Ten years ago I started putting out an annual mix CD, dubbed the “December 24th Mix”, because I was very terrible at finishing things on time and usually ended up posting it on December 24th, just in time for Christmas morning. When I started the project the goal was simple: I wanted to make something different from the Christmas music we heard every year as kids growing up. All those radio hits, and classics that drove you nuts while shopping at the mall were out, replaced with original songs from artists you might not be familiar with, or fresh takes on the classics.
Every year this means I have to scour through a sea of newly released Christmas albums (and let me tell you, there’s a lot more than you might expect, and they’re only getting worse), along with scanning the depths of the internet for stuff people might not have heard before (thank goodness for Bandcamp). While usually the best tracks are one-off singles, once and a while there’s an album that stands out and becomes an instant favourite. So in honour of the tenth anniversary of the December 24th Mix, here’s a list of ten Christmas albums that have become staples in our house, and end up in constant rotation every year.
Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs
I discovered this album at some point in university and haven’t stopped playing it since. Krall’s jazzy takes on these holiday classics just are Christmas. Catchy, soulful, and oh so cool, I had tried to track down the album on vinyl for a number of years in a row to no avail (the original release was limited and copies were selling for over $500). Thankfully a couple years ago the album was re-pressed and I bought myself two copies. It was then later re-pressed on green vinyl and I snatched that up too. When an album is this perfect, you can never have too many copies.
Anthony Hamilton’s Home for the Holidays
Sometimes when I’m going through albums you hit upon one that you just know is special. From the opening jingle bells and bass thump of the opening track, It’s Christmas, I knew I had something special on my hands. Hamilton’s soulful voice, combined with his incredibly catchy songwriting makes this album the perfect companion for a Christmas party with friends. And unlike most albums on this list, it’s chock full of originals that, for me anyways, I hold in as high regard as those classics you’ve heard a thousand times. It’s also been giving me tracks for my annual mix for the last few years, since just about every track is a winner.
Joshua Hyslop’s O Holy Night
A good mix, like a good story, needs to have range. It can’t all be upbeat bangers or the audience grows tired. You also gotta slow things down sometimes, and that’s where Joshua Hyslop comes in. A recent find, his acoustic renditions of the classics are beautiful, and his originals are among my absolute favourites. The album is criminally short, but always better to leave you wanting more, and Hyslop does exactly that.
Leslie Odom Jr.’s Simply Christmas
Odom Jr. is perhaps best known as the original Aaron Burr from Hamilton (leading me to retitle the album “Brrr, It’s Cold Out There: Christmas with Aaron Burr”) and his Christmas album is just as memorable as his performance. Soulful, jazzy takes on the holiday classics, his rendition of Wintersong is among the very best I’ve ever heard!
CeeLo Green’s CeeLo’s Magic Moment
Christmas is meant to be a season for fun, and CeeLo’s Christmas album is definitely that. A wonderful mix of standards, and more recent Christmas pop songs, CeeLo brings so much fun and energy to this album. His rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me” is especially fantastic!
Holly Cole’s Baby It’s Cold Outside
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Holly Cole, and an even better chance you’ve never heard of her Christmas album, but this Canadian jazz songstress absolutely knocks it out of the park with this one. Her rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (with The Barenaked Ladies Ed Robertson) is my favourite version ever recorded. She might also break your heart though, with her mournful “If We Make it Through December”.
Ramsey Lewis Trio’s Sound of Christmas
Sticking with the jazz theme, Sound of Christmas is perfect for your Christmas dinner party. Lewis’ take on the Christmas classics are utterly perfect. True, I’ve never actually used any tracks from the album for a December 24th Mix, but I can assure you not a Christmas goes by without me spinning my vintage vinyl copy of this album at least a couple times.
Michael Bublé’s Christmas
My wife and I have a running gag where every time I play this album she says, “I thought you didn’t like Michael Bublé?” even though it couldn’t be further from the truth (for the record, it’s Josh Groban I’m not fond of). Bublé classic crooner style mixed with modern pop/jazz arrangements are the perfect companion to Christmas. The album has a retro vibe, which makes it feel like an instant classic.
Kylie Minogue’s Kylie Christmas (Snow Queen Edition)
I’ve been a big Kylie fan for years, and was super stoked when she put out a full-scale Christmas album. I was even more excited when it was re-released the following year with even more festive cheer. And while I’m not usually the biggest fan of double dipping, the re-released version includes both Kylie’s version of Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights” (perhaps my favourite holiday original of the last ten years), it also includes a far too short version of “Everybody’s Free to Feel Good” that quite literally gives me chills every time I listen to it. While some of the originals are a little lacking, I defy you not to dance to “100 Degrees”, which may just be the best Christmas banger ever released. For extra credit be sure to watch her live concert version of the album which is utterly camp and brilliant.
Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas
Christmas isn’t Christmas without Charlie Brown, and no list of Christmas essentials would be complete without it. Sure, everyone knows it, and everyone has it (and if you don’t what the hell is wrong with you), but it’s the first Christmas record I spin every year and it’s absolute perfection.
Extra Credit: Coldplay’s Christmas Lights
Coldplay have still yet to put out a full Christmas album (unless you can actually track down a copy of Mince Spies) but “Christmas Lights” has become a true Christmas classic for me, and I think I’ve included a version of it on almost every December 24th Mix since its release.
Extra Extra Credit: Jamie Cullum
Alright, so Jamie Cullum is one of my favourite artists working today, and sadly he has yet to put out an actual, true Christmas album, though he did put out a Christmas single the other year, and has recorded a number of songs over the years that have been released either on compilation albums or online. Cullum always manages to blend soulful jazz arrangements with modern pop stylings and I absolutely adore all his work, and sincerely hope one Christmas he’ll bless me with a complete album. In the meantime, this version of “Let It Snow” is utter perfection.