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Best Christmas Albums: 20 Essential Gifts That Keep On Giving
List & Guides

Best Christmas Albums: 20 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 20 best Christmas albums of all time…

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

20: 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

19: 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)

18: CeeLo Green: ‘CeeLo’s Magic Moment’ (2012)

CeeLo Green is nothing if not versatile. The Atlanta, Georgia-born rapper is best known for his headline hits Crazy (as one half of Gnarls Barkley, with DJ Danger Mouse) and his Bruno Mars collaboration, Fuck You, but he’s also done everything from voicing Murray The Mummy, in the first Hotel Transylvania film, to judging and coaching contestants on The Voice, so it’s no surprise that he took making a Christmas album on his stride. Issued as the follow-up to the multi-platinum-selling The Lady Killer, 2012’s CeeLo’s Magic Moment featured spirited reinterpretations of classic festive songs – not least Green’s sleigh-bell-stuffed, Motown-esque tilt at What Christmas Means To Me.

Must hear: What Christmas Means To Me

17: 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

16: Cliff Richard: ‘Cliff At Christmas’ (2003)

Sir Cliff Richard is synonymous with Christmas, and 2003’s Cliff At Christmas showed us why, gathering as it did all his festive blockbusters, among them Mistletoe And Wine, Saviour’s Day and The Millennium Prayer, under the one roof. Issued as the album’s lead single, the brand-new song Santa’s List was tipped to join the list of UK Christmas No.1s, though it ended up peaking at No.5. Nonetheless, the platinum-selling Cliff At Christmas became a Yuletide evergreen, and in 2022 the veteran star released a long-awaited festive follow-up, Christmas With Cliff.

Must hear: Mistletoe And Wine

15: Chris Isaak: ‘Christmas’ (2004)

Chris Isaak is renowned for his David Lynch connections, thanks to his appearance as the FBI agent Chester Desmond in the 1992 spin-off movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Lynch’s use of one of the best Chris Isaak songs, Wicked Game, in his 1990 movie, Wild At Heart. All things considered, then, Isaak may seem an unlikely contender for cutting one of the best Christmas albums of all time, yet-2 he put his stamp on the season with the simply titled Christmas: a suitably suave Yuletide offering on which the enduring Californian singer-songwriter imbues festive favourites such as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Blue Christmas with his trademark cinematic cool.

Must hear: Blue Christmas

14: Scott Weiland: ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ (2011)

At least on paper, the idea of Scott Weiland squaring up against the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby seems like a stretch, yet the late Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman proved he could croon with the best of them on 2011’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, a faithful set of festive standards delivered with feeling by a man once chosen by Hit Parader to be among the best heavy metal vocalists of his generation. Overshadowed by Stone Temple Pilots’ then-recent reunion and tour, Weiland’s Christmas album slipped below the radar on release, but it’s recently seen a vinyl reissue, and is more than deserving of rediscovery.

Must hear: Winter Wonderland

13: James Taylor: ‘James Taylor At Christmas’ (2006)

James Taylor At Christmas is effectively a more widely available edition of Hallmark Cards’ limited-edition James Taylor: A Christmas Album, first issued in 2004. It’s worthy of full-scale release, too, for the acclaimed US singer-songwriter treats this collection of festive standards (Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas) and traditional songs (In The Bleak Midwinter; a glorious take on the gospel classic Go Tell It On The Mountain) with the respect they deserve. Indeed, that attention to detail ensures James Taylor’s seasonal effort isn’t just one of the best Christmas albums; it’s a record that stands up to scrutiny any time of year.

Must hear: Go Tell It On The Mountain

12: 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

11: 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

10: Josh Groban: Noël (2007)

Rather like CeeLo Green, Los Angeles-born Josh Groban has enjoyed sustained success on both stage and screen. His film credits include significant roles in the US comedy-drama series Ally McBeal and the Netflix series The Good Cop, while his Broadway debut, in 2016’s Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet Of 1812, won him a Tony Award. His musical career has kept pace, too, with his nine studio albums yielding cumulative sales of over 35 million. To date his most successful release, Noël proffers a selection of festive chestnuts (Ave Maria, Silent Night, The Christmas Song) couched in David Foster’s lush orchestration. and it remains as good an introduction as any to Groban’s distinctive classical-pop crossover sound.

