The Christmas album is a great tradition that has proved irresistible to many of the world’s best artists over many decades. But although knocking out a winning Christmas single is one thing, sustaining that yuletide momentum over a full album is a whole other kettle of eggnog.
While most who attempt this festive feat end up with nothing more than a Christmas turkey - looking at you, Gwen Stefani - when it goes right you get something truly magical and enduring; a collection of songs that transcend time and place to become an indelible part of people’s lives and memories all over the globe forevermore. In short, you end up with a Christmas miracle.
With that in mind, we present our power-ranked Top 10 list of Chirstmas albums. Every one a gift with the power to make your Christmas a truly wonderful time of year.
10: A Very She and Him Christmas
She and Him
The “She” of She and Him is the “adorkable” actress Zooey Deschanel. This should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect from this indie/folk duo who embrace vintage pop.
This festive album, their third, is a gentle album of quirky cool Christmas covers. Its sparse instrumentation, mostly reverb-drenched guitar sprinkled with things like ukelele, piano and whistling, hangs like Christmas ornaments around Deschanel’s retro coo.
The Christmas Waltz is a beautifully delicate opener, Sleigh Ride happily shuffles along and they let their hair down with a 50s rock take on Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.
The album’s a hipster holiday treat.
Festive fave: Baby, it’s Cold Outside
9: The Classic Christmas Album
You may not have picked it but the man in black was a big fan of the silly season. He released more Christmas albums during his long career than an overworked elf in Santa’s Toy Factory. This 2013 compilation wraps up the highlights from these records and presents them in a nice little bow.
Along with rousing classics like a spirited Joy to the World and a heavenly Silent Night, Cash also includes songs about how blue he’s feeling (Blue Christmas), a lonely widower waiting for God on Xmas Eve (The Christmas God) and God abandoning man altogether (I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day). Ho-ho-ho indeed!
Festive fave: King of Love
8: A Very Special Christmas
If you want to bring some retro cool to your Christmas while still surviving Whamageddon (make it through December without hearing Wham’s Christmas classic Last Christmas), this is the 80s album you’re looking for.
It features some of the era’s biggest artists bringing their echoey guitars, glossy synths, thundering toms and sparking keyboards to a batch of Christmas faves.
We’re talking acts like Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, U2, Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders. Funnily enough, the breakthrough hit of the record is also its only original track, Run DMC’s stomping, hip-hop holiday-banger Christmas in Hollis.
Festive fave: Christmas in Hollis
7: Merry Christmas
There’s no denying that Mariah’s full-throttled vocal gymnastics can get a little wearying across a whole record, but no self-respecting Christmas album Power Ranking list can be considered complete without an appearance from the diva herself.
Here, Mariah throws herself into the holiday spirit with undeniable gusto, unashamed enthusiasm and unrivalled vocal ability.
The album is rightly known for gifting the world Mariah’s very own modern Christmas classic, All I Want for Christmas Is You. But there’s a lot more to unwrap here.
From the showstopping, octave-slaying, grand gospel of O Holy Night, her ambitious attempt to mix 90s dance-pop with Christmas carolling on Joy to the World or her trademarked power balladeering on Miss You Most (At Christmas Time), Mariah’s love for Christmas is evident and just as powerful as her always theatrical singing.-
Festive fave: All I Want for Christmas Is You.
6: Elvis’ Christmas Album
This controversial - yes, really! - Christmas album saw Elvis facing radio blacklists and had the composer of seasonal favourite White Christmas calling not just to have Presley’s cover of the song banned but the whole freakin’ album. Bah humbug indeed.
But, aside from the old hound dog’s sly innuendo on the rockin’ opening track (Hang up your pretty stockings, And turn off the light, Santa Claus is comin’, Down your chimney tonight) it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about.
Elvis mixes up the rousing rockers (Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me), with his crooning blues (I Believe) and hymnal gospel ((There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)) and shows reference to festive standards like Silent Night.
Despite - or because of - the hullabaloo at release it sold truckloads, and its quality has made it an enduring favourite. In fact, it’s the best-selling Christmas album of all time making Elvis not just the King of Rock n’ Roll, but also the King of Christmas.
