissued for Record Store Day, but you can also find it cheaply used on CD.
’Tis the Season
OK, it’s a Starbucks comp. But this is one place you can pick up both Cocteau Twins’ ethereal “Winter Wonderland” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” two alt Christmas classics worth their weight in Grande Pumpkin Spice Lattes, plus there are classic Christmas songs by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and other stuffy old favorites.
Cult composer Eban Schletter, who has composed music for cult comedy TV show “Mr. Show,” takes Christmas to classic sci-fi territory with the theramin-laced Cosmic Christmas. Even Carl Sagan celebrated at Christmas time.
Shop more holiday music here.
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