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Top 5 Christmas Albums

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Angelo Mai

On surpassing the first of November, also known in today’s world as “Christmas Eve”, it only feels right to prepare for the holiday season by spinning the old Christmas classics, tunes to lift the winterly spirits of even the most Scrooge-like among us. Upon growing tired of the same five Michael Bublé songs each year, here’s a selection of some overlooked and under-appreciated Christmas albums to spice up this years holiday season.

The Beach Boys' Christmas Album

Capitol Records

Not quite a forgotten classic, but certainly an under-played Christmas record, the Beach Boys’ Christmas Album will have you feeling nostalgic for a time you never lived through. Walking the precarious tight rope between endearing and cheesy, Brian Wilson and chums deliver a record for the ages, miraculously holding up well after nearly five decades, with a helping hand from the cultural reliance on older music during the holiday season (can you name any truly iconic Christmas tracks since Mariah Carey’s?).

Written prior to their Pet Sounds era, the album sounds as formulaic as their other surfercore albums, sans the jingle bells, yet within such a restrictive pre-psychedelic format, Brian Wilson’s song writing is just as sublime. The A-side, containing all original tracks, begins with the iconic ‘Little Saint Nick’, which by all measures should be the over-played Christmas classic it was destined to be. On the Christmas standards, Wilson’s high register on ‘White Christmas’ is a match made in heaven, and their harmonies, especially on their rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, are truly made for the holiday season.

Listen now: Spotify | Apple Music

Mark Kozelek – Sings Christmas Carols

Caldo Verde

Capturing the warmer yet more melancholic qualities of Christmas, Sun Kil Moon’s and Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek makes the ultimate sad-mans Holiday album. For those who tire of constant over-blown Christmas cheer, yet still appreciate the strange beauty of the colder months in a more understated manner, Kozelek and his nylon-string guitar will sing you to a dreamless sleep.

Despite the complete lack of original tracks, Mark makes them his own; for example, his rendition of ‘Christmastime is Here' is modified so as to remove the originals slightly jarring chord change in the second bar of the verse, and in doing so ‘warms up’ the track, so to speak, and with the triplet strumming pattern throughout, almost mimicking the falling of snowflakes or the intricacy of their structure, makes for one of the best improvements of that Christmas classic one can hear. One of his least depressing records, the under-appreciated warm blanket of Sings Christmas Carols undoubtedly deserves more spins during the holiday season.

Listen now: Spotify | Apple Music

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

Fantasy Records

The Holy Grail of Cult Christmas albums, the iconic soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of those perfect holiday albums that never wears through excessive listening, that captures winters bleak atmosphere while punctuating it through a melancholic festive beauty. Scored by a gorgeous jazz piano, the record gives the Christmas standards a jazz make-over, making classic carols like ‘O Tannenbaum’ and ‘What Child is This’ sound entirely fresh to even the most festively-jaded ear.

Despite its inclusion of the classics, Guaraldi’s original ‘Christmas Time is Here’ has itself become a holiday classic, covered on most comprehensive Christmas albums, despite originally being a song written to score a kids Christmas film. Indeed, the albums success was unprecedented, as was the film it was scored for; a jazz soundtrack for a comedy with no laugh track was considered beyond brave at the time. However, it has now become one of America’s best-selling Christmas albums, and more surprisingly, the second best-selling jazz album of all time, behind none other than Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, placing Vince Guaraldi amongst the jazz greats in terms of sales. Musically, one would struggle to find a more sublime love-letter to the holidays.

Listen now: Spotify | Apple Music

Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas

Asthmatic Kitty Records

The behemothic, 5-disc ode to the holiday seasons from Sufjan Stevens has steadily become a fan favourite since its release in 2006, with his folky wintertime style of music perfectly lending itself to a Christmas album. Even his original tracks on the album, like ‘Only at Christmas Time’ and ‘All the King’s Horns’ sound like they were written generations before him, a testament to his ability in festive song writing, capturing the solace of winter in his mesmerising acoustic arrangements. Compositionally, the album has much in common with his Michigan! Album, with sparse instrumentation, usually revolving around a piano, a banjo, or an acoustic guitar, steeping both albums firmly in wintertime.

The season may mean something more for Sufjan, a strongly devout Christian, though keeps it light-hearted and far from God-fearing on original tracks like ‘It’s Christmas! Let’s be Glad!’, with the following lyrics “Even if your life’s been bad/There are presents to be had”. With a desired blend of original and traditional tracks, Songs for Christmas has indeed become a fan favourite, especially after Stevens’ explosion of popularity after his appearance on the Call Me By Your Name Soundtrack, and has gained recognition year on year as being a modern classic Christmas album. For those looking for more, he released an even lengthier follow up Christmas album called Silver and Gold, though with more experimental, electronic sensibilities, again, like his then-most recent release, Age of Adz.

Listen now: Spotify | Apple Music

James Brown – A Soulful Christmas

King Records

From the late, great, founder of Funk, Soulful Christmas contains some of the funkiest cuts you’ll hear on any holiday record. It’s truly a great shame that it can’t be Christmas all year round, as these grooves will too make you wish, for it seems criminal that its only appropriate to listen to these tracks for maximum two months in a year. ‘Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto’, for example, is an absolute classic; for the kids worried that Santa wouldn’t visit for they didn’t have a chimney, or the poor kids who feel dejected around the holidays, James Brown personally orders Santa to go the ghetto, and give presents to all the kids, who will hear that Santa had been sent by the soul brother himself.

Foot-tapping groove aside, the uplifting and all-inclusive lyrics of this track are just as adherent to the Christmas spirit as any other folk standard. Apart from the strange, unfestive inclusion of the Black power classic, ‘Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ (its inclusion presumably a result of nothing more than that tracks massive popularity at the time), Soulful Christmas contains mostly original Christmas tracks, delivered in his signature, pioneering funk sound. While sounding relatively unfestive due to its lack of bells or sparse piano, the album is sure to lift your Christmas spirit, getting your inner metronome ticking to the tune of Christmas time.

Listen now: Spotify | Apple Music