It’s hard to imagine that November is just around the corner, and soon the holiday season will be upon us once again. With this in mind, it’s not too early to start talking about music for the holidays – specifically Christmas music. So, what are the best Christmas albums? If you ask this question to ten people, you’re likely to get a multitude of answers (and lots of disagreement).
Aside from preference for or against certain artists, Christmas music generally falls into two categories: religious songs and what I will call “holiday” tunes. An example of a religious Christmas song is “O Come All Ye Faithful”. An example of a holiday-oriented Christmas song is “Winder Wonderland”. It’s not uncommon to find a mixture of the two types on any given Christmas album. Most of my exposure to Christmas music growing up was of the holiday variety, and thus this article will largely include albums containing those types of songs.
This is the first installment in a four-part series. The albums presented in our journey are in chronological order of release date.
Bing Crosby – Merry Christmas
Decca – DL 8128 (1955)
Our first title for inclusion on this list of the best Christmas albums is a classic. The American crooner with an unmistakable voice, Bing Crosby perhaps best epitomizes the “sound” of Christmas. When listening to this album, it’s hard not to envision images of families gathered around the radio in a living room on a cold and snowy night in December listening to Bing swoon through many songs that have remained as staples to this day.
Originally released in mono, this album features the classic “Jingle Bells” with The Andrew Sisters as well as two other classics: “Christmas In Killarney” and “Mele Kalikimaka” (which was introduced to a new generation of listeners during National Lampoon’s holiday classic Christmas Vacation). The stereo version of this album was recently reissued 2014 by Geffen Records as B0021403-01.
Frank Sinatra – A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra
Capitol Records – W 894 (1957)
A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra is worthy runner up to Bing Crosby’s classic holiday offering. It goes without saying that Frank Sinatra is a legend as a singer, and his smooth vocal style is well suited to Christmas music.
There is much to like on this album, but the standouts certainly include his version of Jingles Bells and the outstanding Sinatra classic, Mistletoe And Holly. The Christmas Waltz is another less performed Christmas song that is present here and its inclusion helps to balance out what is a nice mix of holiday and religious musical offerings. Definitely worthy as a best Christmas albums title.
This album was played a lot – and often with hardware and by users giving them less than ideal care. If you’re having trouble tracking down an original vinyl copy in nice condition, the 1983 MFSL release is a viable alternative – Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab – MFSL 1-135.
Johhny Mathis – Merry Christmas
Columbia – CL 1195 (1958)
I love the following quote from AllMusic:
“With empathetic arrangements by Percy Faith, it’s impossible to say how many babies were born the following September after parents heard Johnny Mathis crooning “The Christmas Song.” Smo-o-o-oth!”
This is so very true and reason enough to be one of the best Christmas albums! “The Christmas Song” may well be the standout track, but it is an enjoyable set of songs that comprise the entire album. The first side is comprised of holiday tunes with more religious fare occupying the second. I’m especially appreciative that “Silver Bells” is included as it is my favorite Christmas song. Note that both mono and stereo versions exit of this title. Opt for a mono pressing if you can find one as the presentation lends itself well to this type of music.
Merry Christmas from Johnny Mathis has pretty much reached cult status as far as holiday music is concerned, and it is a title that should be in every Christmas music lover’s library.
Perry Como – Season’s Greetings From Perry Como
RCA Victor – LPM-2066 (1959)
Rounding out the 1950’s is another stone cold classic – this one from Perry Como. Much like Merry Christmas from Johnny Mathis, this album splits two sides between holiday and more religious songs. When I think of Christmas music from Perry Como, the one track I find synonymous with his name is “Home For The Holidays” – another holiday favorite of mine.
Unique for an album at this time is fourth track on side two, “The Story Of The First Christmas”. In it, Perry Como narrates a story that involves the use of six songs: “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, “Come, Come, Come To The Manger”, “The First Noël”, “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” and “Silent Night”. As this final track on this album, its unique character adds interest and serves as a much needed reminder as to why we celebrate this holiday in the first place.
As with Merry Christmas from Johnny Mathis, this title exists in an original mono state as well as a stereo version. I only have the mono version, so I can’t comment on the stereo – but the mono is very nice sounding and helps to reduce surface noise on the final track as much of it is spoken.
That’s it for now. We’ll be back in a few days with the second installment as we explore more holiday albums that deserve to be on our list of the best Christmas albums of all time – this time from the 1960’s.