THE TOP TEN CHRISTMAS ALBUMS - EVER!
- Monday, November 30, 2009
'Tis the Season, Ya'll. The turkey leftovers are in the bag at the curb, and so marks the beginning of the season of aural mirth. There is no drought of Christmas music out there to choose from, but the last thing you want is for the mood to suddenly strike you with nothing to reach for but Kenny G. It's Jesus' birthday, so the soundtrack better RULE! Here are my personal favorites (in ascending order):10. A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS (Various Artists) - I know, I know. Eighties Christmas music: what a drag. But, this collection was released my freshman year in college and featured U2, Sting, Springsteen, and RUN-DMC (the Christmas song from "Die Hard" - something to watch while lighting the fifth advent candle). Merry Christmas to all and to all: parachute pants!
9. THE POLAR EXPRESS (Soundtrack) - Three words for ya: Tom Hanks sings! Well - almost. This album is so frenzied and jolly, it's like being force-fed elfin magic AND LOVING IT! The film itself was slightly too creepy to become an instant classic, but the soundtrack actually improves upon the moments that worked best. The one misstep is an inexplicable rockabilly number featuring Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. That's why Steven Tyler is so creepy: Elf Lineage. Other than that, musical fun for the whole family courtesy of James Horner, who also stuck Celine Dion on the Titanic - something we can all be thankful for.
8. SEASON'S GREETINGS (Perry Como) - Do you hear what I hear? It's Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole rolling over in their graves because they're not on this list. Simmer down, traditionalists. I'm as nostalgic as the best of them (actually, more so). The omission of some of the greats from this list is simply because the ENTIRE ALBUM is not a start-to-finish lambast of yuletide thrill. "White Christmas" and NKC's rendition of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" are among the best holiday-singles-that-completely-ignore-Jesus of all time, but the entire albums? 7 to 8 yawns apiece. Bing actually sings of the two locales least associated with winter: Hawaii and Ireland (?) Great job, Bing. Ease up on the hot rum toddies next year. Perry, on the other hand (though, if the proof is in the pudding, something smells like vanilla) has just the right mix of easy-listening and swanky nightclub to ring in merriment. Extra points because the production value drips of the late night hours and because Perry tells the Jesus story over a 10-minute muzak-opera to close out the album. Perhaps this was Green Day's inspiration for Jesus of Suburbia.
7. HOME ALONE Soundtrack (John Williams) - Is it possible that the best Christmas movie soundtrack of all time was from a film directed by Chris Columbus? It's possible if the composer is the emotion-savant John Freaking Williams. A perfect blend of classics, campy updates, and sentimental orchestration (both new and public domain) to keep your party hopping deep into an ill-advised viewing of "Fred Claus."
6. DECEMBER (George Winston) - I swear this man has at least seventeen fingers. Absolutely gorgeous piano solos that are played with as much emotion as skill, evoking images of wintery landscapes. Also, very VERY romantic for those who have permission to pursue that sort of activity.
5. JOY TO THE WORLD (The Boston Pops Orchestra Conducted by John Williams) - Yes, John F. Williams is back with the Boston Pops (the best American orchestra, in my opinion) and a full CHOIR. If you can't hop into the holiday spirit in a blitzenkrieg with this collection, you deserve coal in your stocking like Charlie Brown gots Halloween rocks - YEAH I SAID IT. Special guest Robin Williams' performance reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is a more fulfilling experience than a viewing of "Patch Adams" - of course, so is passing a kidney stone.
4. WHEN MY HEART FINDS CHRISTMAS (Harry Connick Jr.) - For a decade, I was beginning to wonder if it was possible for a modern composer to create a new Christmas song that would evoke warmth and nostalgia. Let's face it, there's only so many times you can listen to "Jingle Bells." The staggering truth is that HC2 created FIVE new pieces that rival the classics including one ("The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day") that could possibly be the most profound ever. Alongside these new classics, Harry reinterprets (and reinvigorates) several old faves. A merry-making tour de force.
3. THE SINATRA CHRISTMAS ALBUM (Frank Sinatra) - There are the expected hits ("Jingle Bells" (like only Frank can deliver), "The Christmas Song," and "The Christmas Waltz"), but the real gems here are "Mistletoe & Holly" and the flawless spiritual standards that comprise the entire second-half of the album. The most holiday fun you'll have this year while listening to someone funded by the mafia.2. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (Vince Guaraldi Trio) - It isn't just because of the television special (the single best Christmas special - no, holiday special - NO! Television Special - of all time). Vince Guaraldi was a jazz virtuoso who understood the power of simplicity and utilized it to full effect. From the haunting refrains of "Christmastime is Here" to the melancholy doo-doo-doo's that open "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," this is a holiday album that you don't so much hear as feel. This is also where "Linus & Lucy" came from, in case you were wondering.
1. THE ANDY WILLIAMS CHRISTMAS ALBUM - A perfect album must completely understand its purpose as a whole, not just as a collection of songs. Hence, a perfect Christmas album must understand that it has to both kick-start and wind-down the party - that it needs to celebrate merry abandon while reverently admiring the Savior born. It should be passionate and ecstatic. Robust and sparse. And it should work in a room of 200 people as well as it plays for you alone sitting by the fire staring out the window into the snow. Andy Williams created Christmas music because he loved Christmas. He believed in everything about the holiday. That belief comes out in this stirring collection that doesn't feel like it was aching for a radio single. And for those detractors who don't think the boy can sing, listen to him hold his own on "Sweet Little Jesus Boy." When he begins singing of what we eventually did to that baby on the cross, you can hear remorse and grace intermingle. Do yourself a favor: snuggle up with your honey to this remarkable work.
And there you have it: my opinion. The ornament's in your court. Agree? Disagree? Let your caroling voice be heard below!
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