Laura is a freelance writer living in Florida. She has a Master's degree in English.
There is something about those cool December days that makes us long for hot cocoa, a warm fire, and some Christmas music playing in the background. Every year there are more and more Christmas albums and songs released. While some are instant classics, some are best forgotten.
Christmas music can help to put you in the spirit of the season. The songs remind us of the simple joys of the season and the importance of love, friends, and family. It can even lift your spirits well after the season is over. Despite what some say, there is no rule that says you can't enjoy a little bit of Christmas music all year long.
Whether you are streaming or looking for traditional vinyl albums, CDs, or something for your MP3 player, the Christmas music you choose is important. Here is a review of some of the must-have Christmas albums for your collection.
1. Bing Crosby: White Christmas
There really is no other must-have for your holiday album collection than Bing Crosby's quintessential Christmas album: White Christmas.
Every song on this album sounds like Christmas. "Jingle Bells" with the Andrews Sisters is chirpy and happy and takes a formulaic standard and makes it fun and singable. And, of course Bing's version of "White Christmas" is the version. There is no other version that can even compare. Bing's version of "White Christmas" is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling single of all time.
While Bing covers all the standards, his version of "Christmas in Killarney" and "Mele Kalikimaka" helped spur these lesser known songs into the list of standards that have since been covered by modern artists like Jimmy Buffet.
If you could only own one Christmas album in its entirety, this would be the one that you must have. There is no throw away song, no miss. It is complete and perfect from the first note to the final fade.
2. Kate Smith: The Kate Smith Christmas Album
You may not know her by name, but as soon as you hear this Christmas album you'll realize that many of these songs are the versions you most often hear played on the radio year after year. Her clear, down-to-earth voice lends a special warmth and coziness to the songs she sings.
"Christmas Eve in My Hometown" makes you feel as if you are looking at a snow globe of a classic, Currier and Ives Christmas scene complete with snow and old-fashioned sleighs.
Kate's version of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is the perfect song to kick off your holiday season. Kate doesn't just sing the song, she caresses them and makes you feel instantly at home and comfortable and warm.
After you listen to this album you are sure to become a fan. Seek out her other non-holiday albums as well. She is well-worth a discovery.
Bing Crosby Introduces Kate Smith singing "Christmas Eve in My Hometown"
3. Harry Connick Jr.: When My Heart Finds Christmas
A more modern Christmas album than Bing and Kate but listenable from beginning to end is Harry Connick Jr.'s 2007 album "When My Heart Finds Christmas."
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If you are not familiar with Harry's other work, he has a New Orleans influenced crooners style that makes him sound simultaneously modern and classic. He covers some of the classics such as a jazzed up version of "Sleigh Ride" that will have you dancing around the room and a quietly reverent "Ave Maria."
Harry also has some new songs such as the title track song "When My Heart Finds Christmas." But his best new song is "It Must've Been Ol' Santa Claus," which tells the story of one magical night when a skeptical little boy gets to hang out with Santa. This song is sure to enter the canon of Christmas classics as the years progress.
Harry ends with the classic "What Are You Doing New Years Even?" and makes everyone wish they could hang out with him for just a bit longer.
4. Mormon Tabernacle Choir
For this I can't recommend one particular album. Buy one. Buy ten. You can't go wrong with the Mormon Tabernacle.
This choir sings everything from religious to secular music. Their dynamic sound and blend along with the full orchestra is a religious experience whether you are religious or not.
Their version of "Silent Night" will send you into tears and you can't beat their 350+ voices and full pipe organ belting out the Hallelujah chorus.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been in existence for over 150 years and is an important part of many Christmas celebrations both nationally and internationally. Make sure that you have at least one of their albums in your collection.
5. The Carpenters: Christmas Portrait
Karen Carpenter's haunting and beautiful voice, a voice that we lost much too young, makes the Carpenter's "Christmas Portrait" another one of those playable albums from beginning to end.
Some of their songs are instantly classics such as Karen's voice singing a particularly longing rendition of "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Her "Merry Christmas Darling" has also become a classic that, while sometimes imitated, can't be bested.
The Carpenter's album does a good job of mixing secular and religious music together in one album, celebrating all aspects of the holiday. Even though the album came out in 1978 the music and instrumentation doesn't sound dated. Rather it has a timeless appeal that makes you happy every time it comes up on your music rotation.
