By Ben Holcomb
It’s the ha-happiest time…of the yeeeear. Christmas will be upon us next Tuesday, or for all of our Jewish readers out there, Tuesday will be upon us next Tuesday, but either way you’ve almost undoubtedly heard the jingles and jollies of yuletide tunes in department stores and malls around the country since the end of Thanksgiving Dinner. This is America, and that’s what we do. It seems as if, like hounds on a leash spiked into the front yard, we wait listlessly year round until the moment it’s “socially acceptable” to listen to Christmas music again, in which case we’re freed from our bondage to chase after the mailman1.
But Christmas music, like all other music, is a deeply personal and subjective taste acquisition. No two Christmas songs are the same, even if theyareactually the same. That’s because Silent Night takes on a totally different tone when it leaves the mouth of Michael Buble, as opposed to Brad Paisley. That’s just a fact. We here at the Wine & Cheese Crowd decided to come together in the name of Christmas Spirit to help you figure out which albums you should be throwing into, or out of, your rotation every holiday season. Behold, our first hierarchy of Christmas Albums2:
The Best Christmas Albums of All-Time
10. A Very She & Him Christmas – Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward
What’s interesting about this title, and kind of an acquired taste, is that it has a really relatable vibe to it throughout. You’re never overwhelmed by the musical talents ofShe & Him,but they have such a pleasant, quirky combination and you can’t help but sing along. Zooey is the cute girl at the party who’s not afraid to do some karaoke, and when she sings, you find yourself not laughing, but having fun. It’s with that spirit that this album encapsulates all that is joyful and innocent about the Christmas season. It’s a relatively short album, but “Baby it’s Cold Outside” and “The Christmas Waltz” are can’t misses.
9. Funk Christmas – James Brown
It’s definitely a transition from the gentle tone we’ve come to know about Christmas songs, but James Brown isn’t afraid to be himself. He blends the funk that made him famous with the traditions of Christmas in this 17-song album full of plenty of lesser known Christmas hits. There’s no denying that it’s an odd album to listen to, but there is a significant tendency in the Christmas music genre to attempt to bring things together that mix as well as oil and water, so forgive me for being pleasantly surprised by this one.
8. What a Wonderful Christmas – Louis Armstrong & Friends
Louis Armstrong’s voice just has the gravitas that’s necessary for a serious get together. It’s raspy, and sounds as if he just drank a liter of tar, but for whatever reason his voice is the perfect background noise. Louis himself is featured in just six of the fourteen tracks, but his enviable Rolodex of talented friends pays off here with a cast of characters from the fifties that is top notch. There’s Duke Ellington, Mel Torme, Louis Jordan, and Peggy Lee. Together, they help to make one of the more under-rated, and in my opinion, the definitive Jazz Christmas album.
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas – The Vince Guaraldi Trio
There’s nothing quite like Charlie Brown around holidays. His great pumpkin special and this Christmas album have been staples of the American holidays for the past 50 years. In this album, a double-sided whammy of a production, the Peanuts gang covers such songs as “My Little Drum” and “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing”. It’s a must-have if you have kids in the household, or are just nostalgic of your sixties childhood.
6. Christmas Album – Jackson 5
An uninspired title, yes. But this is the Jackson Five. Michael Jackson, even at such a young age, is one of the greatest performers of all-time, so hearing him sing Christmas songs is enough to propel this into the top ten. The most famous song from the album is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, which the Jackson brothers turned into a bona fide hit. The 2009 special edition re-release almost doubled its run-time, and really added some significant value to its legacy, but the Jackson Five’s Christmas Album is a must-have if you’re a fan of holiday music.
5. Merry Christmas – Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby is kind of the white version of Louis Armstrong, in that his voice plays just as well in the background and is almost synonymous with the feelings of joy and peace that come from listening to music. Made in 1945, this is definitely the oldest album on our list, but to me that adds significance. It was one of the originals. And almost 70 years later, people are still rocking out to it in their cars, through AUX cables and iPods. Bing’s head would’ve exploded if he had ever seen the internet, so you can imagine the quality of his album if it’s survived this long. His song “White Christmas” remains the #1 selling Christmas song of all-time.
4. Merry Christmas – Mariah Carey
It seems that as this list goes on the titles of the albums become weaker. But let’s face it, there are only so many ways of saying “This is my Christmas Album”. Mariah’s take on the Christmas album went surprisingly well, with reports that her version of “All I Want for Christmas is You” being the top selling song on iTunes almost every year around Christmas. It’s like clockwork. I can’t really speak for the rest of her discography, but this is a great, singular album. With over 15M copies sold world-wide, it’s also supposedly the best selling yuletide record in THE HISTORY OF MUSIC.
3. One Wish (The Holiday Album) – Whitney Houston
Boom. Did he just do that? I did. I put Whitney Houston in the top three of my favorite Christmas Albums ever. Why? Is it because she died recently and so my affections for her are bloated and out of balance? No. Is it because I listen to her rendition of the National Anthem at least thrice weekly? No. It’s because she has the greatest voice of all-time3, and thus if she sang the menu at Denny’s I would still listen to it. This is Whitney Houston singing Christmas songs, I mean what else could you possibly want in life?
