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By Matt Miller
Our Favorite Holiday Albums
We offer our top picks to jingle your bells
Most of us have a favorite holiday album even if we won’t admit what it is. These favorites remind us of good times spent with friends and family. Whether you’re listening to the songs on a turntable, tape deck, CD player or an iPod, you can’t deny that music puts you in the holiday spirit. We compiled a list of our favorite Christmas albums, and numerous staff members jumped at the chance to share their musical memories with our readers. Here are 12 of our favorites to rock around the Christmas tree with. Just go easy on the eggnog.
‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’
Reviewed by Shane Goodman
Cityview Editor and Publisher
I was 9 years old when Elvis Presley died, and it happened to be on my birthday. I never really cared for him at the time. Much like Muhammad Ali, I didn’t get to see the young, charismatic version. Old fat guys weren’t very cool to 9-year-olds. But as I became an old fat guy myself, I grew to appreciate Elvis. Other than a pathetic gospel CD my old boss gave to me a few years back, I was hooked on his sound.
So when it comes to Christmas music, who better than the king to sing about the King? With “Elvis’ Christmas Album” being the top-selling holiday LP of all time, it had to make my list. The album was originally released in 1957 but was out of print by the late 1960s. Most of us have seen it in one incarnation or another, including the $6.99 version I purchased recently.
The original LP consisted of eight Christmas and four gospel songs with the traditional tunes on one side and the secular ones on the other. My cheapo version has eight songs including “Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)” and “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” But the song that truly captures Elvis’ holiday spirit is the remake of Ernest Tubb’s 1949 hit, “Blue Christmas.” If this album doesn’t get you all shook up for the holidays, I don’t know what will.
‘Halford III – Winter Songs’
Reviewed by Darren Tromblay
Iowa Living Magazines Editor
Nothing says Christmas like a fresh spurt of holiday tunes from none other than the golden-lunged Metal God himself, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. Yes, kids, hell’s ski lift is now fully operational. Halford’s selection of Christmas music fare present on “Halford III – Winter Songs” is a metalicized mix of new (“Get Into the Spirit”) and classic (“We Three Kings”) songs, a smart marketing ploy meant to draw in both Christian-leaning headbangers (oxymoron, anyone?) and those who worship the goat. Halford, a certifiable icon in the metal community, remains, unfortunately, the genre’s sole openly gay male, but the blatant sexual overtones of “When Christmas Comes for Everyone” can be forgiven as nothing but one man’s pent energy being displaced on another. Unfortunately, the omission of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” cannot. Maybe he’s saving it for “Halford IV — Spank you, Santa;” who knows? Either way, this current platter is still delicious. Four iron rods out of five.
Reviewed by Celeste Jones
Mariah Carey is best known for her amazing vocal range, but she keeps her holiday songs in a sing-along style. The mix of classics and new songs keeps this CD on my shelf for every Christmas season. “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Holy Night” are the best classics performed in bone-chilling harmonies with an amazing backup choir. The No. 1 song on this CD is definitely “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” which was the first holiday song to sell one million digital downloads in the U.S. This popular tune was played daily until Christmas in my house and has since engraved a space in my heart that defines the season. If you are looking for a nice holiday CD for those get-togethers, pick this one up.
‘My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style’
Reviewed by Jared Curtis
Cityview A&E Editor
When asked what my favorite Christmas album is, it was easy to blurt out My Morning Jacket’s (MMJ) 2000 EP, “My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style.” Not only is MMJ one of my favorite bands, but they also offer a rocking cover of one of my favorite Christmas songs, Elvis Presley’s “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” The six-song EP features originals including “X Mas Curtain,” “I Just Wanted to Say” and “Xmas Time Is Here Again” and covers like Nick Cave’s “New Morning” and the previously mentioned Elvis tune. There is something about frontman Jim James’ voice that draws people in, and a recent episode of “American Dad” said it best: “This singer, Jim James, has thee most angelic voice... he makes Enya sound like a Russian couple arguing at the bowling alley.” “My Morning Jacket Does Xmas Fiasco Style” might not be a traditional Christmas album, but the songs are great and it’s the perfect disc to throw in to mix up the holiday song rotation.
‘The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection’
Reviewed by Lindsay Edgington
Cityview Account Executive
Christmastime is my favorite time of year. But one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much is because of the music. I admit, I’m listening to Christmas music on the radio even before Thanksgiving. One of my favorite new artists, Taylor Swift, has come onto the music scene with a bang. So when I heard her version of “Santa Baby” on XM Radio’s Holly Channel, I knew this was an album that would be one of my favorites this holiday season.
Swift takes classic songs and adds a light, fresh sound to them. The album is short and sweet with six songs including “White Christmas,” Silent Night,” and one of my favorites, “Last Christmas.” Who would have thought she could outshine Wham’s Christmas offerings? It’s definitely a must-have during the holidays to lighten the playlist in between Manheim Steamrollers and Bing Crosby.
‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’
Reviewed by Kathy Summy
Iowa Living Magazines Editorial Assistant
For me the holiday season starts with one arrangement that I’ve enjoyed for more than 35 years — “Christmas Festival” arranged by Leroy Anderson. The amazing arrangement features numerous classics — “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “The First Noel,” “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It’s all the classics rendered with intricate strings and powerful brass. I worked myself up through the ranks of the clarinet section in the Centerville High School band on this piece, as we played it every year for the Christmas concert. When I play it now, it takes me back to the excitement of everyone working together to produce a glorious sound. It reminds me of my teen years with all the hope and joy they included, and it’s great to pass those feelings along to all my visitors during the holiday season.