Must hear: Angels We Have Heard On High (featuring Brian McKnight)

9: Dean Martin: ‘The Dean Martin Christmas Album’ (1966)

One of no less than five Dean Martin albums to see release during 1966, The Dean Martin Christmas Album was issued at the very height of Martin’s popularity, with Billboard declaring the US singer/actor to be on “the hottest streak of his career”. Despite that, The Dean Martin Christmas Album stalled at No.36 on the US charts, but it remains a perennial festive favourite. The music’s relaxed atmosphere perfectly suits Martin’s nonchalant croon, and his ageless versions of Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! have long since cemented The Dean Martin Christmas Album’s reputation among easy-listening aficionados’ best Christmas albums.

Must hear: Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

8: 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

7: Kate Bush: ‘50 Words For Snow’ (2011)

Though not specifically a Christmas album, Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow was issued in November 2011, just in time for that year’s festivities. It was also a wonderful surprise for Bush’s loyal fans, who were hanging on the release of her previous album, Director’s Cut (featuring reworked material from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes), but certainly weren’t expecting another new release just months later. 50 Words For Snow proved to be a significant gift, too, for it was both daring and innovative, and contained a latter-day entry among the best Kate Bush songs, in the shape of the seven-minute meditation Among Angels. Hinting at jazz, art-pop and chamber music, the collection’s seven lengthy, otherworldly tracks inhabited their own special space, and the songs’ collective wintry theme helped 50 Words For Snow find a place in fans’ hearts as one of the best Christmas albums of all time.

Must hear: Among Angels

6: 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

5: 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)

4: Vince Guaraldi Trio: ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (1965)

Originally a jobbing musician on San Francisco’s jazz scene during the 50s, Vince Guaraldi first came to prominence when his bossa nova tune Cast Your Fate To The Wind, from 1962’s Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus, became a runaway hit. However, the Italian American pianist set his legend in stone with his soundtrack work for animated adaptations of Charles M Schulz’s famous Peanuts comic strip, starring the legendary cartoon anti-hero, Charlie Brown. In all, Guaraldi’s jazz trio soundtracked 16 Peanuts TV specials, yet the first, 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, arguably remains the pick of them. Some of the cues were original compositions, among them Linus And Lucy, Skating, My Little Drum and the maudlin classic Christmas Time Is Here. They sat beautifully beside Guaraldi’s emotive takes on some of the best Christmas carols, such as O Tannenbaum and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Still one of the best Christmas albums, A Charlie Brown Christmas quietly seduced North America, selling over five million copies before being inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.

Must hear: Christmas Time Is Here

3: The Beach Boys: ‘The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album’ (1964)

The Beach Boys’ music automatically conjures images of sun, surfing and summer fun, but Brian Wilson and co also put their heart and soul into wintry festivities with The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album, released in time for 1964’s Yuletide season. Envisaged partly as a response to A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, the album was a lavish affair, with Wilson producing and, in collaboration with Mike Love, writing a batch of delightful original songs such as Little Saint Nick and The Man With All The Toys, while Four Freshmen alumnus Dick Reynolds arranged the orchestral backing for the traditional tunes to which The Beach Boys later applied their heavenly harmonies. With hindsight, the group may no have managed to topple Phil Spector’s legendary “Wall Of Sound”, but The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album was a triumph regardless – it peaked at No.6 in the US on release and has long since been accepted as one of the very best Christmas albums.

Must hear: The Man With All The Toys

2: Various Artists: ‘A Christmas Gift For 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 For 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 For 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

Buy Christmas vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 4 December 2020

Updated: 1 December 2021. Words: Fionn Crossan | 3 December 2022: Luke Edwards

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