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Candy CanesThis was a tough list to make. Choosing the best twenty Christmas albums from among over 1000 Christmas albums I own was a bit like choosing which of my children I love best (if, of course, I had any children). While almost all of those thousand-plus platters have their flaws, every single one of them has at least one reason why I cherish them, reasons why they make my life (or at least my Christmas) a little better.

So, I cheated. Below, you'll find two lists spanning forty albums - twenty recorded by individual artists and twenty compiling songs by various artists - the latter of which, I must admit, reads like a love letter to Rhino Records. In the end, though, I believe I was very democratic and consumer-oriented. These are records I know you'll be happy you bought (assuming you act on my recommendations), and they contain a preponderance of my Top 100 Christmas Songs. About five are flawless - indisputable masterpieces - and the rest come very, very close to that mark. No doubt, however, I left off some of your favorites. Drop me a line...

Randy Anthony

Top 20 Christmas AlbumsTop 20 Christmas Albums (Individual Artists)

Elvis Presley 1. Elvis Presley, If Everyday Was Like Christmas (RCA, 1994)
I'm not sure I'd call Elvis' original Christmas albums perfect, but this reissue - compiling every track from both records - sure is. From 1957's strangely conflicted Elvis' Christmas Album (mixing tawdry burlesques with reverential gospel) to 1971's more measured and mature Wonderful World Of Christmas, it's all on If Every Day Was Like Christmas - brilliantly remastered and copiously annotated... [read more]
Ventures 2. The Ventures, Christmas Album (Dolton, 1965)
The Ventures were the most popular instrumental group of the early 60's, and their guitar-driven rock was ideally suited for the holiday season. Christmas Album rocks along in a jolly mood - not too hard, not too soft, just right for making spirits bright. What elevates the record to immortality, though, is the gimmick: each track integrates a hit song into the arrangement of a time-honored standard... [read more]
Beach Boys 3. The Beach Boys, Ultimate Christmas (Capitol, 1998)
While not the hardest rocking stuff, the Beach Boys' Christmas music is some of the warmest and most heartfelt you'll ever find under your tree. Ultimate Christmas compiles every holiday track the group ever recorded, including all of 1964's classic Beach Boys Christmas Album and a variety of tracks recorded over the next decade for a never-released followup... [read more]
James Brown 4. James Brown, Funky Christmas (Polygram, 1995)
No disrespect to the Godfather, but James Brown's Funky Christmas is a side-splitter. In the name of peace, harmony, and relevance, he bends over backwards musically and lyrically, twisting his songs and logic till they resemble a funky pretzel. Despite his contortions, Brown succeeds in making Christmas "mean something this year" - no small accomplishment during the turbulent sixties... [read more]
Emmylou Harris 5. Emmylou Harris, Light Of The Stable (Warner Brothers, 1979)
Even Nashville's best and brightest often sleepwalk through a few hoary old holiday chestnuts and pick up their check. Light Of The Stable, on the other hand, earns its keep - a mixture of traditional mountain music and hippie country hoedown, exuding a warm Christmas glow. Many great Christmas records evoke a curious combination of melancholy and joy, and Harris' album captures this feeling perfectly... [read more]
Jackson Five 6. Jackson Five, Christmas Album (Motown, 1970)
When the Jackson 5 burst upon the scene in the early 70's, they appeared to be the salvation of Motown. Turned out, they were the label's last hurrah. Nevertheless, the J5's Christmas Album is a fine example of why people looked to them with such hope. The album brims with energy and inventiveness, and the group's reinterpretations of hoary old Christmas classics are still being imitated... [read more]
Charles Brown 7. Charles Brown, Sings Christmas Songs (King, 1961)
The unofficial king of Christmas music, mellow singer/pianist Charles Brown earned his crown on the basis of just two songs: "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home For Christmas." Brown simply had an affinity for Christmas music, and his 1961 long-player, Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs, is filled with the same seductive, charming groove that makes those two big holiday hits so great... [read more]
Booker T & The MG's 8. Booker T. & The MG's, In The Christmas Spirit (Stax, 1966)
Booker T. & The MG's walk the perfect line between easy listening and soul. The MG's southern stew is in abundance on In The Christmas Spirit, but their treatment of these traditional Christmas carols never traverses the boundaries of good taste. The MG's were too just cool for school, and listening to their fresh take on these old standards is like a refreshing breeze on a hot, sticky Memphis day... [read more]
Temptations 9. The Temptations, Christmas Card (Motown, 1970)
All of Motown's Christmas music is pretty great, but the mighty Temptations cut the merriest, mellowest LP of them all. On Christmas Card, the Temptations soulful command of their material is staggering. The group's impossibly smooth "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" really has to be heard to be believed, and their take on Jimmy Webb's "My Christmas Tree" delivers an emotional knockout punch... [read more]
John Fahey 10. John Fahey, The New Possibility (Takoma, 1968)
The prickly heart of folkie John Fahey seemed to grow three sizes when faced with the true meaning of Christmas. His Christmas Guitar Soli versions of holiday favorites are achingly honest and emotionally naked while retaining only a hint of his usual misanthropy. Fahey lends subtle new interpretations to tired old yuletide tunes, and they blow away any superficially similar "new age" albums... [read more]
Vince Guaraldi 11. Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965)
I enshrine A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) here not because it's a jazz classic - it's a fine example of post-bop piano trio, particularly on the Vince Guaraldi originals. I mention it, rather, because it conjures the Christmas joy of my childhood better than any album I own. If you, like me, watched the annual "Peanuts" Christmas TV special with rapt awe, you'll understand... [read more]
Gene Autry 12. Gene Autry, Complete Columbia Recordings (Varese, 2004)
Finally, every precious Christmas song this famous singing cowboy cut for Columbia comes home to roost in one spot! Previous compilations were excellent, but they overlooked songs as essential as "Merry Texas Christmas, You All" and "Thirty-Two Feet - Eight Little Tails." Beautifully mastered, annotated, and packaged, Complete Columbia Recordings is perfect! [read more]
Brenda Lee 13. Brenda Lee, Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree (MCA, 1998)
If Charles Brown is the unofficial king of Christmas, Brenda Lee is the unofficial queen. She recorded just one preeminent hit (the title track), but it's a song that defines the golden age of Christmas rock. All of Lee's early Christmas recordings are compiled on Decca Christmas Recordings, from the quaint "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus" to the effervescent "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day"... [read more]
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles 14. The Miracles, Our Very Best Christmas (Motown, 1999)
Only a handful on Christmas albums came out of Motown during their "Golden Decade" from 1962 to 1971. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, however, chalked up two full holiday platters, including the label's first-ever seasonal release. Both of those records were quite good, and Motown's compilation, Our Very Best Christmas, does an expert job of excerpting just the right tracks... [read more]
Beatles

