If you’re anything like me, one of the things that helps to start your holiday season every year is the music. I remember back in tenth grade choir, I was stoked about practicing Christmas songs in October. October!!! Yeah, most would agree, October seems a bit early for anything Christmas, but I was 15 and didn’t really care. The music had come, at least to my world, and thus the start of the season had arrived!
While I now wait till at least the 15h of November to start the holidays (like the early church), I still like to celebrate with music. I have several songs and albums in my normal routine, so many I forget about at least one each year (and I’m thoroughly bummed for several months afterwards). Maybe you, however, need a little help with the holiday music. Well, that’s why I write this! Thanksgiving is done, so even the most conservative amongst you cannot argue that the season has come! So, let’s do this! Here are six albums to start your holiday season.
“A Very Mancini Christmas” will start your holiday season with a nostalgic feeling.
A Merry Mancini Christmas will set the nostalgia vibes on high. The album always brings me to a time that was felt more innocent (at least compared to today) and certainly more simple. With a big band aesthetic and a full choir, A Merry Mancini Christmas will remind you of the magic of Christmas you felt as a kid. Think about the music played over the loudspeaker at any mall in the 80s and 90s. Yes, that’s the feel of A Very Mancini Christmas.
The real gems of A Merry Mancini Christmas are the eight melodies. Mancini groups together comparable Christmas songs like Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, as well as O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Holy Night, and Silent Night, or Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride.
Of course, any good Christmas album features a brand new addition to the Christmas canon. With a Merry Mancini Christmas, that song comes in the form of the instrumental Carol four Another Christmas. With an extended string section, flutes, horns, and even a harpsichord, you can almost hear the wonder of the season through Carol for Another Christmas.
A very Mancini Christmas will bring that childlike feeling back to start your holiday season.
Michael W. Smith’s “Christmas” brings the sacred and the beautiful..
If you look at Christmas as a sacred holiday, you may want a more Christ centered album in your holiday rotation. You will not find a more beautiful and awe inspiring CCM album than Michael W. Smith’s 1989 album, simply titled “Christmas.” Smith (and a few friends) rely mostly on new compositions, instead of leaning on too many classics. Still, Smith goes mostly classical with these songs. Lux Venni, for instance features a boys choir. An Anthem For Christmas features a full choir and orchestra with excitement a plenty. No Eye Had Seen, a duet with Amy Grant, woos your heart to the season with its slow and subtle melody and powerful crescendos.
Granted, while Smith does use a lot of new material for Christmas, he does not exclude some of the old favorites. Christmas starts with an interlude leading into a full orchestra and choir belting out O Come All Ye Faithful. The eighth track features a piano led medley including Good King Wenceslas and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Of course the centerpiece (as hinted at in the overture) is a newly arranged version of Angels We Have Heard On High titled Gloria. Smith goes all out with Gloria, mixing classical orchestration with late 80s synthesizers and electric pianos played in a powerful C Major.
Smith closes the album with a serene and gentle piano rendition of Silent Night, reminding us the reason for the season.
“Barenaked for The Holidays” will start your holiday season with 20 classics.
Barenaked Ladies, the Canadian crown princes – er clown princes of eccentric pop, give us 20 full songs for your holiday listening. Starting with a oscillating version of Jingle Bells, first as a slow, smooth jazz version, but quickly involving into a hectic rendition that mimics a circus.
Barenaked Ladies include a version of Do They Know It’s Christmas that actually tries to mimic the original. With back and forth vocals, we get the general feel of the original’s “supergroup” sound. BNL even samples Bono’s famous, err, infamous line: Well tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you!
A surprisingly touching and even ethereal version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen highlight the album. Once more, Sarah McLachlan joins BNL for this one! Even if you skip the album, you must listen to this song.
For those who celebrate Hanukkah, fear not – Barenaked for the Holidays has three songs just for you. Sure one is I Have a Little Dreidel, (this is BNL after al)l. However, with Hanukkah Blessings, BNL explores the traditions and meanings of the holiday. Truly a touching tribute to the festival of lights.
Other highlights include Elf’s Lament, (featuring Michael Bubble’), Sleigh Ride, and Deck the Stills. You might not love every song on Barenaked for the Holidays, but you will find at least one or two songs that touch your heart and tickle your funny bone.
Don’t Forget The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
We all have the soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas somewhere, be it on a collection of MP3s, a CD, or even vinyl. This iconic album needs no review, so instead I’ll just remind you to listen to it. Maybe while decorating the office, maybe while just chilling with some eggnog, whatever. Just Listen. You won’t be sorry.
“A Twisted Christmas will start your holiday season with heavy metal!
Metalheads, fear not. for Twisted Sister’s album, “A Twisted Christmas,” will rock your holiday. The album starts with a mellow version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Oh, but Twisted Sister pulls the plug on the mellow stuff a few seconds in. Twisted Sister finishes the song in the metal stylings you would expect from the shock rockers.
Not missing a beat, the second song on the album might be the strongest. O Come All Ye Faithful features heavy guitars, Dee Snider’s screaming vocals, and just an amazingly good time. What really puts O Come All Ye Faithful over the top are the two allusions to another Twisted Sister Song: We’re Not Gonna Take It. All throughout O Come All Ye Faithful, we hear the same drum beat for We’re Not Going to Take It, and during a guitar solo, we even hear the melody.
Other highlights of the album include Deck The Halls, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and the fastest version of Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire you’ll ever hear. A Twisted Christmas ends with a comedic and fun version of the twelve days of Christmas called “Heavy Metal Christmas.” This metal Christmas does away with the traditional flocks of birds and servants, and instead asks for spandex pants, platform shoes, tattered t-shirts, and a tattoo of Ozzy.
A Twisted Christmas will rock the start of your holiday season!
“Wrapped in Red”- not just another pop Christmas album.
Maybe metal isn’t your thing. Maybe you’re more of a pop music fan. As an antithesis to Twisted Sister, I present to you Wrapped in Red by Kelly Clarkson. Wrapped in Red starts with the title song, an emotional ballad of loneliness during the holidays. If this album sounds depressing, fear not. Track two brings us the poppy earworm, Underneath The Tree. Yes….its simple, yes, its formulaic pop, but dang it, I cannot get enough of Underneath the Tree.
Oh, sure, Kelly can sing pop, but we also know Kelly can sing other genres…and she proves it with the rest of the album. Clarkson gives us an almost Karen Carpenter esque performance with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Clarkson exercises her blues singing muscles with Bells Will Be Ringing. While Clarkson does not try to imitate Elvis on Blue Christmas, she brings her own style, and brings it well.
The real hidden gem of the album, however, is Clarkson’s rendition of My Favorite Things. Clarkson almost sounds like she’s trying to average the two iconic versions by Julie Andrews and John Coltrane. This could easily have been a train wreck, but instead we get something unique and special.
As a capstone to the album, Reba McEntire and Trisha Yearwood joins Clarkson on Silent Night. Some of the best harmonizing on the album can be heard in this song, as the three vocals blend surprisingly well.
Sure, there’s about a million albums worthy of this list. I didn’t list Sufjan Stevens, I didn’t talk about Mariah Carey, I didn’t mention John Denver with the Muppets, and I didn’t even present William Shatner’s surprisingly interesting Christmas album from last year (seriously, a punk version of Jingle Bells with Henry Rollins!). These six albums are just the tip of the iceberg….but fear not. I will be reviewing more Christmas music over the holidays. We’ve officially entered into Holiday Fun time here on AudioPerfecta. So stay tuned for holiday playlists, holiday themed cover vs originals, and more.
Happy Holidays everyone!