Christmas can be pretty overwhelming. On Amazon.com, it can be a real hassle sorting out the wheat from the chaff when it comes to decent holiday movies and music, and picking between the many different versions available for some of the titles.
Below, for your convenience, are links to what I think are among the best of all the Christmas albums available. I’m sure I’ve left off as many greats as I’ve included—let me know any favorites of yours that I inexplicably omitted in the comments.
I have also created an Amazon store containing most of the same entries. Funds generated from affiliate links will be given to local charities helping the less fortunate during the holidays.
Selected Holiday Music from Amazon:
A Winter’s Solstice: Windham Hill Artists—Windham Hill followed this up with a bunch more in the series, but never did better than the first one. There are few obvious classic tunes, but the music truly manages to capture some of the wonder of the season. Not jingle bells, shopping, and bright lights, but the more somber and mystical and yearning part of the season—the Solstice, as the title says, and not Christmas Day. Beautiful. Ignore what you may have heard about Windham Hill and new age schmaltz and give it a try on some cold, clear night.
A Winter’s Solstice III—the other one in this series that I still regularly listen to at this time of year. Some of the standout tracks include Paul McCandless’s version of “Coventry Carol” (my favorite traditional Christmas tune), “The Bleak Midwinter” by Pierce Pettis, and one of my favorite Christmas vocals that isn’t Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”—John Gorka’s “Christmas Bells”:
Sufjan Stevens—Songs for Christmas—Sufjan Steven’s first five-disc set (!) of “Songs for Christmas,” which was followed by this year’s Silver & Gold. What sets these apart from things like Barenaked for the Holidays is not only Stevens’ musical artistry, which is impressive, but also the seriousness and sincerity that he brings to the project. He really, really wants to make a moving album of Christmas music. And he does. Definitely check both out.
Nat King Cole—Christmas Song—Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song” is one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. It’s hard to imagine anyone in any Christmas-celebrating part of the world who wouldn’t recognize it instantly—”Chestnuts roasting on a open fire…” It deserves and rewards all the playing it gets at this time of the year. I can’t imagine it would ever get old. But I am, as you may have gathered, a huge sloppy, sentimental fool when it comes to Christmas. (How is it possible the YouTube video only has 1.5 million views, when that “Gangnam” song is closing in on a billion?) The song also has no doubt served as a gateway drug to lure people into checking out Nat King Cole, which is another reason to like it. Like Ray Charles, Cole was not always well-served by the production treatment of his music, and he’s developed a rep as easy listening. But he’s the real thing: