Everyone knows the tried and true Christmas albums like Bing Crosby’s “Merry Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song“, but what about when you want something a little more offbeat or different, but still well within the realm of family friendly Christmas music? We’ve got just what you need to reinvigorate the spirit of the season! Here are our picks for the best outside the gift box options to soundtrack your holiday fun this year, enjoy!
5. James Brown – Jame’s Browns Funky Christmas
You won’t find any versions of “Frosty the Snowman” or “Jingle Bells”, rock or otherwise, on this compilation of soul infused Christmas workouts. While it does feature a fairly faithful version of “The Christmas Song”, for the most part the songs consist of originals or covers from Brown’s ’50s and ’60s contemporaries. The tracks are drawn from a trio of Christmas albums Brown released in the late ’60s and they capture an artist laying the foundation for the funk and soul that would dominate the charts for decades to come. Much of the album is what you would expect from a Christmas album by the hardest working man in show business, love songs with the extra oomph for which Brown was known. But most impressively he works in some social commentary in songs like “Let’s Unite the Whole World at Christmas” and “Hey America” where he calls for cultural harmony and peace, and in the latter he even throws out some barbs at hippies wearing peace signs for mere fashion.
4. Various Artists – Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time
If you want things to get a little wacky on Christmas morning, look no further than this album which collects just about every major Christmas novelty song ever, courtesy of legendary radio host Dr. Demento. Ranging from old school chestnuts like “All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” to essentials like the “The Chipmunk Song” and the venerable twisted fun of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” there’s something for everyone. Well known Demento scion “Weird Al” Yankovic even makes a contribution, as do other well known comedy duos like Bob and Doug McKenzie of Strange Brew fame and Cheech & Chong. By the time you get to “Jingle Bells” as sung by a pack of dogs, your family may be a little annoyed, but that’s half the fun!
3. David Grisman – David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas
David Grisman, master of the mandolin and frequent collaborator with the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, puts his own roots music spin on holiday classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “What Child is This?”. It’s all instrumental, well except for the Donald Duck style silliness on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But even without vocals there’s more than enough character to make this is a great album for either listening intently or to just use as background music as the family tears into presents. Bluegrass luminaries like Bela Fleck on banjo and other Garcia cohorts like Rob Wasserman on bass appear on many of the tracks too.
2. Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
Phil Spector was at the peak of his creative powers in 1963, coming off the huge hit of “Be My Baby“, which many consider one of the best singles of the decade. So when he put out this album that applied his signature “wall of sound” to Christmas standbys like “Silent Night” and “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, the results were some of the best holiday music of all time. The lush orchestration and layers that Spector applies to each song are the perfect match for the sweetness of Christmas music. The biggest highlight is The Crystal’s uptempo take on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” which has probably become the definitive version of the song.
1. Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas
Ok, maybe this one is a tradition by now, but it’s not often that you find Christmas music that is the caliber of this jazz album by The Vince Guaraldi Trio, which also serves as the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I’m sure a lot of people have quite a bit of nostalgia for this album, especially the straight up classic of “Linus and Lucy” theme, but in addition to the fond memories, the music is impressive on its own merits. The real genius is how it combines yuletide standards like “O Tannenbaum” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with originals like “Christmas Time is Here” and the aforementioned “Linus and Lucy” into the musical equivalent of drinking hot cocoa by the fire. It’s somehow a bit melancholy and comforting at the same time, much like the work of Charles Schulz itself.