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The Twelve Plays of Christmas, From a Decade of Holiday Playlists

by Erik R. Slagle

There’s always something new to discover when it comes to holiday music selections. Whether you want something quiet and easy to put on while you melt into an easy chair by the fire, tunes that are fun and poppy and scream Top 40 (we’re not doing The Waitresses here, though there are more than enough compilations to suit those tastes!), or that offer up new twists on classic favorites, over the last 10 years The Playlist has hopefully helped you sample it all.

Looking back, here are twelve top (and that’s said completely unofficially) picks for what you absolutely ought to have after Thanksgiving passes and Christmas music becomes socially acceptable. First, the classics; no introduction necessary:

#1: The “Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack.

#2: “Christmas Jollies,” the Salsoul Orchestra.

#3: “A Christmas Gift For You,” Phil Spector.

#4: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” Ray Conniff Singers.

And now the rest of this Delightful Dozen – the ones you might not already know, but ought to!

#5:What a Wonderful Christmas,” Louis Armstrong & Friends. A must-have for jazz fans, this compilation features Satchmo collabbing with Mel Torme, Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington, and more. Grab the actual CD for the liner notes that tell how these collaborations came to be.

#6: “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,” White-Eisenstein. Hard to find in physical form but find it on iTunes under Lee Eisenstein as “Christmas for a Dreamer”. It’s an instrumental album of acoustic guitar, winds and strings, perfect for relaxing near the glow of a lit tree. Renditions of “O Come O Come Emanuel” and “Coventry Carol”, and even the lively “Pat-a-Pan”, are great choices for slowing down the pace of the holidays.

#7: “Christmas Cornucopia,” Annie Lennox. An eclectic post-Eurythmics meld of instrumentation from African drums to dulcimer, pan pipes, Wurlitzers, and glockenspiel. Opens with a gorgeous “Angels From the Realms of Glory,” soars through “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and teases the traditional: “Holly and the Ivy”, “The Cherry Tree Carol” and more.

#8: “Christmas Spirit,” Booker T. and the MG’s / #9: “Christmas Cookin’,” Jimmy Smith. Why not make it a combofrom these two Hammond masters? Smoky vibes and grooves deep enough to fall into. With Smith, “We Three Kings” becomes a swinging waltz, “White Christmas” gets a bossa nova makeover, and “The Christmas Song” sounds straight out of a beatnik lounge.

#10: “Merry X-mas From the Space Age Bachelor Pad,” Esquivel! Yes, the “!” belongs there – and if you’ve not yet dug the “Godfather of Space Age,” you’re missing out. It’s hard to describe this 1960s hodgepodge of Jetsons-style renditions. Just check it out – trust me.

#11: “Christmas Prayers,” Jonn Serrie. Intimately synthesized readings of a dozen beloved holiday selections.

#12: “A Cold Winter’s Day: Early Christmas Carols From the British Isles” and “Baroque Christmas Album”. Let’s close things out with a tie, two albums of chamber music that use violas, cellos and harpsichords to transport you to quieter, simpler, maybe even darker Yuletide days.

Happiest of Holidays from The Playlist!