The 10 Best and Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time
It's That Special Time of Year
Folks, Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. Recently, Sirius XM Radio announced that they'll be firing up the holiday music very soon, which got me thinking about my favorite Christmas albums. There are so many Christmas albums out there, and so many that deliver fond and joyous memories. Here are the 10 best Christmas albums, in my opinion.
10. A Merry Christmas With Bing & the Andrews Sisters
One little movie... A Christmas Story. This is by far one of my most cherished Christmas movies of all time. Great story, Great characters, lots of fun and lots of laughs. In the movie, Jingle Bells is playing in the background in the Christmas morning scene. When I found this CD last year it quickly climbed the ranks in my list of favorite Christmas music. The Andrews Sisters have such great chemistry and harmony. This has become a great way for me, a guy who loves swing music from the 40s, to do a little time travel in my mind...
9. A Celtic Christmas
It was a dark and quiet Chrismas in 1919. Harry Crosser was working all Christmas Eve at his restaurant and Effie was tending to her father, Alonzo. Alonzo had lost his wife Jane almost five years ago and decided to stay with Effie in Omaha. His son James would come and visit when ever possible. Alonzo had worked hard all his 83 years. A veteran of the Civil War, Alonzo suffered from lumbargo. He had nine children with his beloved Jennie. This Christmas Alonzo is reminded of many a Christmas past and the music that filled the country side. The music that made his Celtic blood pump strong. The music that kept him marching back in '64. The music that brought memories of an innocent childhood in Ohio long shattered by war and loss. Alonzo Bradley was my great-great-great grandfather. He died in the Spring of 1920. We never met, but this music somehow brings me close to him.
8. Jingle Bell Jazz
Once upon a time I fell for the romance of cigarette's. I also fell for the romance of jazz music. Not the "smooth jazz" you hear on the radio today, but real jazz. Classic jazz. Bebop, cool, straight-ahead, no-nonsense jazz. I have since ditched the cigarettes, however, I am still falling head over heels for Jazz music. The year I found this CD was 1992. One year out of high school and completely unaware of who I was. My identity faded in and out of the things I wanted to be and that which I looked up to. Not knowing who I was I became enamored with these men of jazz who's music and melody came from a place I was still trying to find.
The soul. There is a kind of passion and style that combines with the individual to form great improvisational music. Liquid tones swim through the air to meet the ear and tug on the heartstrings of human beings everywhere as we rejoice in the coming of the Savior and the New Year. Chilly nights and frozen streets. Smoke rising from the dark nightclub as the rain comes down outside. One man breathes into his horn and plays a carol while thinking of his favorite things. It's Christmas time. And so it goes...
7. Christmas Dreaming by Frank Sinatra
As a man who has spent most his life trying to touch by-gone eras, I found Frank Sinatra's Christmas Dreaming to be a rocket ship to the mid forties. Listening to this collection of carols from Frank's early years carries my imagination to walking snowy streets in New York. It's nighttime, the snow is falling quietly, the streets are starting to quite down, the lights in apartment widows are low. A movie theatre is playing "Bells of St. Mary's", a couple kids stare in a Department Store window, and you can hear the passing cars make that unique sound when rubber meets wet pavement. Oh... and the cars. They just don't make 'em like that any more. The lines, the white walled tires, the camel hair interior, the metal, the chrome grills... that is where I go, every time. If only I had 88 miles per hour and a Delorean... you might never see me again. Lost in time...
PS. This CD may very well be out of print, but if you can find it, grab it and enjoy your own time travel.
6. A Winter Romance by Dean Martin
Recorded in 1959 at the height of all things cool, Dean Martin sets the tone for a swingin' Christmas and holiday season that can last well into February if you need it to. This album consists mostly of winter songs. It only has two songs that mention Christmas. One of which is Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. It's classic Dean-o as he sways and croons through this old-timey carol. He even has the moxie to refer to Rudolph as "Rudy" and replaces the word "nose" with "beak." Priceless. In addition, before the song "Baby it's cold outside" starts you can hear Dean tell the band that he's got to get a tattoo at 12:30 and he doesn't want to be late." The whit and whim of Deans class, humor and style are elegantly portrayed in this album of winter carols. On the CD, you'll find a bonus track at the end. It's "Christmas Blues" from 1953 and a classic early 50s Christmas song. It was also features in one of my favorite movies, L.A. Confidential. Dean sings the blues so smooth you can hear the joyous melancholy with every verse. I can't imagine a Christmas season with out this recording. Thank you Dean!