6. CeeLo Green: CeeLo's Magic Moment
This one surprised me. CeeLo can be a controversial figure and frankly he's sometimes a jerk. But his Christmas album is surprisingly fun and interesting.
While the album is very listenable from beginning to end there are a few special highlights. His version of "Baby Its Cold Outside" with Christina Aguilera is one of the better ones. Sometimes when this song is covered, the two singers don't actually sound like they are listening to each other or having a conversation, but this one does.
And really, what is Christmas without a bit of Muppets? CeeLo sings "All I Need is Love" with those lovable characters. He also covers religious songs like "Mary Did You Know?" and "Silent Night" with surprising tenderness and care.
One of my favorites is his "You're A Mean One Mister Grinch" featuring the fantastic acappella group Straight No Chaser. It's fun and unique while still being true to the original version's sound and intent.
This album is a surprising must-have for your holiday play list.
7. Straight No Chaser: Holiday Spirits
This fantastic, all-male a cappella group burst into the national spot light a few years ago. They are now a staple of many holiday shows and experiences. While they put out a new album every year and you really can't go wrong with any of them, their best album is the 2008 "Holiday Spirits."
This album is perky and fun and you'll find yourself having a hard time believing that all the sounds you hear are voices only, no instruments at all.
From the soothing "Silent Night" to the perky "Twelve Days of Christmas," this album will become an instant must-play for you every year. My favorite is "Carol of the Bells" and I find myself listening to it over and over again. No one misses a beat. Everything is perfectly synchronized as the beat gets faster and louder and the parts more complicated.
If you haven't discovered Straight No Chaser yet, I promise one listen will immediately convert you to a life-long fan.
Straight No Chaser Singing "Carol of Bells"
8. Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song
There really is no other proper version of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" aka "The Christmas Song" than Nat King Cole's. This and this alone is why you must own this album.
While that is his most famous holiday tune, Nat also lends his soothing and caressing voice to some fantastic standards such as "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away In A Manger."
These songs are perfect for winding down a long day of holiday activities or when you are wanting to unwind by the fireplace. Nat's dreamy voice makes your want to fall asleep on a soft cloud of comfort.
With two versions of "The Christmas Song" sandwiching the extensive playlist, it begins and ends the way it should---with one of the best Christmas songs of all time.
9. Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful Christmas
You may not think of Louis Armstrong and Christmas music but this album is really fantastic. Everyone knows "What A Wonderful World." But Louis' fantastic and unmistakable voice is also perfect for Christmas music.
He sings traditional carols such as "Silent Night" and "Winter Wonderland." But Louis also sings some lesser known songs such as the slightly strange "Zat You Santa Claus?"
The best song on the album, though, is the opener "Christmas Time in New Orleans." His voice draws the listener in and beckons them to walk with him through the streets of this beloved old city. Once you hear this song, it will become a regular on your Christmas playlist.
Louis Armstrong's fantastic Christmas Song: Christmas Time in New Orleans
Other Great Holiday Albums
There are so many other great holiday albums by greats such as Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland and Mannheim Steamroller.
Christmas music tastes are both unique and personal. One man's love makes another groan. We all have that song we must hear every year and the one we never want to hear again (can I get a block on all playings "Christmas Shoes?").
Regardless of your personal tastes, Christmas music can put you, your family and your guests in the holiday mood.
What Essential Christmas Album Do You Think Should Be Included?
Rob Lattin from Born in Chicago, now I'm in the Quad Cities on November 22, 2015:
Good job! I never heard the Carpenters Christmas album, but now I gotta check it out. One of my all-time favorites is "That Holiday Feeling" by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. I also love the Robert Lamm-sung songs on Chicago's Christmas CD. Forgot to mention Vince Guaraldi (Charlie Brown Christmas Music). These songs I play every year and the memories keep on growing longer. Enjoy your Christmas!!
L C David (author) from Florida on December 08, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by. I love this group so much. They are a holiday tradition.
Lori Colbo from United States on December 08, 2013:
Great hub. My favorite Christmas album has always been the Carpenters. I like this acapella group and plan to buy an album. they are fabulous.