On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… holiday albums that don’t deserve to be flown under the reindeer – or radar.
Finding a holiday album best suited to your seasonal celebration sounds easy. Afterall, zillions of artists have spiffed up the old Christmas classics or have written new ones. Sadly, ubiquity does not equal quality. Find here a holiday hitlist to inspire your hoedown, fancy fête, or alternative holiday affair. Whatever your Christmas vibe, there’s an album for it.
In no particular order are 12 albums for 12 different days of Christmas. These aren’t “THE BEST,” per say, they’re an eclectic mix of festive albums free from rank. It’s entirely likely that, dear reader, you’ll toss up your hands at the absence of The Jackson Five, Elvis Presley, and Mariah. I sympathize – they all made remarkable Christmas hits. This list is meant to include unexpected and varied choices that are different from one another, and which span different time periods. You’re sure to find a choice that piques your interest so give them a spin.
1) Have yourself a merry little doo-wop Christmas with The Supremes’ Merry Christmas.
Melodic Motown goddesses, The Supremes, took their sweet signature sound straight to Christmas favorites like “Silver Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Filled with all the warmth you could ever ask for at the holidays, Merry Christmas is fun and cheerful while keeping all the soulfulness that made The Supremes, well, supreme!
2) Unwrapping your lover more interesting than wearing an ugly sweater with the ‘rents this Christmas?
Ariana Grande’s Christmas & Chill is (yet another) sex positive listen; this one is especially perfect for lovers. Grande’s Christmas wish list might make Chris Kringle blush, but her sprightly enthusiasm for love making will surely fuel a gift exchange between you and your lover. Christmas & Chill is six songs and clocks in under fifteen minutes. It’s just the right amount of time to satiate your carnal appetites and make it back to the table for Christmas dinner.
3) Reignite your inner child’s Christmas wonder when you spin Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Charlie Brown Christmas.
The gentle piano and choral vocals on both “Christmas Time are Here” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” are positively heartening. And old standby “O Tannenbaum” delights alongside signature Charlie Brown sounds like “Linus and Lucy.” This album is a timeless holiday hit for all the young at heart.
4) Stave off family feuds with the ultra-unifying “Queen of Country’s” A Holly Dolly Christmas!
The “Southern Songbird” has an entire catalogue of just Christmas music. You can find her crooning alongside Kenny Rogers on one or playing handcrafted Smoky Mountain instruments on another. 2020’s A Holly Dolly Christmas, features pure Parton pizzazz along with her mix of talented collaborations including: Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Bublé, Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, and even her brother, Randy. Holly Dolly has all the right stuff for a festive family day, it combines solo soprano numbers and duets brimming with seasonal cheer. An album with this much range has something for everyone.
5) Co-host a super funky celebration alongside the Godfather of Soul.
James Brown’s Funky Christmas is sure to get your guests grooving. Soulful, spiritual, upbeat, and reflective the “hardest working man in show business” brings it all to his Funky Christmas. If you’re searching for a way to bring your celebrants a smile, Brown’s energy is infectious, as always. Funky Christmas is a mix of reflective tunes and lighter songs that will fill your home with contagious Christmas cheer.
6) Conjure all the energy of a low-key, aughts, Christmas Rom-Com with A Very She & Him Christmas.
When this album dropped a decade ago, part of its appeal was how precisely it fit into the un-ignorable throwback trend defining cities like Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Now, A Very She & Him Christmas comes off a bit quaint, cute even, in its retro sensibilities. The duo’s vocal and instrumental interplays read like the coy flirtations, complete with the self-conscious introspection, that ruled aughts rom-com. If you’re a sucker for nostalgic, holiday rom-com – but aren’t dying for the Love, Actually soundtrack – M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s “Baby its Cold Outside” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” will satiate your appetite for seasonal swoon.
7) Deck the halls in iconic mid-century rock ‘n roll instrumentation with The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album.
Maybe it’s the 41-piece studio orchestra or the supreme vocalization that makes this a great rock album, which also happens to be, a Christmas album. The full-bodied vocals, big band brass, pristine percussion, and sing-songy strings envelope listeners. Whether enjoying the album’s five covers or its five originals, it’s hard to resist being carried away on this wave of mellifluous music.
8) Spark some conversations about a lesser-known Christmas album, St. Etienne’s A Glimpse of Stocking.
It’s an oldie (released in 2010), but a sweetie. Sparkling synth pop and Santa’s elf choir had a baby and it’s this record. At times a little sultry sounding, “Christmas Prayer,” the album feels like it would be a perfect fit for a David Lynch Christmas Special because it also has a youthful glee to it with songs like “Gonna Have a Party” and “Welcome Home.” With so much mood packed into A Glimpse of Stocking it’s an album to get conversations (and hips) swinging.
9) Keep the occasion classy with the unmatched elegance of Ella Fitzgerald’s album, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.
Absolute jazz perfection, “Lady Ella’s” three octave voice and (sometimes) improvisational vocals are a positively magical listening experience. With her studio orchestra moving along to support her voice, you can’t possibly find fault with this work. Ella Wishes marriestonally playful, high energy, renditions of “Jingle Bells” to syrupy slow-dance-able songs like “The Secret of Christmas.” Falling in between the two extremes are tunes like “The Christmas Song” and “Christmas Island” which equalize the entire album’s sound, without sacrificing any of its dynamism!
10) Welcome a taste of the unexpected with Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama from Chance the Rapper and Jeremih. AND its Re-Wrapped 2017 re-reissue. AND its additional reissue in 2020 The Gift that Keeps on Giving.
In 2020’s The Gift… the gents added “The Return” onto 2017’s Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama Re-Wrapped double disk. Re-Wrapped brought nine new songs, including those with guests like Hannibal Buress, Noname, King Louie, Lud Foe, and Valee to the 2016 mixtape release. These tapes are a far cry from their poppier Christmas genre cousins, which may make them a unique choice for your holiday playlist…. But if booming verses intercut with ethereal ballads send you into a state of seasonal bliss, then you’ll be floating!
11) Stoke party guests’ inner dancer with legendary P-Funk bassist, Bootsy Collins’ Christmas Is 4 Ever!
“Silent Night,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Jingle Belz” are Collins’ reinterpretations of your favorites. Snoop pops up on in “Happy Holidaze” to bring some seasonal spirit to the act of giving. “Chestnutz” is Collins’ funked up dedication to Nat King Cole and the Cole family. The song borrows familiar verses from Christmas carols and interweaves them throughout ornate funk grooves. The same method can be found across many of the songs on this album. Rifts and puns and general wordplay build a sonically intertextual listening experience which make singing along fun and easy, even on a first listen. Christmas Is 4 Ever is a recipe for a festive dance extravaganza.
12) Rustle up the over-the-top Americana with a beloved singer-songwriter John Prine.
A John Prine Christmas is all the irreverent Prine you could ever want with tunes like “Everything is Cool” and “Christmas in Prison.” Sentimental, funny lyrics pour over Prine’s plucking and strumming. Not a crowd favorite in some circles, Prine Christmas was panned by some critics when it was released. This album is expressly for the whimsical and lighthearted who gravitate toward Prine’s irreverent lyric constructions and old man alto voice. “Silver Bells” is brimming with steely sounding guitars and sleigh bell percussion. And “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is dialed up with some ragtime piano. The right crowd will swing out a two-step when you spin this disk on Christmas day. If they hate it, you can always go with a Willie Nelson Christmas album instead. He made a lot and they’re all good.