15. The Beatles, Ultimate Christmas Album (Vigotone, 1998)
Among the thousands of records I own, there resides but one bootleg - The Ultimate Beatles Christmas Collection. Released on the storied Vigotone imprint, it is a CD package that would put Rhino Records to shame, containing each the band's annual fan club flexi-discs; top-quality copies of several solo Christmas singles; and about two dozen rare tracks - radio greetings, live snippets, rough mixes, etc. Nearly 20 years later, Capitol finally released the flexi-discs commercially, but only as a 7-inch vinyl boxed set, The Christmas Records. [read more]

Louis Armstrong 16. Louis Armstrong, What A Wonderful Christmas (Hip-O, 1997)
Part shrill exploitation, part joyful noise, What A Wonderful Christmas is a case study in modern seasonal marketing. On one hand, it's a various artist package masquerading as a Louis Armstrong album. Plus, it doesn't even have the song it is named after - one of Satchmo's signature tunes. On the other, the music is incredible - the brightest lights in jazz celebrating the season... [read more]
Ray Charles 17. Ray Charles, Spirit Of Christmas (Columbia, 1985)
I wasn't prepared to like The Spirit Of Christmas, nearly as much as I did. It was cut well after Ray's 50's and 60's prime, and I figured it would have a middle-of-the-road feel. Not so. While it isn't as funky as it would have been if recorded in, say, 1959, it percolates with the big band energy and stately grace that have come to characterize Ray's best later work... [read more]
Dwight Yoakam 18. Dwight Yoakam, Come On Christmas (Reprise, 1997)
Imbued with the qualities that made Dwight Yoakam so important to modern country music - his musicianship, his inventiveness, his humor, and his insatiable thirst for the next cool sound - Come on Christmas has all the swagger and adventurousness of Yoakam's very best work, from the ambient title track to a cajun romp through "Silver Bells" to some slammin' twang-core on "Run Rudolph Run"... [read more]
Huey Smith & The Clowns 19. Huey Smith, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas (Ace, 1962)
Like a personification of New Orleans itself, Huey "Piano" Smith and his Clowns sound as if they could withstand a hurricane with their irrepressible good humor intact. When they grafted their trademark sound onto the wonderful world of Christmas, the results were merry indeed. The ten songs on 'Twas The Night Before Christmas seem to flow from one to the next with nary a break in the fun... [read more]
Chet Atkins 20. Chet Atkins, Christmas With Chet Atkins (Hip-O, 1997)
If you appreciate the artistry or the craft of Chet Atkins, you'll understand why this is one of my Christmas favorites. Compared to many of my choices, however, this is a pretty tame record. That does little to dampen my enthusiasm for this gentle album. Easy listening? Sure. Memorable? You betcha. Heart warming? Absolutely, and I'd recommend this for any Christmas party - hip or otherwise... [read more]

