This post was originally was on Veoba.com:
This week I was intending to write about a record shop in St Louis since I just made my first ever trip to the Gateway City – but I never made it to any of my three destinations (Vintage Vinyl, Euclid, Apop). So instead of writing about how much of a disappointment this city was and how I lost my sunglasses there (because their record shops could have been the saving grace), I figured I would get into the Christmas spirit and do a little write up about a few notable Christmas albums in my collection (not a “Best of” list). All of these releases are on vinyl, so Faith Hill’s 2008 Christmas album was disqualified from making the list, but David Bazan Christmas 7” series on Suicide Squeeze could find a place. Ready?
1. Low Christmas (1999)
Finally released on vinyl this year by Kranky, this is my favorite Christmas album ever. Period. Instead of Low’s versions of the classics, Low mostly writes their own. Five of the eight tracks are original tunes which have somewhat become new standards. Their approach at keeping their sound without making Christmas song depressing, is pure genius. The added sleigh bells make “Just Like Christmas” more cheery than most Low songs. Their version of “Blue Christmas” makes a strong attempt of dethroning Elvis Presley, while adding noise to “Little Drummer Boy” works perfectly. A true Christmas album that the hippest of indie rock snobs could get into… and it’s not by the Danielson Famile.
2. Pink Martini Joy To The World (2010)
So I am cheating a bit. I do not have the vinyl version of this release in my hands yet, but it is coming out on vinyl (10”) in a couple weeks (the CD and download are available now). The vinyl will be released in stages, and this Christmas we’ll see the release of Volume 1, which contains five of the songs from the full length. From what I have been told, there will be a total of three 10”s to make up the full album. The image provided is of the vinyl cover, not the CD and download cover.
This release is a perfect holiday album. Sure, I am a huge Pink Martini fan, but this group finally puts class back into the Christmas album. Don’t brush it aside as lounge-pop versions of the classics because if you do, you have missed most of what the album has to offer. This is a true worldview of holiday classics, since not all of the songs are about Christmas.
As the press release notes, “Joy To The World” is a festive, nondenominational holiday album with music from around the globe.” It continues: “There are 14 songs on Joy to the World,” says Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, “including well-known traditional holiday songs like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”…sung by China Forbes in English and Saori Yuki in Japanese. With the Pacific Youth Choir and the handbell choir Bells of the Cascades, we recorded “Shchedryk,” known in English-speaking countries as “Carol of the Bells,” with the original Ukrainian text which tells of a lark flying into the house at the start of a new year, thus bringing good fortune. We recorded a Hebrew prayer “Elohai N’tzor” with Ida Rae Cahana and Ari Shapiro and Patricia Costa Kim. There’s a Chinese New Year song from 1946, a Felainspired version of “We Three kings,” a song in Ladino (the intersection of Spanish and Hebrew), “Silent Night” in the original German, as well as a verse in Arabic and another in English. The album ends with a samba parade of “Auld Lang Syne” with choruses in English, Arabic and French over the incredible percussion of the Lions of Batucada.”
3. John Fahey The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album (1968)
This must be a classic album by the progressive folk artist John Fahey (RIP). It makes so many Top 10 Christmas album lists, so of course it needs to be on mine too. Done. I bought this album in the early 1990’s at the Django Music in Portland, OR and did not listen to it for almost ten years. Why? Well John Fahey is just one of those artist that you have to have in your collection (much like the Boredoms or Ryuichi Sakamoto) in case one of the cool kids comes over to your house and looks through your collection. After this purchase I not only had John Fahey in my stacks, but I had his first Christmas record (a little kitschy). So to have this album in your Top 10 must be some sort of a cool factor since the album is a bit of a snore. Sorry John, but not every album is a hit – sometimes it’s just an honor to be listed.
4. Various Artists A Christmas Gift for you from Phil Spector (1963)
Many label this release as the best Christmas album ever… and I can’t disagree. Notably released on the day JFK was assassinated, it has stood the test of time. It features songs by The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Darlene Love… and if you have not heard it, go buy it today.
5. Various Artists Christmas on Death Row (1996)
On the album’s first horrible Snoop Doggy Dogg track “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” featuring a poorly used a sample of Isaac Hayes’s “Do Your Thing” you just know this album blows. So why does it make this list? It is one of my favorite $1 bin purchases of time (Kim’s on St. Marks Place, NYC), it has one of the worst album covers, and just reminds me of the of a time when rap music was sucking at totally new levels. If you have any doubt about the sucking part, just check out Danny Boy’s version of “Christmas Song” which would kill Mel Tormé and Robert Wells (if they weren’t already eating dirt).
6. The Brady Bunch Merry Christmas from the Brady Bunch (1970)
Not sure why this album was renamed “Christmas with the Brady Bunch” when it was reissued in the 1980’s – but both versions have the same track listing and both versions leave out the parents and Alice. Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen prove to the world on this release that they cannot sing, they are a bit tone-deaf, and that merchandising is extremely important. Sure, I could have picked a stronger (or better musically performed) Christmas album from Alvin & the Chipmunks or The Partridge Family – but as a kid I watched The Brady Bunch way too many times for my own good, so this my nostalgic Christmas pick. I have seen this album on eBay for way too much money since this album was pressed many times. One should not pay more than $3 for it. It’s a true classic piece of American pop culture crap.
7. Neil Diamond The Christmas Album (1992)
A Jewish singer releasing a Christmas album… Classic! How can it get any better? Neil Diamond is a pop genius and he does not let anyone down on this release. It’s a Christmas album served with cheese, but the good kind of cheese, not Velveeta. The hard part is finding this gem on vinyl. To my knowledge it was never released on vinyl in the United States (only CD and cassette), but the copy I found was pressed in 1992 in the Netherlands. Win.
…and then there’s Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album (1980), but maybe I’ll save that for next time.