5 albums to listen through for a better Christmas
When it comes to Christmas decorating, my wife has an important tradition. While she puts out our decorations and curses at the lights in our tree, she listens through all of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, “A Christmas Together” by John Denver and the Muppets and “Christmas Album” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Other albums may come and go in the rotation, but these three are a must.
I’ve added the tradition of listening to these records on vinyl, since I have an excellent cabinet stereo that allows you to play a stack of records at a time and because I can’t resist fulfilling millennial stereotypes.
While I do love listening to Christmas music on the radio and seeing how long I can go without hearing “Last Christmas” by the iconic ’80s band Wham!, I am still a strong proponent of listening through entire Christmas albums and especially enjoying some of the lesser-known songs that accompany yet another rendition of “The Christmas Song” or “Jingle Bells.”
I recently reached out to Gary Koening at Affordable Music in Dillon for his Christmas album recommendations and was a little disappointed to hear that Christmas albums don’t sell well at his shop. He was still quick to list off a few of his favorites, which he has available at his store for purchase. His recommendations were excellent, and between him and me, I think we have a solid album list for anyone who is interested in building a good base for providing excellent holiday ambiance.
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
For the most part, I want this list to highlight some less-appreciated Christmas albums, but I don’t think you can overlook this album. Guaraldi’s jazz renditions of classic Christmas songs, interspersed with background music used in the Christmas special and a few children’s choir renditions, manages to be both heavily nostalgic and musically excellent. It’s an album I can intentionally listen to all the way through or just enjoy in the background. My personal favorite track is the excellent jazz instrumental “Christmas is Coming.”
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‘Christmas Portrait’ by the Carpenters
Koening says this album is still one of the most popular Christmas albums he sells at Affordable Music, and it’s not hard to see why. Karen Carpenter’s voice singing Christmas songs is the aural equivalent of drinking hot cocoa next to a fire on a stormy day, and the album itself has a nice mix of carols and more contemporary hits. I would contend that “Merry Christmas Darling” should be right next to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” in a list of best Christmas songs to be released in the past 50 years.
‘A Legendary Christmas’ by John Legend
I’m not going to lie, I originally bought this album after it came out in 2018 because I really enjoyed the cover art, especially the retro holiday scene on the back cover. Still, Legend hasn’t won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards for nothing, and I figured this would be a safe album buy. Legend’s voice manages to blend some of the best of old-school crooners, soulful gospel and classic Motown sound into a wholly enjoyable listen. “What Christmas Means to Me” is a great, upbeat song and has the bonus of featuring Stevie Wonder.
‘James Brown’s Funky Christmas’ by James Brown
This is a compilation of songs from James Brown’s three earlier Christmas albums and warrants a listen just based on the fact that almost every track was written by Brown. Some Christmas albums are quietly contemplative, others may be blatantly nostalgic or crassly commercial, but Brown tends to speak to his own experience and the changes he wants to see. “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” continues to be one of my favorites, along with “Soulful Christmas,” which includes some of Brown’s best squealing.
‘Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD Of All Time’ by Barret Hansen
Barret Hansen, or Dr. Demento as he’s best known, has been spinning odd tracks and B-sides as a part of his weekly “Dr. Demento show” since the early 1970s, and Koening says it’s always his favorite. It’s hard to argue against enjoying a little silliness amid the holidays. The Singing Dogs version of “Jingle Bells” (where all the notes are different dog barks) and Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” are two of the excellent tracks on this compilation album.
Steven Josephson is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News.
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