Top 20 Christmas AlbumsTop 20 Christmas Albums (Various Artists)

Soul Christmas

1. Soul Christmas (Atco, 1968)
Whoa, baby, this is the real thing - every cut is a bona fide classic, from Clarence Carter's nasty "Back Door Santa" to Joe Tex's sanctified "Make Every Day Christmas (For Your Woman)" to Otis Redding's stark reinterpretation of White Christmas." Soul Christmas is a classic of soul and Christmas - and one that belongs in the collection of anyone who claims to know anything about either... [read more]

Phil Spector 2. A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (Philles, 1963)
Über-producer Phil Spector never topped his 1963 LP, A Christmas Gift For You. He made better singles (barely), but he never released a full-length album with the power, majesty, and humor of this widely acknowledged classic. While all collectors should experience first hand this album that has influenced so many, Spector's Christmas Gift is indispensable for aficionados of Christmas rock... [read more]
Motown Christmas 3. A Motown Christmas (Motown, 1996)
What a deal! Remastered, expanded, and budget-priced, A Motown Christmas is an updated version of a 1973 two-LP set containing highlights from six albums by the Supremes, Miracles, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Jackson 5. People forget that Motown was an incredibly inventive and prolific hit factory for more than a decade. Do yourself a favor - rediscover "The Sound Of Young America"... [read more]
Doo Wop Christmas 4. Doo Wop Christmas (Rhino, 1992)
There was no form of rock 'n' roll more pure than doo wop. Performed simply for the joy of it, it is the closest thing rock n' roll has to sacrament. When doo wop met the similarly pure world of Christmas music, good things were bound to happen. The performances on Doo Wop Christmas range from ecstatic (the Penguins) to destitute (the Orioles), illustrating why doo wop fans are such a devoted bunch... [read more]
Punk Rock Xmas 5. Punk Rock Xmas (Rhino, 1995)
Compiling 18 chunks of yule noise, Punk Rock Xmas is the one record on my "Top 20 Albums" list that is undoubtedly not for everyone. Loud, irreverent, and occasionally scatological, it nevertheless captures the joy of Christmas - just in reverse. These are songs for people who love to hate Christmas, and there's room for them, too, in our winter wonderland... [read more]
Hillbilly Holiday 6. Hillbilly Holiday (Rhino, 1988)
Now sadly out-of-print, Hillbilly Holiday mines the rich vein of Christmas gold running though the golden age of country music - when hillbillies still made hillbilly music. The eighteen songs herein barely begin to tell the story (no Gene Autry, for instance), but they serve as an excellent introduction for neophytes and function as an adequate summary for casual fans... [read more]
Hipsters' Holiday 7. Hipsters' Holiday: Vocal Jazz And R&B Classics (Rhino, 1989)
Rhino Christmas CD's summarize subgenres of Christmas music about as well as can be expected when limited to 18 tracks: nearly all admirably representative of the form, and all but a few rise to classic status. Hipsters' Holiday does just that, presenting odes to a new kind of Santa Claus, one who "done got hip," who does the boogie woogie, dances the mambo, and lives a crazy be-bop lifestyle... [read more]
Christmas Classics 8. Christmas Classics (Rhino, 1989)
While lacking a certain focus, the sheer brilliance of Christmas Classics' individual selections overcomes Rhino's scattershot programming, making it as close to an "instant record collection" as any Christmas CD anywhere. Surveying the genre's golden era, Christmas Classics includes nearly all the widely-accepted classics plus a few choice rarities: a fine place to begin collecting Christmas music... [read more]
Blue Yule 9. Blue Yule: Christmas Blues & R&B Classics (Rhino, 1991)
Blue Yule leans towards obscure recordings, and its down 'n' dirty blues are not for the faint-of-heart. This is a rough crowd, as the hapless revelers herein are as likely to spend Christmas drunk, in jail, or dead (or all three) as they are to be safe in the warm hearth of home. A strange and captivating record, Blue Yule is full of weird, wonderful moments that will make record collectors hyperventilate... [read more]
Best of Cool Yule 10. The Best Of Cool Yule (Rhino, 1989)
It's the obscure, insane records on Best Of Cool Yule that make Christmas music so fascinating. Thrill to the Marquees' jungle hijinks in "Christmas In The Congo"! Witness Tina Turner rip the guts out on "Merry Christmas Baby." Travel down the bayou with Brenda Lee in "Papa Noel," then hop over to New Orleans where Huey "Piano" Smith celebrates "Silent Night" like it was Fat Tuesday! [read more]
