The holidays are a magical time. When you’re a kid, it’s the most exciting part of the year. Presents! And did I mention, presents? As a result of getting older priorities change, while time has a funny way of de-railing the joy of the holidays. However, one thing that remains timeless through it all is the music. When I think about the holidays, 3 albums come to mind that encapsulate all of the holiday feels. These are my top 3 Christmas albums.
I’m listening to this album for the first time this year on the day before Thanksgiving, and I feel myself surrendering to the Christmas season. There’s no turning back now. I grew up in an Italian household, so there’s a plethora of Sinatra, Martin, and Crosby circulating throughout the airwaves. However, the one memory that holds strongest is the warm feeling of hearing “The Christmas Song” by Nat crackle through the speakers.
While the title track takes the cake for being iconic, the rest of the album also maintains the same mood. His readings of “Deck The Halls“, “O Tannenbaum“, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” are definitive, almost flawless. I actually want to cry listening to this album, because it is so beautiful and so nostalgic. Consequently, without oversharing my personal life it evokes an overpowering, yet necessary sense of melancholy. This is the past in my top 3 Christmas albums trilogy.
I love me some Vanessa Williams, and I believe that this album is the catalyst (combined with her flawless and festive performance as Ebony Scrooge in VH1’s “A Diva’s Christmas Carol“). I remember being with my mom 20 years ago, and purchasing this at Hallmark in my hometown (I believe it was part of a special). She loves this album, and prior to us becoming another family glued to the TV during dinner, we listened to music while we ate most nights. In December, my Mom puts this in heavy rotation, even to this day.
The album combines elements of new wave, jazz, and pop, with a sprinkle of light gospel. I especially gravitate towards her jazzy take on “What Child is This“, the upbeat and choir-filled “Hark The Herald Angels Sing (Shout)“, and the mood-setting opener “Do You Hear What I Hear?/Little Drummer Boy“. The arrangements are tailored to Vanessa’s rich and warm voice, therefore providing an ideal soundscape for her to showcase her vocal ability. This represents the present in my top 3 Christmas albums.
Listen, this one is challenging. How do you, the self-respecting Mariah Carey fanatic just choose one? There’s something irreplaceable about the original, however the sequel is just as incredible. I will never forget purchasing Merry Christmas in November of 2001 at Tower Records in Picadilly Circus in London. It was my first time in London, yet my priority at 11 years old was the record store. This was also my first experience hearing this album. Until then, “All I Want For Christmas” was unknown to me. It also took about 7 years to realize that the magnificent acapella album closer “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is actually a bonus track unavailable in the US.
Mariah has a knack for songwriting and arranging, and Merry Christmas is a stellar showcase of this. She excels on the self-written “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)“, while effortlessly capturing the vintage sound of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)“. Then there’s the elephant in the room: “All I Want For Christmas Is You“. Amongst the set, it sounds like a standout before even realizing what it is (my 11 year old self states that objectively). Consequently, it manages to not eclipse the rest of the album in a full listening. Each song stands strong on it’s own, marrying a mix of pop, soul, and gospel.
The sequel evokes a different musical tone. It sounds bigger, more expansive, and more produced. The lead single “Oh Santa” uses a formula similar to “All I Want For Christmas”: It’s upbeat, with a vintage feel and layered, multiplied vocals (plus church bells for good measure). She embraces her now-ubiquitous hip hop side with a rousing rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus/Rooftop Celebration” and shows off her (still in tact) powerhouse vocal chords on “O Little Town Of Bethlehem/Little Drummer Boy Medley” These two albums combined represent the future in my top 3 Christmas albums trilogy.
When I recount Christmases that have passed, and look to Christmases to come, these are the top 3 Christmas albums I want playing, from the day after Thanksgiving until people start yelling at me. I get it, it’s 70 degrees in July and you don’t want to hear it anymore. Too bad.