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Best Christmas Albums: 10 Essential Gifts That Keep On Giving
List & Guides

Best Christmas Albums: 10 Essential Gifts That Keep On Giving

Plenty of Yuletide records are disposable, but the best Christmas albums really do capture the magic of the holiday season.

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Every year, a plethora of records are released to mark the holiday season, but many of them are just for Christmas and most definitely not for life. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the rule and, down the decades, some standout titles have established themselves as festive evergreens. Here we unwrap the most desirable and choose the ten best Christmas albums of all time…

Listen to the best Christmas songs here, and check out our best Christmas albums, below.

10: The Everly Brothers: ‘Christmas With The Everly Brothers And The Boystown Choir’ (1962)

Pioneering country-rock duo The Everly Brothers took the traditional route with their first festive album, recording this 11-song selection of well-established hymns and standards alongside The Boystown Choir of Omaha, Nebraska.

The Everlys were generous to a fault, leaving the choir entirely to their own devices on both Away In A Manger and Angels From The Realms Of Glory, though those expecting the siblings’ dulcet tones had plenty to savour when Don Everly took the lead on What Child Is This? and brother Phil stepped into the spotlight for O Little Town Of Bethlehem. Strangely, despite the fact the duo were still very much in demand during the early 60s, Christmas With The Everly Brothers And The Boystown Choir slipped below the radar on release, but it remains an accomplished – and sometimes moving – festive collection that, following a 2005 reissue, has seen its reputation rise among the best Christmas albums of all time.

Must hear: Angels From The Realms Of Glory

9: Blake Shelton: ‘Cheers, It’s Christmas!’ (2012)

Oklahoma-born Blake Shelton has been a dominant force in country music since his 2001 debut single, Austin, became the first of over 20 No.1s on the US country music chart. His seventh album, Cheers, It’s Christmas!, was a winning combination of self-penned modern country songs and traditional standards, and it featured an all-star supporting cast of country royalty (Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies) and mainstream pop luminaries such as Michael Bublé and Kelly Clarkson. The album didn’t top the charts, but it went gold and sired several songs – not least a yearning Yuletide retooling of Bublé’s hit Home – which have since established themselves as festive standards.

Must hear: Home (featuring Michael Bublé)

8: Choir Of King’s College, Cambridge: ‘A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols’ (2012)

With a TV and radio audience of millions, the annual broadcast of A Festival Of Nine Lessons & Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, is an essential Christmas tradition for families all over the world.

Released in 2012, this double-album faithfully recreates the magic of the service. Beginning with a lone treble singing Once In Royal David’s City, it includes several new carols commissioned especially for the occasion and concludes with a rousing chorus of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Beautifully executed and often spectrally beautiful, it all adds up to one of the very best Christmas albums out there.

Must hear: Once In Royal David’s City

7: Michael Bublé: ‘Christmas’ (2011)

Another classy, modern-day festive record, Michael Bublé’s Christmas album succeeded in part by proffering a selection of well-executed duets, with the Canadian star performing memorable versions of the likes of Jingle Bells, White Christmas and Feliz Navidad with luminaries such as The Puppini Sisters, Shania Twain and Latin star Thalía, respectively. The album also featured Bublé’s inimitable solo versions of Blue Christmas and Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, and he even performed a brand new track, Cold December Night, with aplomb. In this setting, Bublé’s easy-going croon worked a treat, and his seasonal selection had a broad appeal, moving over 12 million copies and becoming one of the 21st century’s best-selling albums to date.

Must hear: It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

6: Idina Menzel: ‘Holiday Wishes’ (2014)

Idina Menzel is best known for her Broadway performances – not least her role in the 2005 rock musical Rent, which earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress In A Musical. She’s also made her presence felt on the big screen in Cinderella and Adam Sandler’s Uncut Gems, and pursued a parallel recording career which has straddled pop music and seasonal fare. The most successful of her albums, 2014’s Holiday Wishes, found her breezing through a series of festive standards with gusto, bagging both critical plaudits (“She brings a stocking-full of interpretive skill to some holiday classics,” wrote the Los Angeles Times) and her first Billboard Top 10 placing.

