The Audio Beatnik’s Playlist of Real Christmas Music

Let’s be honest, a lot of people don’t like Christmas music and to me, that’s just sad.  You should know from reading my reviews that in my opinion music is all about having an emotionally moving experience. I think that’s why I look forward to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I enjoy Christmas music and the memories of my family and church during the Christmas season.

The Christmas LPs we had when I was growing up were the ones my parents bought at the Goodyear Tire Store every year. The only exception was a Christmas LP by George Beverly Shea and another one by “Tennessee” Ernie Ford. I still remember that music when I think about Christmases when I was a child.

I was curious about memories other people have, and I asked five different people to share their favorite Christmas albums with me, but only two accepted. The three that declined said they didn’t really have any Christmas albums. Now, that’s sad! The two guys who sent list their lists, are always introducing me to albums I haven’t heard yet. They are the two Jeffs, Jeff Day of Jeff’s Place and Jeffrey Catalano of Highwater Sound.

We’ll start with my list of albums in this post. But first, here’s a little chuckle you might enjoy. A few Christmases ago, I took my five-year-old granddaughter to see the full Nutcracker Ballet, not the kiddie version where someone narrates the story. Before the concert, Becky and I also took her out to dinner at our favorite grownup restaurant, where she told the waiter, “I’d like a cocktail, please.” We didn’t even know that she knew what a cocktail was, and she really didn’t, as what she wanted was a shrimp cocktail, which she got.

Now, back to the concert. About twenty minutes into the performance, she whispered to me, “Papa, aren’t there any words?” The good news is, even with no words; she sat on the edge of her seat the entire time. Good music has a way of pulling you in like that.

On the way home, I begin to think about an LP that I thought I had. I looked, and sure enough, I did. That album is Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, The Nutcracker Suite. What can I tell you about this LP? It is more than great Holiday Music. How could Duke Ellington playing Tchaikovsky not be great? It’s amazing how swinging and bluesy the Nutcracker Suite can sound. If you want to listen to some great music this Christmas, this is it. It will surprise you, and most of all, involve you in a very emotional experience. I checked, and it is available from Amazon music and on Spotify.

The next LP I would like to mention is about as far from Tchaikovsky as you can get. The Johnny Cash Family Christmas album really sounds like Johnny, June, the Carter family, Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers are sitting around the living room yakking and singing.

This album, recorded in 1972, was out of print for decades until Friday Music brought out a 180-gram audiophile vinyl presentation. This limited edition audiophile masterpiece was impeccably mastered by Joe Reagoso and was also pressed by RTI on red vinyl. The LP featured the original LP artwork not seen in years, in its original gatefold presentation exclusively from the Columbia Records archives.

The pressing and mastering are the only things about this album that are the least bit “audiophile quality.” The recording sounds like they just put a mic in the room somewhere near Johnny and let the tape run. The songs are a little weird, and the conversation is fairly personal. So, why would I list this LP in this article? Well, it’s simple; all music doesn’t happen in music halls. Lots of great, emotional and fun music take place in people’s homes around a piano or a guitar player. This is real music that is really fun to listen to. There is nothing boring here. There are multiple online sources to purchase the LP or download the music.

Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper has been a favorite Christmas LP for many years. I mention this album every Christmas, and I’ve had the same LP for around 35 years. If you like Willie’s album Stardust, you should love this Christmas album. Every song on the album is a Christmas Classic and except for the title song “Pretty Paper,” all are just good old Christmas songs. The reissue is great, but this LP is all about the music and Willie. This is as good as traditional Christmas music gets!

Speaking of as good as it gets at Christmas there’s A Charlie Brown Christmas Vince Guaraldi TrioThis album is great jazz and great Christmas music all at the same time. The LP was remastered  on 2012 at Quality Record Pressings on very nice, flat 200g vinyl and mastered by Kevin Gray at Coherent Audio from the original stereo analog master tapes. It simply sounds great. If you want to enjoy some great Christmas jazz, just play this album. Also, be aware that any children you may have at your house during the holidays are probably already familiar with this music either from the yearly televised special or from a family performance by your local symphony orchestra. The San Francisco Orchestra does this as a holiday concert every year showing the movie on a screen while the orchestra plays the music.

Merry Christmas by Bing Crosby may be the most beloved American Christmas album ever. It has always been a compilation album. The LP I have was reissued in 1955, but this LP evolved from the period’s 78rpm records. Its history started with the release of the original 78rpm album, then in 1945 they released the original LP album and in1955 re-designed the LP album and reissued it. This was the last time they added songs to the album, and it has been in production ever since and in nearly every format. The latest reissue of this album was in 2014. It is available most anywhere you look for LPs, and in most every format you could want.

The recordings were made from 1942 through 1951. It includes Crosby’s famous versions of “White Christmas” and “Silent Night.” On some cuts, he is joined by the Andrews Sisters and Carole Richards. The album itself has sold over 15 million copies, which makes it second only to Elvis Presley’s 1957 holiday album, Elvis’ Christmas Album, as the best-selling Christmas album of all-time. Don’t overlook this album as old-fashioned, it is truly a classic and very good. The album includes the song, “White Christmas”, which is the number one selling Christmas song of all times. It also includes the nostalgic song to World Ware II soldiers, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

This 1955 gospel Christmas album, Sweet Little Jesus Boy by Mahalia Jackson may be my favorite on this list. Many consider her to be the all-time greatest gospel singer. It epitomizes what a gospel Christmas album should be. No, it’s not anywhere near an audiophile recording, but it is real music, and really great music at that. If you don’t know Mahalia, here’s the link to the YouTube video of her singing the title track “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”

I grew up in a house with a very strange selection of music. My mother had almost every Tennessee Ernie Ford and Mahalia Jackson LPs. My dad had Peet Fountain and Al Hirt LPs. I’ve never outgrown my love for all of these. So I guess it’s no surprise that I love the Mahaila Jackson LP and the last one on the list A Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special, So get on eBay and pick one up, not for the sound but for the great music.

Well, I confessed my weakness for Tennessee Ernie Ford’s music. This is simply a great Christmas LP. My mother had this LP set when I was growing up. It is a great collection of Christmas songs that are rarely played nowadays. Tennessee Ernie Ford sings these songs beautifully. At Christmas time, you can often find this LP dirt cheap at used record stores.

And, whatever your taste in music is, enjoy your favorite albums during the holiday season, or try out a few of these that I’ve listed. Happy Holidays!

Note: This post is in our December newsletter, which is a tribute to Christmas music. Take a look at the newsletter!