As predicted on the calendar, the Christmas season has arrived yet again. Nothing sets the holiday apart more than the fact that there is an industry within itself dedicated to the creation of music that waxes poetic about the awesomeness of the holiday. Bells ring, angels sing, and choirs rejoice in praise of what is to come.
I can barely make it to the day after Thanksgiving, when I formally allow myself to play every Christmas song I can find until the New Year arrives. Seriously, once the plates are put in the dishwasher and the pound cake is sliced, I become a Christmas DJ and kick my iPod into full gear with the holiday hits I have had stored deep in my hard drive for the past year - and I don't stop until well into January. I'm humming along in department stores, re-watching David Bowie and Bing Crosby, and am holed up with every holiday movie I can get my hands on. 24 hours of "A Christmas Story," anyone?
This holiday can be a nightmare for some, but don't take out your hatred on the fact that you never received an Easy-Bake Oven (myself included) or the commercialism of the season out on everyone. There is still goodness and joy to be found - and it has been forever preserved in music form. Take some time and explore these choice holiday albums to get your cheer in gear. Break out the string of dancing lights, run the cookie cutters through the dishwasher one good time, spike your grandmother's egg nog recipe, and harness that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with this memorable holiday by repeating these albums to your heart's content.
Ray Charles, "The Spirit of Christmas"
This album has it all – from the swinging "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" to the sentimental "That Spirit of Christmas" and the sultry "Baby It's Cold Outside", Charles really makes you feel the soul in each song by putting his signature soulful wail combined with a great melody on each track.
Vince Guaraldi Trio, "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
if you like the TV special, you'll love the album. You'll want to grab a partner and do a twirl on "Christmas is Coming" and the iconic "Linus and Lucy" as much as you want to sway on "Little Drummer Boy" and may even feel a tightness in your throat when you hear children sing on "Christmas Time Is Here."
Booker T and the MG's, "In The Christmas Spirit"
If there is any group that can make a standard like "Silver Bells" sound cool and refreshing from all of those standards, it's this group. Booker T. Jones on the organ makes each standard come alive to the point where you cal look over and see the quartet playing a live set in the corner of your living room. But don't put in a request - just listen to the set they have prepared.
The Temptations, "Give Love at Christmas"
Two words: "Silent Night." The Motown quintet adds even more feeling to their sweet harmonizing, with a special testimony from smooth tenor Dennis Edwards that gives vivid imagery to the sitting "...around by the fireplace, watching the gleaming tree" that he sings about. The Tempts' joyous versions of "This Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" ring familiar to listeners who are into their trademark melodies.
Various Artists, "A Very Special Christmas" I and II
The first and second CDs of the "A Very Special Christmas" series offers a great conglomeration of songs that make the perfect Christmas party soundtrack. Whitney Houston is pitch-perfect with her booming vocals on "Do You Hear What I Hear", and Tom Petty brings the honesty of the fun and beauty of the holiday through his lyrics with the help of his rousing band on "Christmas All Over Again." Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown sing "Merry Christmas Baby" to each other with the passion of a satisfied couple rounding out their holiday.
This album set in particular brings back memories of my family celebrating Christmas in the early 90's, when we had just received the latest in technology - the five disc changer/cassette deck/record player combo, where we could dub our favorite recordings to that versatile cassette, rewinding and fast forwarding to our heart's content. Paired with the VHS copy of "Home Alone" and my best (read: now tackiest) Christmas sweater, it made for good times had by all.