Every year from midnight after Thanksgiving until midnight on Christmas Day, the only music I listen to is of the Christmas variety.
I love Christmas. I love the story of Jesus. I love giving gifts. I love the colder weather, the decorations, the tree, the holiday specific foods like candy canes and gingerbread and egg nog, the lights, the TV specials, and of course the music.
Pretty much every genre of music has Christmas tunes available and I can enjoy any of them as long as they’re celebrating the holiday. I don’t mind funny or even dirty Christmas songs, but I hate it when shock value is the goal (this is true for most things). Dirty stuff needs to be tempered by humor, and if it isn’t done right, then I’m not interested. It’s kind of a hard thing to explain.
While Christmas music is available in abundance, there are a few albums that I consider absolutely essential to my holiday season. These are the ones that are the most fun, carry a lot of nostalgia, and have overall the strongest track listings – minimal skippers.
I’ve avoided compilations with various artists, but some of these are greatest hits collections.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Boogie Woogie Christmas
I’m not gonna lie – I was huge into the big swing revival that swept the country in the late 90s. My Papaw listened to swing music all the time while I was growing up and I’ve always loved it. Still do. Brian Setzer was and is one of the coolest cats around, so combining his cool with swing and Christmas makes for one of my favorite musical experiences. All of Setzer’s holiday albums are great, but this one is still my favorite. Get the version with “Cactus Christmas” if you can.
Notable Notes: “The Nutcracker Suite”
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Elvis Presley – Home for the Holidays
Elvis is my mom’s favorite. I respect the King as a performer, but have never really been a fan. A few years ago, though, I felt like something was missing from my Christmas music collection and it turned out to be this. It’s rare that I’ll recommend an album with fewer songs on it, but while Presley’s first Christmas album is an all-time great, but Home for the Holidays eliminates some of the heavier-handed spiritual songs. I like that stuff sometimes, but the tail end of Elvis’ Christmas Album gets a little heavy for me. This one is lighter and more fun.
Notable Notes: “Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)”
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Bing Crosby – Merry Christmas
Your mileage may vary, but to me Bing Crosby is the name in Christmas music. When I was growing up, his voice meant it was the time for holiday cheer.
Notable Notes: “Mele Kalikimaka”
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas
I’ll admit to being highly dubious about buying this album when it came out in 2006. Twisted Sister wasn’t exactly the most relevant band at the time and my last exposure to Dee Snyder was the movie Strangeland, which was terrible. But the cover looked great and I just can’t help myself when it comes to new twists on Christmas favorites. Much to my surprise, the album was excellent and has become one of my all-time Christmas favorites. It presents heavy but respectful versions of all of the hits.
Notable Notes: “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
John Denver and the Muppets – A Christmas Together
To my generation this is probably the most revered of holiday albums. I remember watching the special on TV when I was very young and I remember – although I don’t recall what year – when it didn’t air. It was heartbreaking and Christmas felt slightly less.
I still had the record, though, and I still do. John Denver is just awesome, but putting him together with the Muppets is nothing short of pure magic. Truly, this is one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time, made even better by the fact that it’s the audio from the special and not different recordings.
Notable Notes: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Reverend Horton Heat – We Three Kings
This album was a wonderful surprise. Reverend Horton Heat is one of my favorite bands (I missed them this past Friday thanks to work), but I’m terrible of keeping track of music nowadays. A few years ago I was in Best Buy early in the morning on Black Friday and saw We Three Kings just on some random endcap. I don’t think it was even a new release at that point. It features excellent psychobilly/rockabilly/country versions of the standard classics in the way that only the Reverend, Jimbo, and company can deliver. Heat’s original, “Santa on the Roof” is so damn good that you don’t even realize it isn’t traditional.
Notable Notes: “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy”
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas
The soundtrack to the best-known Christmas special of all time is ubiquitous now. You can’t escape it, but you can’t have Christmas without it, either. It might interest you to know that I played Schroeder in an elementary school production of the special.
Notable Notes: “What Child is This”
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper
There’s something about Willie Nelson’s voice that makes him absolutely perfect for Christmas songs. I don’t know that there’s a more sincere, soulful sound in the history of country music. Nelson brings a personal, unique touch to each of the songs he chose for this collection, but his original composition – “Pretty Paper” – stands out as an all-time great.
Notable Notes: “Frosty the Snowman”
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas
Okay, so for this one you need to start with the knowledge that in my opinion “All I Want for Christmas is You” is the best modern Christmas song. It sounds like an updated Motown classic to the point where I was shocked a few years ago when I discovered it was an original composition written by Carey in 1994. As for the album, aside from the final track (which goes on for way too long and borders on laughable) it features great versions of traditional classics, as well as two more originals.
Notable Notes: “All I Want for Christmas is You”
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Johnny Cash – Christmas with Johnny Cash
Lots of these selections represent emotional ties to my family. This one is a favorite because of my dad. I grew up listening to his country music – Johnny, Waylon, Hank, Gentleman Jim and the like; not modern garbage – and while I didn’t like it at the time, Johnny Cash always seemed like the coolest to me. Cash’s voice is almost like a counterpoint to Willie Nelson’s kindly drawl – intense and insistent, even with benign tunes like “Joy to the World”. This one has a more overall religious bent than anything else on the list, but that fits in with it representing my dad.
Notable Notes: “Merry Christmas Mary”
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
They Might Be Giants – Holidayland
Not technically an album, as it only consists of five songs, but Holidayland is an essential part of my Christmas collection. TMBG are one of my favorite bands and their take on the holidays is always a refreshing break from endless versions of classics (as much as I do love those and could listen to variations on “Winter Wonderland” all day).
Notable Notes: “Santa Claus”
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors – Horny Holidays!
I saved the best for last. Way back in 1992 I went all crazy for Mojo Nixon for some reason. I can’t remember exactly why, but at the time I thought he was the coolest person on the planet. This album is a little (a lot) dirtier than I tend to like my holiday music, but the Toadliquors are so damn good and Mojo is so full of enthusiasm and dumbass gusto that this album has become my go-to for opening up the holiday season. If you’re not easily offended, playing Horny Holidays! loud for all to hear is the best way to spread Christmas cheer!
Notable Notes: “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”
Whatever you enjoy – whether it’s on this list or not – plug it in, turn it up, and have a wonderful holiday season!