I took my 64 Christmas albums and separated them into the two categories of “This might be in my top 12” and “Nah” and then ranked them all.
Welcome to the top 4:
Artist: Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra
Album: A Very Ping Pong Christmas
I can’t remember how I came across this album but I know for a fact that it was the drums that initially drew me in. The percussion on this album is so strong not only in the groove but the tone. Every song is essentially a break beat.
This album is all over the map but it remains cohesive and touches on so many elements that I can hardly resist when it comes to music: Funky bass, schloopy beats and even a vox-box solo.
I’m just going to lay out some highlights for this one:
- The organ on “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
- The horns throughout the album
- The bass throughout the album
- The sax meltdown at the end of “Do You Hear What I Hear”
- The fuzzed out guitar solo on “Deck The Halls”
- Guitar solo interplaying with the flute on “Carol of the Bells”
- The staccato rhythm guitar on Silent Night pairs perfectly with the saxophone and evokes an old doo wop feel
- The talk-box solo on “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
- At the end of Carol of the Bells there is a guitar solo that for just a moment sounds like it’s going to reference the melody of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” but instead ascends into a complete psyc-out.
This instrumental album (except for a few vocals on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) sounds like a soundtrack to a movie. I say it would be a perfect soundtrack for every groovy moment you have this Christmas season.
Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio
Album: A Charlie Brown Christmas
My parents have a Christmas decoration that is Snoopy and Woodstock with a little piano resting on some fake snow. When you press a button it cycles through three short samples from this album. As soon as this decoration makes its appearance during the holidays it is irresistible to children. Every child that walks by has to press it until it plays “Linus and Lucy” and, once it starts, they spontaneously start laughing and dancing. I don’t know a better way to describe the timeless joy, energy, appeal and beauty of this album.
It has incredible nostalgia factor. It’s mostly peaceful, sit-in-front-of-the-Christmas-tree and enjoy life music with some upbeat tunes mixed in. The interplay between the trio is so dynamic.
Personal favorite track: “Skating.”
Artist: Bad Religion
Album: Christmas Songs
Really the only downside to Christmas music is I like the majority of my music fast and heavy. Punk, metal, etc. Unfortunately those genres are simply anemic when it comes to holiday music.
Imagine my joy and surprise when Bad Religion released a Christmas album.
Things got even crazier when I bought it and realized 1. It’s completely un-ironic and 2. It has one of the highest Christ centered songs to “holiday” songs ratios of any of my Christmas albums. Literally every song is a carol except for their spin on the Ramones version of “White Christmas” and the last track, “American Jesus.”
This album has received the most play time of all Christmas albums in my home since it came out. If we get bored with a Christmas album, we switch to Bad Religion. If the music is too slow, we switch to Bad Religion.
Greg Graffin, one of the greatest voices in punk rock, starts the album with an a cappella chorus of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” the band rages in immediately after and the album never lets up. They stay faithful to the melodies but slip in some great guitar solos (see the end of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” for a blazing, to the point example).
In Ephesians 3:20 it says “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” and this album was literally something I could have never imagined would have happened but I’m so glad it did.
Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Songs for Christmas, Silver & Gold
It was really close between Sufjan Stevens and Bad Religion but Sufjan wins due to sheer volume and variety. Each of these albums is a 5 EP box set that comes with scores of added goodies. Between the two sets you’ll find extras such as a fold-it-yourself paper star ornament, stickers, temporary tattoos, a poster, essays, a short story by Stevens, chord charts, lyrics, a comic strip, a family portrait poster, photos, and an animated video. “Songs for Christmas” has a 42-page booklet with an original Christmas essay by acclaimed American novelist Ricky Moody and “Silver & Gold” has an 80 page booklet.
Schizophrenically switching from stripped down, beautiful, delicate melodies and organic instrumentation to glitchy, electronic madness these albums genre bend and the listener is the winner.
Like a perfectly balanced mix-tape, the energy levels and instrumentation provide the listener with a holiday music roller coaster.
I love the variety of Christmas music that is out there from traditional to original tunes; from classic to modern arrangements and, I suppose, what makes these two albums top my list is that you can find all of that variety encapsulated in each one.
Happy listening and Merry Christmas!
All images from the Cover Art Archive except Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Christmas from Discogs.