Must hear: All I Want For Christmas Is You

5: Low: ‘Christmas’ (1999)

Reminding us that commerce really shouldn’t drive Christmas, renowned Minnesota alt-pop trio Low released this eight-track mini-album at a special low price as “a gift to fans” in 1999. Their altruism has since rewarded them with justified acclaim, as Christmas’ understated mix of covers (Silent Night, Blue Christmas, a hypnotic, Velvet Underground-esque take on The Little Drummer Boy) and sparse, shimmering original songs (Taking Down The Tree, Just Like Christmas) ensure that it’s one of the best Christmas albums ever to slip under the mainstream radar.

Must hear: Just Like Christmas

4: Emmylou Harris: ‘Light Of The Stable’ (1979)

Emmylou Harris’ Light Of The Stable is a Christmas album which continues to grow in stature. First released in November 1979, it fused the high-lonesome country sound Harris had explored on previous albums Roses In The Snow and Blue Kentucky Girl with songs that honoured the spiritual and emotional roots of the holiday season. However, while it was beautifully executed and well-received (The Austin Chronicle wrote, “Emmylou Harris possesses the voice of an angel, so it only makes sense that her versions of Christmas classics are unequalled”), it was only a minor hit on first issue. The album has enjoyed an acclaimed afterlife, though, with reissues in 1992 and 2005 enhancing its reputation and prompting Rolling Stone to pronounce it “a living herald of joyful Nativity tidings”.

Must hear: Christmas Time’s A-Coming

3: Kylie Minogue: ‘Kylie Christmas’ (2015)

When it comes to getting a party started, we can always rely on Kylie Minogue – and so it proved when the Australian pop legend put her mind to the holiday season with her Kylie Christmas album. As you might expect, the record mostly consisted of well-worn standards, though three freshly minted tracks also made the cut, and there were a few nicely eccentric set-pieces, too, with Kylie duetting with unlikely suitors such as comedian James Corden on a tender remake of Yazoo’s classic Only You, and Stooges frontman Iggy Pop on a spirited version of The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping.

Must hear: Only You (featuring James Corden)

2: Various Artists: ‘A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector’ (1963)

Adjectives such as “innovative” and “influential” aren’t ordinarily associated with Christmas albums, but then there wasn’t anything ordinary about legendary producer Phil Spector, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he put his own spin on the festive season with 1963’s A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector.

Effectively an inspired selection of standards (White Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, Silent Night) covered by Spector-endorsed girl groups (The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love) and given the producer’s singular “Wall Of Sound” treatment, the record was a widescreen Christmas extravaganza like no other. With every song a contender for a place among the best Christmas songs, A Christmas Gift To You… has since been cited by Brian Wilson as his favourite album of all time (The Beach Boys cut their own The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album while in thrall to Spector’s magic) and it simply demands inclusion in any self-respecting run-down of the best Christmas albums.

Must hear: Frosty The Snowman (The Ronettes)

1: Elvis Presley: ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ (1957)

Elvis largely played it straight with his first (and best) festive album, mostly choosing to record robust standards (White Christmas, Here Comes Santa) and carols and/or spirituals (Silent Night, Take My Hand, Precious Lord), though he did commission a couple of new songs in the shape of Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) and the Lieber-and-Stoller-penned rocker Santa Claus Is Back In Town. Taken as a whole, though, Elvis’ Christmas Album is sublime, with The King delivering timeless performances throughout, not least on I Believe and the heartbreaking Blue Christmas. The record has had to fend off numerous challengers over the years, but as its sales figures suggest, 20 million Elvis fans really can’t be wrong when it comes to crowning the best Christmas album of all time.

Must hear: Blue Christmas

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