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12 Best Holiday Albums to Own on Vinyl

It’s that time of year again …

Can you believe it’s that time of year again? If your idea of seasonal cheer includes listening to holiday music in front of a fire with some friends, here are some must-haves for your vinyl collection.

1. Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule – Louis Armstrong

This one is new in a sense because it contains all of Louis Armstrong’s holiday tunes in a single place, along with a bonus track — a previously unreleased reading of Samuel Clement Moores’ “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas”). Ella Fitzgerald and Velma Middleton also team up with Satchmo on one tune each. Verve/UMe claims this is Armstrong’s first official Christmas album … and they might just have a point.

2. Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas – Ella Fitzgerald

Ms. Fitzgerald’s slinky voice draws you into her holiday world like no other. She swings from the get-go with souped-up versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” then moves the tempo around as the songs dictate. This collection of tunes is so finely polished and will fly by so quickly, you might find yourself playing it again and again.

3. The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album – The Beach Boys

This has to be the perkiest Christmas record ever. Beach Boys fan or not, if five minutes of this one doesn’t put a smile on your face, you must be a Grinch with a small heart. The mixture of traditional tunes with stellar production and killer harmonies are impressive enough, but the Brian Wilson original, “The Man With All The Toys” steals the show. So get out there with all the Whos in Whoville and sing along. The only question is, will you get the stereo or mono version? Tell your holiday gift-giver to buy you both — you’ve been good, right?

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guaraldi Trio

For many, the songs on this record and TV special may very well have been their first introduction to jazz, without even knowing it. But the light, sparse arrangements and the tasteful playing of Vince Guaraldi and his trio are so good, this is a record to play all year long. There are multiple audiophile remasters to choose from, too — even pressings in red or green vinyl to spruce things up.

5. A Holly Dolly Christmas – Dolly Parton

Dolly pulls in a number of buddies for a Christmas album peppered with great duets. Miley Cyrus and father Billy Ray join in on the festivities — even Jimmy Fallon contributes some great banter. If the Beach Boys serve up the sprightliest Christmas album, Dolly and friends give you the biggest, sweetest holiday dessert tray. And maybe that’s what we all need a slice of right now.

6. Christmas Album – The Jackson 5

You might be tempted to pick the group’s 2009 compilation Ultimate Christmas Collection instead, but dig deeper because the real gold was pressed to wax in October of 1970, when the Jackson 5 were at the top of their game, with three consecutive Top Five albums that year alone. With the Christmas Album, the brothers take 11 well-worn holiday tunes and make them their own. High point: a 12-year-old Michael Jackson singing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

7. A Very Special Christmas 2 – Various Artists

As part of a continuing effort to help the Special Olympics, VSC 2 is perhaps not as consistently good as the first album, but it has higher highs and a wider variation on the theme. But then how many sequels exceed the original? Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again” and Aretha Franklin’s “O Christmas Tree” alone are worth the ticket price, and Run-D.M.C.’s variation on “Christmas Is” adds a bit of levity that always comes in handy at holiday time. Give up the dough, yo!

8. Christmas Christmas – Cheap Trick

Imagine The Beatles doing a Christmas record that was part early material, part Sgt. Pepper. This album delivers hard-hitting, up-tempo pop holiday tunes with densely layered vocals and powerful guitars, all performed at a “Roll Over Beethoven” pace. Much as the darlings from Rockford, Illinois have been compared to the Fab Four, perhaps this is their most Beatlesque effort. Straightforward rock and roll with a holiday groove that’s good enough to enjoy all year long. “Run Rudolph Run” has to be one of the best Christmas songs ever!

9. Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays, Vol. One – The Polyphonic Spree

This record starts with the band whistling “A Working Elf’s Theme,” and only gets more avant-garde as it goes on. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” almost sounds like one of John Lennon’s alternate takes, yet “Silver Bells” is so kaleidoscopic, it feels more like a Flaming Lips tune. The sonic landscape the Spree presents is as wide as a fresh snow at the North Pole. They could have easily called this record Have Yourself a Trippy Little Christmas.

10. The Ventures Christmas Album – The Ventures

If you’ve ever spent a balmy Christmas in Los Angeles or Scottsdale, where the lights are hung from palm trees, this record will take you right back there in a minute. Ironically, the Ventures hail from the Pacific Northwest where the sun rarely shines, and the surf isn’t. But they turn in a great performance here, giving a broad cross-section of Christmas standards the full surf treatment, jangly guitars and all.

11. Silent Night – Sinead O’Connor

This is only an EP, and “Silent Night” is really the only Christmas song on it, but this is one of the most gentle yet haunting versions ever recorded — almost David Lynch movie ethereal. This piece of vinyl is tough to find, but well worth including in your holiday music collection. After all, an open, airy presentation like this is what analog is all about!

12. Christmas Party – She & Him

We end our holiday collection with something eclectic and quirky … and what could be quirkier than a dozen tunes featuring Zooey Deschanel? With this collection, she and her partner M. Ward have stirred up creamy holiday goodness and mixed in some top supporting talent. The Chapin Sisters (who’ve accompanied them on tour) join in for a few tracks, and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelly plays drums on most of the record. Consider this one a charming Christmas sleeper.


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