2. A Christmas Gift For You – Phil Spect0r
Pretty much the undisputed champ of every major Top Christmas Albums list online. I’d be remiss if I didn’t have it on this list, but I feel like its “classic” stature has elevated it to heights it may not necessarily be. It’s a great album, but not my favorite. They couldn’t have released it on a worse day – the day JFK got shot – but since then it’s garnered the recognition it initially deserved. Rolling Stone placed it at #142 of their greatest albums ever, Christmas or not, so that’s kind of saying something.
1. Christmas (+ Let it Snow) – Michael Buble
I’m sure some people will be annoyed by this choice, and others may find it cheap, but Michael Buble’s collective Christmas soundtrack is, in my opinion, the essential set of songs for the Holiday Season. His EPLet it Snow has just six songs on it, two of which are the same, so it’s hard for me to count that as its own entity. His second release, titledChristmas,is an instant classic in the genre, and if you could only take one album with you on the ark, it’s got to be this one.
The Worst Christmas Albums of All-Time
10. Roseanne Barr Sings the Christmas Classics
The Christmas Album genre is also full of a lot of stinkers, and I’d like to share my most favorite, least favorite ones. Spend a couple hours online just surfing through some of these, you’ll be shocked. I like to think about all the checkpoints each one of these albums had to pass before mass distribution. The brainstorming boardroom meeting, where enough people signed off on the concept. The signing of contracts and arranging of studios. The actual recording, where people could’ve stepped in and said, you know what this is a terrible idea. Roseanne Barr comes in at #10, if for nothing else than the fact that her qualifications as a singer are simply that she has operating vocal chords.
9. Christmas on Death Row
If there’s a worse marriage of things than hip hop and christmas, I haven’t seen it. But don’t tell that to Suge Knight, who funded this project as a means of giving back to the community. They could’ve just, you know, actually given back to the community, but who am I to judge. All you need to know about this album is that it has a song on it by Snoop Dogg called “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto”. So… yeah.
8. All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan – Kenny Chesney
Kenny Chesney has never really know where he fits in. He wants to be a country superstar, but only ever sings about the island lifestyle, which obese people in Mississippi cannot connect with in the slightest. So it’s no surprise that his venture into the Christmas music genre was a failed one. I’m sure some people enjoy it, but I’m just not feeling this piece of art at all.
7. Happy Christmas – Jessica Simpson
This album deserves to be on the list just because it’s called “Happy Christmas”. Nobody says that, Jessica. Sheesh. You can just tell throughout this CD that her career was slowly coming to a halt. She produced it herself and had complete autonomy over the project, which could sound impressive, if not for the idea that no other production house wanted her at that point. Also, the impetus for the album was her yearning to have a televised Christmas special, so you have to think she just phoned this guy in.
6. The Secret of Christmas – Captain & Tenille
Check out this album cover. It makes me feel like I need to take an immediate bath or something. Just creepy on so many levels. I don’t even want to listen to this one because I don’t want anything to do with whatever their “Secret” of Christmas is; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were dead bodies in the drywall of their basement, with that look.
5. The Night Before Christmas – David Hasselhoff
David Hasselhoff is just the worst. When he’s not running in slow motion on the beach, starring on dumb reality shows or eating cheeseburgers off the floor of his house, he’s leading an inexplicable career as a pop star in the Eastern European nations of Germany and beyond. I know, I’m as confused as you are. So, I’m sure some crazy German guy gave him this awful idea, but I wish he would’ve had the discretion to just say no.
4. The Regis Philbin Christmas Album
I love Regis, so this makes me sad. I loved him as a television personality and host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? But not as a singer. I love the certitude and lack of doubt in the title, as if we were all eagerly waiting it but just never knew when he’d bless us with the magnum opus of holiday jingles. I don’t really need to harp on this anymore, but I will say he sings “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” with Donald Trump, so that alone guarantees you a permanent spot in Christmas Album Hell.
3. Christmas in the Stars – Star Wars
Ever have the thought, Man, I wonder what my favorite Yuletide jingle sounds like out of the mouth of C3PO and/or Chewbacca!? Me neither. But someone did over at RSO Records. The album, full of Christmas songs with an intergalactic twist, and a narrative story about droids making Christmas toys, is the answer to my question in #9 of this list, which was – “What is the worst marriage of things ever?”. I would like to apologize to Death Row Records.
2. Hung for the Holidays – William Hung
I understand that a lot of these albums are on this list because of their terrible titles or cover art, but this one has to take the cake, right? I know they were going for some sort of pun here, but I just get a horrible image every time I read Hung for the Holidays. I’m shocked no one, not one copy editor anywhere with that record company, voiced their concern with the pun’s possible double-meaning. But hey, when you make an album with the soul purpose of ironically high-fiving the consumer on account of how bad the singer is, I guess anything goes.
1. Happy Birthday, Jesus – The Freakscene
And finally, the worst Christmas Album of all-time. For about the tenth time on this list, I’ve proven myself wrong. This is the worst title for a Christmas album. I can’t help but laugh when I read that, Happy Birthday, Jesus. It’s like they wrote a personal letter to God and tried to send it to Him, but the producers never told them and instead just shipped all the albums off to Dollar Generals around the country. There’s actually little information on this album or the artists who made it, but the cover art and title alone are just a master class in terrible packaging. And the music? Yeah, that stinks too.