Christmas music is, quite simply, the best. Sure, it can be sugary and schmaltzy and, OK, even a little bit corny, but when done right, it can pull at the heartstrings like nothing else can. Think Judy Garland crooning “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas” or Mariah Carey belting “All I Want for Christmas is You” and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
But not all holiday music is created equal. For every perfect yuletide record, there’s plenty of tinsel garbage that does little more than recycle the same tunes we’ve been listening to for decades. So, what albums are actually worth listening to?
Below, I’ve rounded up some of the best Christmas albums of all time. I endeavored to include picks from different genres and time periods, but, at the end of the day, my selections are based on my personal taste more than anything else. Therefore, I welcome you to sound off with any albums I might’ve missed!
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald
It’s no surprise that one of the most talented, soulful, and expressive jazz singers of all time would also happen to create one of the best Christmas albums of all time, but it’s still something worth celebrating. In Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, the late Lady Ella croons over wintery classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “The Christmas Song,” and more. Throughout, her tone is warm and smoky, like a glass of bourbon taken by the fire. As far as old-school yuletide albums go, there’s really none that compares to this gem.
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Try as you might, there’s no way to curate a Christmas album round-up without including a little Bing Crosby. The legendary singer’s voice is smooth like buttah and perhaps never more so than when he’s interpreting a Holiday tune. Whether it’s his solemn version of “Silent Night,” his jaunty rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” or his iconic rendering of the beloved “White Christmas,” Crosby just sounds like Christmas in all its wistful melancholy. There are a few Crosby Christmas albums floating around, but my favorite is the original White Christmas.
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector by Various
Though a bit of a flop in its time, A Christmas Gift for You has endured as a classic Christmas album. Legendary record producer Phil Spector brought together his best talent for the project, most notably Darlene Love, who single-handedly turned the track “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” into a juggernaut with her powerhouse vocals. Plus, you get a lot of fun songs from The Ronettes, many of which are still played on the radio to this day (no doubt you’re familiar with their catchy “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong-ding” refrain from “Sleigh Ride”).
These Are Special Times by Celine Dion
Ah, Queen Celine. Though the Grammy Award-winning diva has released three Christmas albums, These Are Special Times is without a doubt her best. Here, you’ll find the chanteuse reinventing a bevy of holiday classics, lending her soaring vocals to “Blue Christmas,” “Ave Maria,” and, my personal favorite, “O Holy Night.” Dion is always an evocative performer, and that in-your-face emotionality is especially powerful when she sings Christmas music. A timeless classic that is just as moving today as when it was first released in 1998.
The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album by the Beach Boys
Arguably one of the best Christmas rock albums ever, The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album puts a playful spin on the festive genre. Here, you get plenty of standards, as well as some super fun originals (like “Little Saint Nick” and “The Man with All the Toys”). What’s especially cool about this record is that it proved just how versatile the Beach Boys could be. Yes, their iconic surf sound is well preserved in these tracks, but the accompanying orchestrations are lush and, dare I say, quite sweeping. All in all, a surprising yuletide present that just keeps on giving!
A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand
A Christmas Album is one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time, and no wonder! This is Babs at her vocal best, nimbly moving between the cheeky patter of “Jingle Bells?” to the deeply reverent and choral “Ave Maria” with ease. Streisand is a master of control and technique, exploiting both to create a record that feels effortless, velvety smooth, and absolutely sensational. Do yourself a favor and add this Holiday staple into your rotation stat!
Wrapped in Red by Kelly Clarkson
Wow, I love this album. Not only because I think Kelly Clarkson is one of the best modern vocalists we’ve got, but because Wrapped in Red so seamlessly blends together pop, jazz, and country influences to create Holiday music that sounds both comfortingly traditional and totally brand new. It’s not an easy feat, but one she pulls off by mixing surprising standards with dynamite originals for a vibe that’s singular and so uniquely her own. I highly recommend for car rides while checking out the neighborhood lights.
Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens
A Christmas album for the indie darling in us all, Songs for Christmas sees Sufjan being, well, Sufjan. And what I mean by that is, yes, it’s a little kooky and a little weird, but it’s actually not as “out there” as you might expect it to be. Stretching over five different EPs, the album is full of non-secular hymns, most of which are vibrantly reimagined with folk instruments and harmonies. In that way, it plays pretty close to the vest, updating the classics for a hipster audience. Perfect for a holiday cocktail party or a long snowy drive.
The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings by Gene Autry
It would almost be sacrilege not to include The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings on this list. While you may not at first be familiar with singing cowboy Gene Autry, you have him to thank for three of the most popular yuletide standards of all time: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).” Yes, the album is decidedly old-school and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it kind of sort of started the whole Christmas music as pop genre thing that we know and love today.
For more Christmas content, make sure to check out our guide to the perfect last-minute gift ideas for everyone in your life.
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