The Best Holiday Music for Every Occasion


It’s that time again! Time to dust off your Christmas CDs, tapes and albums, create new holiday playlists on your iPods and browse the music sections at your favorite music store for the perfect jingle. (Incidentally, I think I’m dating myself by referring to Christmas “albums,” but I do still have my parents’ “Christmas with Ray Conniff” on vinyl.) For me, there is always a perfect album for every special Christmas moment – and here are a few of my favorites:

For listening with your children

A Christmas Together: John Denver and the Muppets

Best Track: “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

Second Best: “A Baby Just Like You” Not only does this album feature the irreplaceable John Denver singing some of the most beautiful carols of the season, it highlights all of your favorite Muppet characters: Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzy Bear, Gonzo … even Animal makes an appearance on “Little Saint Nick.” For me, the highlight of the album is “The Twelve Days of Christmas” if for no other reason than you get to hear Miss Piggy’s warbly soprano on “five golden rings.” For those of us who grew up with the Muppets, it’ll be a walk down memory lane. And for those too young to remember, it’s a timeless introduction to the wonder of Jim Henson.

For a retro holiday cocktail party

Christmas Album: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Best Track: “My Favorite Things”

Second Best: “Winter Wonderland”

In 1962, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass debuted with a new sound – trumpets and beats and a distinctive Latin flair. Their aptly titled “Christmas Album” is the perfect mix of holiday favorites and retro brilliance. Imagine a Mad Men holiday party with margaritas. My favorite track is Alpert’s rendition of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.” You can’t help but smile and swing your hips. And be sure to listen to “Winter Wonderland.” It makes me think of Mary Tyler Moore in the snow.

For motivation while wrapping presents

A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1: Various Artists

Best Track: “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC

Second Best: “Merry Christmas Baby” by Bruce Springsteen

What were you doing during the holidays in 1987? If you’re anything like me, you were listening to the fabulous compilation album, A Very Special Christmas Vol. 1. This benefit collection features such greats as The Pretenders singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Stevie Nicks’ haunting version of “Silent Night.” But the best has to be Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Honestly, you hear those first chords and the beat behind, and you’ll be wrapping presents with renewed rhythm and swagger. And don’t miss Bruce Springsteen’s “Merry Christmas Baby.” The Boss has outdone himself.

For sitting by the fire with your sweetie

Christmas Songs: Diana Krall

Best Track: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”

Second Best: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

There’s just something about Diana Krall. Her voice is deep and rich and just makes you feel sultry and cool. Her Christmas Songs album is a fantastic accompaniment to sitting by the fireplace, maybe even with someone cute. There’s something remarkably simple about her singing – no bells and whistles – just a beautiful voice and a little piano and snare drum. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” has never sounded so good.

For those moments when a little country is needed

Now That’s What I Call a Country Christmas: Various Artists

Best Track: “Silent Night” by Johnny Cash

Second Best: “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

This album is a veritable goldmine of country greats: Brad Paisley, George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn – just to name a few. Where else can you find Johnny Cash singing “Silent Night” and Daruis Rucker (yes, Hootie) belting out “Winter Wonderland”? With 29 songs to choose from, you’re sure to find something to get those boots tapping. And don’t miss Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” from the 1964 television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For those of you who wanted to be in an a cappella group in college (or just like in Glee)

Holiday Spirits: Straight No Chaser

Best Track: “12 Days of Christmas Live”

Second Best: “This Christmas”

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a cappella. And, yes, I watch Glee. But my adoration for this accompaniment-less genre really started in college when “The Mendicants” (one of the myriad a cappella groups on campus) came to sing at my freshman dorm and I swooned. Since then, I’ve kept up my love for all things harmonic – especially Indiana University’s own Straight No Chaser. If you haven’t heard them, maybe you’ve seen them on YouTube – their video of “The 12 Days of Christmas” has more than 8 million hits and you can see why. Their melodies and personalities are infectious and you’ll love how 80s band Toto makes a seamless appearance during those twelve days.

For no reason other than it’s wonderful

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Best Track: “O Tannenbaum”

Second Best: “Linus and Lucy”

Who could forget Charlie Brown and his poor little Christmas tree – so small and forlorn? The long-running television special is still a favorite of mine and my boys look forward to it all year long. I think one of the secrets to its longevity is the soundtrack – masterfully composed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This album, with its jazzy bass guitar and soulful piano, is a wonderful addition to any holiday collection – with the added benefit of the Peanut’s theme song, “Linus and Lucy.” You’ll be-bop right along to the music in spite of yourself.

I could go on. Willie Nelson and Norah Jones singing “Baby, it’s Cold Outside”…Frank Sinatra singing “Jingle Bells”…Johnny Mathis singing “Sleigh Ride”… Sara Bareilles singing “Winter Song”…and, especially, The Weepies singing “All That I Want”…much like Nick and Norah, I have an infinite playlist. And I’m always looking for something new. I’d love to hear your holiday favorites…for every occasion!

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Best Holiday Music for Every Occasion

  1. Me and my sisters are always singing, as we say “archipaelego” and I can say n oone would want to listen even with the liquid cheer inside them…haven’t heard the Norah Jones and Willie Nelson one – sounds wonderful

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