Festive Fave: Santa Claus is Back in Town
5: Yule Analog, Vol. 1
It’s a cold fact of life that most beloved Christmas faves celebrate the snowy magic of the Northern Hemisphere. These songs about wintery wonderlands and jingling sleigh bells just don’t fit the bright sunny days of Christmas in Aotearoa.
That makes this collection by the Brooklyn dub collective a rare treat; a festive record that perfectly fits the bright sun and sizzling bbq’s that typify the mighty Kiwi Christmas.
Here, they bring the fat bass grooves and big reverb to Christmas classics like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings while throwing in surprises like the kazoo-driven, full skank workout of Auld Lang Syne.
With its head-nodding grooves, rooting-and-a-tooting trombones and absolutely blazed guitar solos you really can’t go wrong with the dubby goodness of this instrumental album. There’s even a Vol. 2 if you’re feeling particularly irie.
Festive fave: Little Drummer Boy
4: James Brown’s Funky Christmas
Mr Dynamite blows up the traditionally stuffy Christmas album with this collection of seasonally themed deep soul cuts and raw funk grooves. Compiling the best of the best from Brown’s three Christmas records, Funky Christmas is hotter than Christmas dinner and just as satisfying.
Brown struts away from carols to instead deliver 16 yuletide seasoned tracks of shuffling funk (Soulful Christmas), bar room R&B (Merry Christmas Baby) and hard-hitting social commentary (Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto).
Just because it’s Christmas, don’t mean you can’t get fun-kay wit’ it.
Festive fave: Merry Christmas, I Love You
3: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
The First Lady of Song swings into Christmas with this impeccable collection of seasonal standards. It sees Ella and her orchestra swinging and bopping along on a sleighful of cool that’s simply overflowing with Christmas spirit.
Even on the kid-centric tracks like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman, Ella’s infectious jazz cool and the band’s unexpected flourishes and killer solos keep you smiling and nodding along.
Elsewhere, there’s the cocktail cool of White Christmas, the rousing blues of Good Morning Blues, the lounge interpretation of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the sultry, late-nite jazz of What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
It’s a celebratory album that will class up your Christmas day.
Festive Fave: Christmas Island
2: Christmas in the Heart
His Bob-ness scratches and croaks his way through this album of Christmas covers. True, his raspy grizzle may scare the little ones, but this Christmas album is joyfully sincere and a true festive delight.
Indeed, there’s no winking irony to be found here. Whether on the stirring Do You Hear What I Hear?, busting out the original Latin like a fallen priest propped up in a dusty saloon somewhere on O’ Come All Ye Faithful or the woozy, roadhouse blues of The Christmas Blues, he’s jovial and, as the album’s title promises, full of heart.
And, if you want to talk about the Christmas spirit, just listen to jolly Bob merrily dancing his way through the raucously peppy Must Be Santa which sounds like he and his band imbibed one too many glasses of Christmas spirit …
Festive fave: Must Be Santa
1: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Vince Guaraldi Trio
It may be the soundtrack to a kids cartoon - although the poignant, mildly depressive angst of A Charlie Brown Christmas is all too relatable for adults as well - but there’s nothing childish about this album.
Instead, it’s an album of sophisticated, laid-back West Coast jazz that’s guaranteed to fill your house with a cool Christmas spirit.
Vince’s extraordinary piano lines are effortlessly melodic and memorable and made even more impressive as he somehow also finds the hands to provide his own rhythmic accompaniment. His bassist and drummer never let things get too heavy, keeping an easygoing vibe throughout with a relaxed shuffle that sees them sitting beautifully in the pocket of tracks like My Little Drum, O Tannenbaum and the propulsively percussive standout Linus and Lucy.
But what makes the album so special is how the trio capture that magical Christmas feeling. You can feel that childhood excitement in the jazzy rush of Christmas is Coming. You can picture street corner carolers singing the melancholic Christmas Time is Here or Hark, the Herald Angels Sing which features the kids from the cast on vox. And you can escape into the carefree abandon of Skating.
You’d have to be a real grinch to not be caught up in the album’s languorous festivity.
Festive Fave: Skating