Christmastime is upon us, my favorite time of the year. Wrapping presents, watching Christmas movies, baking goodies with friends, I love all the stuff. I especially love Christmas music. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who don’t, and given how corporatized the holiday has become (malls and big-box stores selling and blasting holiday music as early as October), it’s easy to see why. To people who are not into it I say only this “you are not listening to the right Christmas albums.” Below are my top recommend Christmas albums, all classics, all guaranteed to be great music for the holidays, and even if you just want to hear a good tune. (If you Spotify, you can check each of these albums out on this playlist!) *All album links are to their Spotify streams
1. Merry Christmas – Johnny Mathis (1958)
In my house, it’s just not Christmas until this album is playing. No opening presents, no acknowledgement whatsoever. I have never celebrated the holiday without this classic. What’s so great about it? Major points go to Johnny Mathis‘ enthusiastic enunciation. His singing shapes lyrics around his unique vocal style, and makes Christmas classics just sound enticing, exciting, and beautiful. If you have never experienced any of Johnny Mathis’ music, this album is a great place to start, taking familiar tunes, and showcasing Mathis’ singing talents. Born in 1935, Mathis is known for his jazzy and soulful voice, often singing classic pop standards, and at 76 years of age, he is STILL touring and filling concert halls.
Notable Tracks: “Sleigh Ride”, “Silver Bells”, “Winter Wonderland”
2. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole (1960)
Although Nat King Cole‘s first and only Christmas album recorded during his life was The Magic of Christmas released in 1960, the album was reissued in 1963 and re-titled The Christmas Song, named for Cole’s holiday staple “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)“. The song was actually written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944, but was first recorded by Nat King Cole when he was performing as a part of the King Cole Trio for Capitol Records in 1946. “The Christmas Song” is one of the most well-known Christmas songs of the 20th Century, however, Cole contributed his remarkable voice to many Christmas classics. This album features those beautiful orchestral arrangements featuring a full choir of vocal accompaniment, uplifting string, wind and brass arrangements, and that smooth, dignified, baritone voice Cole is known for.
Notable Tracks: “The Christmas Song”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Caroling, Caroling”, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, “O Tannenbaum (In German)”
The impact of Nat King Cole on music and society is just too great to put into words. He impressed the world not only through his professional, well-spoken, and neat appearance, he built bridges for African-Americans in a time when they were much less appreciated in society. Cole presented himself as a well-spoken, educated, multi-lingual, and talented musician, and it was a true heartbreak worldwide when he died of lung cancer in 1965.
3. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guaraldi (1965)
This album is perfect for those who don’t want to hear all those sing-along classics, as it is mostly instrumental. Composed by Vince Guaraldi and recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio for the television special A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, the show’s soundtrack has become just as popular as the television show. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first animated television show for the Peanuts comic strip, and when the idea was first brought to CBS, the production crew was more skeptical than thrilled. However, with a tight budget it was pulled together and has become the classic holiday program we know and love, with an outstanding jazz soundtrack (that CBS also was not thrilled about) to accompany the Peanuts crew in their quest for the meaning of Christmas.
Featuring jazz renditions of classics like “The Christmas Song”, “What Child Is This”, and “The Little Drummer Boy” (titled “My Little Drum”), it is actually the original songs that really make this album. Songs like “Skating” and “Christmas Is Coming” are imprinted in the minds of fans, this album also introduced the track “Linus and Lucy” which became the theme for future Peanuts television program,s and the now holiday standard “Christmastime Is Here”.
Notable Tracks: “Christmastime is Here”, “My Little Drum”, “Christmas Is Coming”, “Linus and Lucy”
4. Jackson 5 Christmas Album (1970)
There are three main reasons to love the Jackson 5 Christmas Album:  It’s great,  Michael Jackson was still young, black, and less weird,  it’s possibly the best Christmas album you will ever hear from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yep, that’s right, as a family that associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination of Christianity, the Jackson family did not observe Christmas, but they certainly knew how to sing the songs.
Released in 1970, a year after the debut Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, the J5 band had released two more albums that year and were at top of the charts. The band’s star Michael Jackson was only 12 years old, and while tracks featured vocals from Jermaine and minor parts from the other brothers, Michael is the standout vocalist on the record with his powerful, young voice. Produced by Motown’s infamous “The Corporation“, these soulful arrangements of holiday classics are soulful, dance-able, and the perfect accompaniment to keeping stress down while cooking up that holiday spread in the oven. The album was re-released with extra tracks, remixes, and ‘holiday greetings’ from the Jacksons in 2009 as Ultimate Christmas Collection.
Notable Tracks: “Give Love On Christmas Day”, “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town”, “Up on the Housetop”, “Someday At Christmas”
5. A Motown Christmas – Various Artists (1973)
This Christmas compilation is a favorite for many reasons, but mainly, it features most of Motown’s best artists in their prime with the label. This album boasts Christmas tunes from The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, and of course Jackson 5. With 25 soulful Motown-renditions of the Christmas classics, I have to hear this album during the holidays. Also, it features the great Temptations-version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (performed by the California Raisins)” that most of us will remember from that amazing “A Claymation Christmas Celebration” 1987 television special (I still have that recorded to VHS and watch it EVERY YEAR).
Notable Tracks: “Deck the Halls/Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (The Temptations, “Ave Maria” (Stevie Wonder)
Thanks and PLEASE enjoy!
My Christmas Album (Spotify): This playlist features songs from this list and other faves of mine, a mix of old and new.
HipsterSpinster Top 5 Christmas Albums (Spotify): The is a playlist of all the albums mentioned in this post!