‘A Chipmunk Christmas’
Reviewed by Matt Miller
Cityview Staff Reporter
Almost as recognizable as Santa Claus’ “ho-ho-ho,” the squeaky, yet adorable voices of Alvin, Simon and Theodore always seem to get me in the holiday spirit. Created in 1958 by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., Alvin and the Chipmunks stole the spotlight with their hit “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” The song, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart while also winning three Grammy Awards, landed on “A Chipmunk Christmas” soundtrack. Serving as the group’s third Christmas album and their 12th album overall, the 1981 soundtrack features 11 songs including “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane),” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Deck the Halls.”
The rascally furry fellows find the spirit of the holiday singing “Christmas, Christmas time is near, time for toys and time for cheer” in the “Christmas Song.” Call me nutty, but listening to this album is like opening that present you’ve always wanted on Christmas Day.
‘I’ll be home for Christmas’
Reviewed by Karen Ericson
While I’ve listened to plenty of new music and novelty songs, there is, for me, a time and place for quirky, funny songs. Christmas is not that time. The month of December finds me seeking comfortable, traditional music. No barking dogs, please.
The music of Ronan Tynan is perfect. Tynan is almost as well known for his personal history as he is for his tenor voice. Both are amazing.
Due to a disability at birth, Tynan’s legs had to be eventually amputated below the knees at age 20. Competing in the Paralympics, the Ireland-born Tynan won 18 gold medals and set 14 world records (nine of which still stand). Tynan came to music later at the age of 33 while he was in the residency phase of becoming a physician. He is a medical doctor specializing in orthopedic sports injuries. He won a BBC television talent show within one year of beginning voice lessons. The next year he won an international opera competition. Tynan was a founding member of the “Irish Tenors.” Stepping out as a solo artist, Tynan performed at many first responder funerals in New York City, post Sept. 11, 2001.
As inspiring as Tynan’s story is, none of that matters at the point of listening to his music. The music is just as inspiring and stands on its own merit. “I’ll be Home for Christmas” is a mix of 14 secular and sacred songs as Tynan sings in a beautiful, powerful tenor voice with clear, strong tones. Tynan’s holiday CD is seasonal music you will be able to enjoy each Christmas season. Unless you like your holiday tunes performed by chipmunks and barking dogs.
‘Home for Christmas’
Reviewed by Ashley Roberts
Cityview Account Executive
Growing up, my family really wasn’t the type to listen to Christmas music. There was the occasional chance Mom would pop in the “Home Alone” soundtrack on Christmas Day, but other than that we didn’t have any Christmas albums. Now that I’m older and living with roommates, Christmas music has become a staple that begins in July. Yes, July. My roommate is a Christmas freak, and she drags me into the holiday spirit right along with her. She listens to all types of Christmas music, everything from Kenny G to Alvin and The Chipmunks. However, the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart is the ‘N Sync “Home for Christmas” album. I memorized all the lyrics to the disc in 7th grade, and, of course, I can still sing them today. There is something special about that album, which is why it still holds a place in my heart.
‘Christmas with the Rat Pack’
Reviewed by Lindy Mogren
My family had just a few holiday traditions, but by far, my favorite was watching the “Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Christmas Special.” My dad and I would watch it, sometimes multiple times. Lewis always made me laugh with his slapstick comedy, and Martin’s singing had such a relaxing effect on me. Unfortunately this tradition has fallen by the wayside over the years, so when my boss played “Christmas with The Rat Pack” last year while we were decorating, I instantly knew I had found my favorite Christmas album.
There’s nothing like this collection of 21 holiday songs performed by three of history’s most notorious crooners — Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra — to give people of all ages a sense of nostalgia. The album contains classics such as “First Noel” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and, of course, provides comic relief with a duet of “Marshmallow World” by Sinatra and Martin. It ends with a traditional performance of “Auld Lang Syne” before the boys sign off to enjoy some eggnog.
‘A Holiday Celebration’
Reviewed by Rachel Lorenzen
Cityview Account Executive
My family loves to celebrate Christmas. Just step inside my parent’s house, and you can see why. A collection of decorated trees, strings of Christmas lights and the scent of pine are present throughout the month of December. Along with the sights and smells of the season, the sounds are prominent. My parents’ holiday CD collection has grown throughout the years, ranging from Elvis Presley to Alvin and The Chipmunks. However, if I had to choose one as my all-time favorite, it would be Peter, Paul and Mary’s “A Holiday Celebration.” I’m not sure how this tradition started, but every year while opening gifts on Christmas morning, we have that CD playing. We all tend to sing along to “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” I don’t remember a Christmas, without our family listening to this holiday CD. Each time I hear one of their Christmas songs, I think of being with my family on Dec. 25, which is the best gift of all.
Reviewed by Charlie Phillips
Cityview Events Intern
When I was growing up, my parents played one Christmas album the most: “Christmas Island” by Jimmy Buffett. There is nothing better than Christmas music that comes straight from the beach. It takes you out of the cold weather in Iowa with visions of sipping on a pina colada at a beautiful resort in the Bahamas. Buffett puts a unique twist on his songs, but they all resemble the classics like, “Jingle Bells,” “Run Rudolph Run,” “Up On The House Top” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” If you like the sound of steel drums, bongos and smooth strumming of a ukulele, then this Christmas album is right up your alley. He also sings some of his own Christmas songs on the album like “A Sailor’s Christmas” and “Christmas Island.” All these songs show Buffett’s true personality and his laid back view on Christmas. Now where’s the beach? CV