Favorite Holiday CDs

Its that time of year: In only takes a few weeks, but I very quickly tire of walking into stores and getting assaulted with endless repetitions of all those corny Xmas Carols we’ve all heard far too many times to enjoy any longer (see this list).

No worries, though: Amazon has some great Christmas Music on Sale this year, with almost all of these discs available for under $10. Here’s a way to get into the holiday musical spirit without having to endure the usual annoying cloying tunes. This is one holiday-themed list that won’t make you ill.


1. Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

: Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

There truly is no better Christmas album than this one.  It is 180 degree from all that junk holiday music you hate: Recorded in 1960, it is without a doubt the swingingest Christmas album ever recorded. A Jazzy big band, brilliant arrangements and Ella’s perfect voice make this album a must have Christmas
albums, period. Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, Ella Fitzgerald


2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special

The classic Peanuts Christmas Jazz Masterpiece: For those of a certain age, "the first time you listen to this disc you will undoubtedly be transported directly back to your childhood" (one reviewer noted)and thats absolutely true.

Indeed, for lots of us, this was our first introduction to Jazz — and Vince Guaraldi is still a great intro. A must have.  A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special


3. James Taylor at Christmas

: James Taylor at Christmas

Nicely balanced between pop and jazz selections, with more stately
hymn-like fare and balladry. Anything JT does manages to sound fine via his charmingly understated, mellow, soulful
voice. (and a must own for JT fans)  James Taylor at Christmas


4. Oscar
Peterson Christmas

: Oscar Peterson Christmas

Sophisticated yet unobtrusive, this CD is an ideal jazz instrumental backdrop to all your holiday activities. Peterson mades this warm, mellow album accessible to non-Jazz buffs, while at the same time keeping it sophisticated and interesting enough for afficianadoes to enjoy. This CD, along with the Ella disc, are two of my favorites. Its perfect for sipping an evening cocktail and
sitting in the dark with nothing on but Christmas lights.  Oscar
Peterson Christmas


5.  December, Piano Solos

: December, Piano Solos: 20th Anniversary Edition

December holds the distinction
of single-handedly putting
Windham Hill on the map. This collection of solo piano works crossed
over from new age to popular to seasonal.

I always loved having this as
one of 5 CDs on the carousel (back in the days of 5 CD disc players).
Yes, kids, there was a shuffle play before the iPod. December, Piano Solos: 20th Anniversary Edition, George Winston



6. Merry Christmas from Motown

: Merry Christmas from Motown

A terrific collection of favorite Motown artists doing all the usual songs; The work was interesting enough that the series from Motown saw a few more versions of this after the success of the first one.

This first collection is all Motown A-list:  The Temptations, Diana Ross & The Supremes,  Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Stevie Wonder.
Merry Christmas from Motown (Various Artists)


7. Christmas with the Rat Pack

: Christmas with the Rat Pack

Break out the cocktail shaker, its time for some Christmas drinks with Frank, Sammy and Dino!  This is a boozy holiday
compilation, a perfect retro lounge soundtrack for a bachelor pad. My favorite comment about this:  "the novelty of
having three of the 20th century’s most notorious sinners belt, whoop,
and sing the praises of sleigh bells, roasting chestnuts, and the
virgin birth would be enough to recommend this dizzy, 21-track delight,
but there’s actually some rewarding pop archaeology here as well."

Christmas with the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin Sammy Davis Jr.


8.  Wintersong

: Wintersong

Sarah’s elegantly beautiful voice mixes some traditional (but not ubiquitous) Christmas
songs along with some more modern holiday tunes (John Lennon’s "Happy
Xmas (War is Over)" and Joni Mitchell’s "River"). If you enjoy her lovely and haunting voice, you will most likely enjoy this collection. (I suspect this collection may grow on me) Wintersong, Sarah McLachlan


9.  A Winter’s Solstice: Windham Hill Artists

: A Winter's Solstice: Windham Hill Artists

Following the success of December, this album became one that built
a Windham Hill tradition of New Age seasonal music / mixed artist
collections. They are now up to number VI in the Winter Solstice Series. A Winter’s Solstice: Windham Hill Artists


10. Rhino:
Swingin Christmas
and Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One (2 way tie).

These two are similar hipster recordings:

: Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

Ultra-Lounge is a martini-and-mistletoe combo from the late 50s/early 60s. Think of
the Doris Day movies of that era (or even Tony Randall’s), and you get
the picture of the big band sound on many of the tracks. Its very retro, and features the likes of Nat King Cole, Dean
Martin, Lou Rawls, Julie London, Jackie Gleason, Peggy Lee, Billy May,
and Les Brown.  Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

: Rhino: Swingin Christmas

The Rhino collection digs deeper back to the 40s to more recent cuts — a diverse collection of songs covered by Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, Esquivel, The Manhattan Transfer,  Vic Damone. (Les Brown is the only artist present on both discs).

Swingin Christmas

That should be enough to keep you warm all winter!

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. muckdog commented on Nov 28

    AC/DC’s “Mistress for Christmas” is a heartwarming yuletide song…

  2. jimi commented on Nov 28

    For something different I would suggest “A John Waters Christmas.” I was hooked on the album after I heard about it on Terry Gross’ “Fresh Air.”

  3. haraldb commented on Nov 28

    If you are a fan of Jazz greats doing yuletide classics, you should definately check out Jimmy Smith’s Christmas Cooking. Nothing like a little Hammond B3 to get you into the holiday spirit.

  4. scorpio commented on Nov 28

    when you make your Christmas CD dont forget NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish” and Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas”. must haves.

  5. winjr commented on Nov 28

    What? No Johnny Mathis? No Ray Coniff Singers? Nat King Cole?


  6. D. commented on Nov 28

    Don’t forget Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas collections.

  7. David Yaseen commented on Nov 29

    I met Ella Fitzgerald once, in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel. I was 11 or 12. She was nearly blind and had a nurse and a really nice fur coat. I introduced myself and she was very gracious and said “Now you be a good boy, David,” with a big smile.

    My mother was standing next to me the whole time, dumbstruck.

  8. Taylor Somerville commented on Nov 29


    If you want a funky jazz X-mas album. Check out Jimmy Smith’s X-mas Cookin.

  9. BB commented on Nov 29

    2 obsucre ones:

    1. John Carlini – A Christmas Gift (order directly from his web site (www.johncarlini.com)

    2. Tuck Andress – Hymns, Carols, and Songs About Snow. A solo guitar cd by one who plays bass, rhythm, and lead parts simultaneously.

  10. jj commented on Nov 29

    No Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad!!??

  11. marku commented on Nov 29

    Dont forget Aimee Mann’s Christmas remake of a bunch of classics–mostly with very nice jazzy guitar accompaniment. I forget the title tho.

  12. howard commented on Nov 29

    right on, Tom! the Phil Spector is a classic, my own number one choice.

    Ray Charles, the Roches, aaron neville, and Merle Haggard all also have excellent xmas CDs, but since our host mentioned jazz, let me note that in my (and many other people’s) estimation, the greatest jazz xmas track is Dexter Gordon’s “have yourself a merry little xmas,” although miles davis’ “blue xmas” is also not to be missed.

  13. Stephen L. McKay commented on Nov 29


    Nice picks for the holidays! I love George Winston, with “Autumn” being my favorite, and as far as A Charlie Brown Christmas, this did in fact lead to my discovering Miles Davis, Weather Report, Wayne Shorter, Coltrane, Monk, and, well, you get the picture!

    Thanks, and hope you enjoyed Chi-town. It was my home for 14 years before moving to N.Y. in 03’

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