5. Elvis' Christmas Album
Do I even need to write something here? I mean, seriously? What is Christmas with out the King? I'll tell you what. It isn't. Period. I still remember watching the news when Elvis died in 1977. I was almost five. I remember it was a very big deal in the world. I was not too sure what he was all about though, but I knew he was special. In High School I found a taste for Rock-A-Billy that lead me to the one and only. Years later my old roommate Jody (not that Jody's old, it's just he hasn't been my roommate for a while now...) and I had a two foot ceramic Elvis that we bought driving to Vegas one year and we kept it outside our apartment. We'd stand him up on the air conditioner. Then we would dress him up for each holiday. At Christmas time he would don a Santa cap and some tinsel. Always a pleasure to have the King involved in any holiday.
4. Poets & Angeles by Otmar Leibert
Music has always been an important part of my life. I love listening to it. What I really loved was selling it. From 1989-1994 I worked in a record store. It was called Music+Plus. A dear friend helped me get that job and I loved everything about working there. It also helped open me up to many different styles of music that I had yearned for but never been able to embrace. Music+Plus got me started, Broadened my horizons and left me with some really good memories. For the most part, the corner record store is a thing of the past. It has been replaced with big box stores like Best Buy and the Internet. There was something special about going to the record store and shopping for music. We used to play Otmar Leibert a lot in the store around Christmas Time. Listening to this CD reminds me of those days and nights helping people with their Christmas shopping, renting and putting away videos, and having some money in my pocket. This was after all, my first real job. And what a great first job it was. I do miss the simplicity of it. The good news is, I have this CD to listen to.
3. December by George Winston
The year after I graduated High School I did a play up at Riley's Farm in Oak Glen. The play was O'Henry's Gift of the Magi. I also worked up there. Riley's Farm in Oak Glen is an apple farm that basically functions as if it was 150 years ago. A time when life was harder, yet simpler. It gets cold in the winter there with an occasional snowfall. It's elevation is about 2700 feet. The apple seasons I worked at Riley's are filled with fond memories and the winter I did Gift of the Magi was a magical time. I remember going to a small gathering before Christmas that year and driving up the windy road to get there, I got a flat. I hoofed it in the dark winter cold to get to Ma' & Pa Riley's log cabin. Oak Glen road at night is quite and very dark. The moon was out and the stars helped to light my way. When I finally arrived, the main room of the cabin was so bright and the fire so warm and the company so gracious I was filled instantly with good cheer! You know that good wholesome Christmas cheer. George Winston's December is a record for cold and quite nights. Like the night I walked alone in the dark to get to the light and warmth that was/is Riley's Farm.
2. All Things Wonderful - Choral Classical Music For The Season
There is beautiful music and then there is beautiful music. This CD is full of beautiful music! Every CD effects everyone in different ways. I found this one at a Starbucks in 2001. It was the year I spent my first Christmas with the lady who would turn out to be my wife. It was also the year that I actually read Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol." I knew the story, seen the movie, listened to the Old Time Radio version with Lionel Barrymore, heck I even played Jacob Marley in college production of the play! But I'd never read the book. Not until that Christmas. Which turned out to be a wonderful Christmas as I was falling madly in love with this beautiful loving woman I met a year prior.
Thanks to listening to this CD so often while reading A Christmas Carol, this album can transport me to Victorian England in the snap of a finger. There isn't one song on this record that doesn't speak to me about the magic, the glory, the beauty and wonder that is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. After all, that is what Christmas really is about.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi
Could this possibly be the greatest Christmas record of all time? For me, listening to this music can transport me ever so quickly back to childhood. Two memories rush to the forefront with just hearing the first few cords of "O Tannenbaum." The first is laying in my bed as a kid at night during the couple of weeks just before Christmas. The Christmas lights from the roof would illuminate my room. When it was frosty outside, the light would have this foggy look to it. I remember the anticipation of Santa Claus, the magic and the mystery. Winter nights. It was cold outside, but hear in my bed I was safe and warm. Another nice aspect of this part of my childhood, was that if I wanted a little Christmas spirit in July, I could have it because there was a pretty good chance my dad hadn't gotten around to taking the lights down. All I'd have to do was pretend it was cold!
The other childhood memory that this record unleashes is watching A Charlie Brown Christmas with my mom and how beautiful the living room was at Christmas time. We had the Advent wreath, The Advent/Christmas countdown calendar. Nativity scene. Big posters. The tree would be just covered in lights and decorations. There were so many lights and reflective surfaces that it practically lit the room all by itself. It was a pale glow of reds, yellows, greens and blues. Christmas was such a special time for my mom, like it is for so many other mothers. Watching Christmas specials on T.V. together was always a special part of the season. Eventually, I was older and "too busy" to bother watching. Then I got a little older and realized how special that time was. Mom made Christmas a special time. So did my father. In fact, our house didn't have a fireplace and I was worried about Santa, so he made one form cardboard and it would come out every year so Santa had a way in. These are precious memories. When I first heard this CD and the music, I was 17 or 18. I listened to it every year and still do. However, I didn't appreciate it fully until the year after my mom died and I was able to have Christmas time with her even though she wasn't there. Thank you Vince!