Dr. Demento 11. Dr. Demento: Greatest Novelty CD Of All Time (Rhino, 1989)
The novelty record has had a long love affair with Christmas. Many of the best-selling Christmas records have been novelties, and most great holiday rockers bear an element of the ridiculous. Dr. Demento, high priest of the novelty record, exposes the best of this rarified genre with his Greatest Christmas Novelty CD Of All Time, and the results range from hilarious to crazy to annoying to just plain weird... [read more]
It's Christmas Time Again 12. It's Christmas Time Again (Stax, 1982)
Stax Records' It's Christmas Time Again (1982) is the neglected younger sister of the belle of the ball - Atlantic's Soul Christmas (see #1). There's no arguing with the pure brilliance of the latter album, but Stax's entry in the soul sweepstakes has much to offer rhythm & blues enthusiasts, including grittier music and a more worldly view of the holiday season... [read more]
New Wave Xmas 13. New Wave Xmas (Rhino, 1996)
After rock got serious in the late 60's, Christmas records were deemed crass, commercial, and resolutely unhip. New wave artists, though, embraced the genre with great abandon and little reverence. Many such platters have been lost, but 17 of the best have been happily preserved on New Wave Xmas. Ranging from sublime to ridiculous, these songs consistently portray Christmas with a difference... [read more]
Mambo Santa Mambo 14. Mambo santa Mambo (Rhino, 2000)
Despite appearances, this CD isn't about Latin music, per se. Rather, it's about the Latin music craze (think Ricky Ricardo) that gripped American pop like a tropical fever during the 1950's. Several of these artists are Anglo, and most sing mainly in English. That said, Mambo Santa Mambo is a riot, alternating slinky grooves with goofy novelties while spooning up some salsa muy authentica... [read more]
Rockin' Little Christmas 15. Rockin' Little Christmas (MCA, 1998)
What makes Rockin' Little Christmas great isn't the wonderful vintage music. Rather, it's the way it communicates what makes Christmas rock 'n' roll special - the energy, humor, and damned optimism in the face of harsh reality. These songs made our of lives brighter and our trials easier to bear. And that - not flying reindeer or decorated evergreens - is what Christmas (and rock 'n' roll) is all about... [read more]
Natty & Nice 16. Natty & Nice: A Reggae Christmas (Rhino, 1998)
To a white boy (and pop fan) like me, reggae music often sounds a bit, well, foreign. Perhaps that's why reggae covers of well-known pop songs have always been popular in England and America, and it may also explain why Natty And Nice: A Reggae Christmas sounds so familiar and friendly. We are treated to a variety of original and traditional songs surveying over 25 years of Jamaican music... [read more]
A Christmas Record 17. A Christmas Record (Ze, 1981)
Most Ze Records were, by their own admission, mutant disco - twisted or tortured perhaps, but celebratory and kinetic at their core. Hence, A Christmas Record sounds like a party - the strangest shindig ever thrown in honor of Old St. Nick. Happily, this long out-of-print album has finally been reissued on CD, albeit in a strangely reconfigured format... [read more]
Boston Rock Christmas 18. A Boston Rock Christmas (Boston Rock, 1983)
I hesitated to include this rare, raucous slab of vinyl on my list, because I didn't want to taunt you, dear reader, with a brilliant record you'll probably never find. But, I did, because it's that freakin' good. Just five songs long, A Boston Rock Christmas (1983) smokes from start to finish, covering everything from lubricious roots rock to techno pop to shambolic punk to blistering hardcore... [read more]
Swingin' Christmas 19. Swingin' Christmas (Rhino, 2001)
The treasures of Swingin' Christmas are manifold, representing a variety of genres lumped together under the umbrella of swing. Beginning with the big band stomp of Woody Herman, the disc encompasses post-war boogie, suave 60's exotica, sub-Sinatra crooning, and no less than three Louis Armstrong cuts including "Cool Yule" - virtually a manifesto for guys like me... [read more]
Bummed Out Christmas 20. Bummed Out Christmas (Rhino, 1989)
Though slightly imperfect and a tad skimpy on track selection, Rhino's Bummed Out Christmas! (1989) is the first and best album album about how Christmas can really suck. Experience a dozen uniformly depressing, frequently comical yuletide laments addressing divorce, incarceration, murder, several cases of drunk driving, and "Viet Cong all around me." The weather outside is, indeed, frightful... [read more]

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