Holiday Albums You Love—And Others You Should

Now that it’s December, it’s time to dust off those records that live in the back of your collection, the ones that only get played one month out of the year: Christmas albums. In this post, I’m taking a look at some of the albums on Billboard’s list of the ten top-selling holiday albums of all time. Chances are you own some of them, and maybe you can’t imagine Christmas without them. But the thing about traditions is, you have to add new ones from time to time. In that spirit, I’m offering some alternative holiday albums that might be less familiar and a little fresher to your ears.

Gigantic Bestseller:
ElvisElvis’ Christmas Album – Elvis Presley
Released in 1957, Presley’s first Christmas album—the top-selling record on Billboard’s list— features secular tunes on side one and sacred fare on side two, including a few non-Christmas gospel songs that had been previously released. The King is solemn on the religious tunes but loosens up for the secular stuff, including originals like “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me).” Personally, I can’t stand Elvis’ version of “Blue Christmas,” but it’s here, too.

Alternate Choice:
James Brown’s Funky Christmas – James Brown
Let the King rest in heavenly peace this year and invite the Godfather of Soul over for Christmas instead. This compilation features tracks from the three holiday albums Brown recorded at the height of his funky powers between 1966 and 1970, including “Go Power at Christmas Time,” “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and “Soulful Christmas.” Brown shows his socially-conscious side on tracks like “Let’s Unite the World at Christmas.”

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Frank Sinatra and a Rat Pack Christmas

A Rat Pack Christmas

Yes, there is a CD that handily collects Christmas songs by Frank, Dino, Sammy (and Peter and Joey, as pictured above), so you could go that route.  But wouldn’t it be more fun to go looking for some of those classic Christmas albums by the Rat Pack guys, and maybe include some of their fellow holiday crooners?

Here are some suggestions for some albums and song choices that you could use to put together an ultra-cool playlist that might approximate who you would hear sing at a swingin’ holiday soiree hosted by the Rat Pack.

Dean Martin, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Dino could make anything swing, even “White Christmas.”  OK, well, maybe not “White Christmas.”  But Mr. Suave shares vocals on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with a whole female chorus rather than the usual one female vocalist.  It’s gotta be in the mix.

Frank Sinatra, “Mistletoe and Holly”

Ol’ Blue Eyes made “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” into bittersweet holiday ballads, but to meet the Rat Pack hip quotient, my choice is “Mistletoe and Holly,” if only to hear Frank croon “Oh, by gosh, by golly.”

Sammy Davis, Jr., “Jingle Bells”

The LP bins are lousy with records by Frank and Dean, but, incredibly, Sammy never released a Christmas album!  He has recorded some Christmas songs, though, and one has got to be included.  I’m going with “Jingle Bells” to keep things hoppin’.

Nat “King” Cole, “The Christmas Song”

Cole wasn’t in the Rat Pack, but he should’ve been.  He was a lot cooler than Joey Bishop.  All of these guys sang versions of “The Christmas Song” (You know, “The Christmas Song”: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”—that one), but Nat Cole made it one of his trademark numbers, and we’ll make it the low-key change of pace to break up the Rat Pack holiday party cheer.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Winter Wonderland”

Ella knew how to swing the holiday stuff, and was a big influence on the Rat Pack crooners.  Her version of “Winter Wonderland” bounces right along, and earns her a spot as a Rat Pack special guest.

Tony Bennett, “My Favorite Things”

Why Tony Bennett was not a member of the Rat Pack I don’t know. His version of “My Favorite Things” (yes, it’s a Christmas song) is peppy.  Tony’s still goin’, and in 2008 released an album with the Count Basie Band called A Swingin’ Christmas.  Perfect!

Peggy Lee, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”

The Rat Pack always had a few ladies around, so we’ll let Peggy join Ella to represent the feminine element.  All she has to do is sing to Dino, Frank and Sammy: “Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  

Of course, there’s room for other Rat Pack wannabes at the party, like Steve and Eydie, Bobby Darin, and Vic Damone. A nice, swingin’ way to dig the holidays! – Steve

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.