Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Music: Best Pop Christmas Albums

All this month, Shangrila Towers will be serving up various Christmas-themed posts. This entry will focus on the Christmas album, an almost inevitable release for any pop music singer once they get famous. Most of them are hit-or-miss, and only a select few are worth actually listening to:

Nat King Cole - "The Christmas Song"

He's most famous today because of his voice, but Nat King Cole actually started off as a jazz pianist; he learned both traditionl European classical music and jazz as a child. The jazz community wasn't too happy when he veered into popular music, but it's given us some of the best vocal performances ever recorded.

"The Christmas Song" is full of traditional Christmas carols, like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" and "Silent Night." Its title track, though, is a modern classic written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. Nat King Cole recorded four versions, each one more lush and orchestral than the last; a baritone that rich needs a full orchestra just to stand up to it, I guess.

Mariah Carey - "Merry Christmas"

Superstar Mariah Carey is still going fairly strong, but back in the '90s she was damn near unstoppable. "Merry Christmas" is then, in some ways, a snapshot of simpler times for Carey, before the familiar show-biz narrative of fall-from-grace/professional resurrection took over.

Carey manages to bring two things to the table - a great figure (don't laugh, kneeling in a shapely Santa suit probably sold two or three hundred thousand more copies) and an incredible multi-octave range. Most of the tracks on "Merry Christmas" are straight versions of traditional pieces, but the original song "All I Want For Christmas Is You" has become a radio staple.

The Carpenters - "Carpenters Christmas Collection"

What do you get when you mix the mellow voice of Karen Carpenter with the mellow holiday of Christmas? A couple of incredibly mellow Christmastime albums, "Christmas Portrait" and "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," that's what. Why not just wave the white flag and grab the two-disc collection, the appropriately-named "Carpenters Christmas Collection"?

Oh, you'll find some duds (basically, any of the instrumentals and anything where Richard Carpenter sings solo), but the majority of the songs inside are Christmas standards like "Sleigh Ride" rendered into a dreamy otherworld by Karen's mellifluous voice. The mellowness works best on the happy songs (sad ballads like "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" really need a husky, pained voice), but as a whole, it's a great way to chill out during your holiday downtime.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Christmas Time Again"

Most rock artists release a few Christmas singles in their careers, but there are actually only a few bands that'll put together a full Christmas album. Lynyrd Skynyrd, arguably the most famous Southern rock band, released their Christmas collection back in 2000.

Inside is perhaps not what a casual Skynyrd fan would expect. There's a surprisingly gentle piano rendition of "Greensleeves," for instance, along with some original songs. My favorite track is Skynyrd's incredible rocking version of "Run Run Rudolph."


At 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Herb Alpert's Christmas Album
(with the Tijuana brass)

It was one of the first Christmas albums that was more than a standard rendition of the old standards, and it is still in print, and still sells well every year. For total sales, it is possibly one of the most popular Christmas albums ever.

Another one that is out of the ordinary, but not as good (only a couple of good cuts on it, the rest are so-so) is the Ventures Christmas album. Their rendition of "Sleigh Ride" is great.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Neat. Thanks for the suggestions!


Post a Comment

<< Home