Don’t sleep on the classics: holiday staples to get
visions of sugarplums dancing every night!
by Erik R. Slagle
My best childhood holiday memories are built around music – the Z100 “24 Hours of Christmas” extravaganza, for example, or CBS FM’s annual Christmas Eve countdown. Vinyl like “Boots and Stockings,” Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, and Herb Alpert were in heavy rotation on the turntable at home, along with the soundtracks to “Rudolph,” the Sesame Street holiday special, and who knows how many other kids’ programs.
As the calendar pages keep turning and the forecast seems more likely to call for snow, here are four classic Christmas albums that deserve a spot in any holiday collection:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack: The slow, easy, shuffling jazz Vince Guaraldi composed for this animated treasure didn’t just help create a television masterpiece – it brought the entire genre to an audience that may not have ever picked up a jazz record otherwise. From “Oh Tannenbaum” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, there’s not a track on this compilation that won’t help bring a little peace of mind this season. Don’t download though – get the CD version for the amazing inserts.
Ray Conniff, We Wish You a Merry Christmas: In 1962 Conniff and his orchestra cut a Christmas classic that was beloved the world over. (Imagine my surprise to find out my wife used to watch Conniff’s TV specials in Chile as a kid!) A medley of “O Holy Night,” “We Three Kings” and “Deck the Halls” stretching more than 7 minutes recalls Christmas memories of being a kid in the 80s as my parents looped this 33” inch vinyl almost daily. It’s full of rich, moving readings and lighthearted numbers, often rolled together in beautifully arranged medleys.
Various Artists, A Very Special Christmas Volume 1: This compilation was a 1990 release that raised money for the Special Olympics. It kicked off a series that’s reached seven volumes so far, but the first is by far the best. The track that first caught my ear at family Christmas gatherings was the Eurythmics’ soulful “Winter Wonderland,” but this album has no weak spots. From the Pointer Sisters’ raucous “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” through Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” Bryan Adams’ “Run Rudolph Run,” and Stevie Nicks’ haunting reading of “Silent Night,” this is a collection you can put on repeat and never get tired of.
The Salsoul Orchestra, Christmas Jollies: Save the best for last? Well, that depends on who you ask – but it amazes me how many people I know grew up with this album as a family holiday staple. It’s disco at its most ludicrous, but I can’t imagine Christmas without it. Christmas Jollies takes on holiday standards like “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “Silent Night,” spinning them into a deliriously campy disco delight. The Salsoul Orchestra had made their mark as the backing band for Salsoul Records at the height of the disco craze, but it was this 1976 album that made them famous.