Tis the season to be jolly or perhaps grumpy. That depends on each of our moods and dispositions as much as anything. But regardless of if we're walking around spreading Cheer or dying to scream Bah Humbug the thing none of us can avoid at this time of year is Christmas Music. It's everywhere. That said here are my picks for the five best Christmas Albums of all time. 5) James Brown - Funky Christmas. I love that fact that James put funky right in the title. Is there a chance that anything JB put out wasn't going to be funky? One important thing to note is that this isn't your average Christmas album. It's not James singing a dozen or so standards, not that I wouldn't enjoy that too. This was James at the top of his game in terms of social awareness and message songs. So he sprinkles some of that in with the Christmas cheer. But with songs like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," James is clearly trying to do more than just entertain. He does mix in some standards like "Merry Christmas Baby." Taken as a whole it's an interesting package and the Godfather makes it work.
4) Dean Martin - Making Spirits Bright. Dino's Christmas album is the polar opposite of James Brown's. On this collection he rips through 15 classics with those legendary pipes. Whether it's "Silent Night" or "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" Dean sings his butt off. If you're looking for a collection of Christmas standards sung by a legendary crooner you're going to have a hard time doing better than this Dean Martin collection. The is one Christmas album that should make the whole family happy. It was remastered a few years back, so the sound is up to par as well.
3) B.B. King - A Christmas Celebration of Hope. B.B. King has accomplished so much in his legendary career it's hard to believe it took him 50 years to release a Christmas album. In 2001 The King of the Blues finally clocked in with a full length Christmas release and it was worth the wait. As with much of his music there's an inherent joy in every note he wrings out of his guitar. He runs through some standards such as "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But he also includes some lesser known tunes and an original, "Christmas Love." One of the highlights is the closing track, an instrumental take on "Auld Lang Syne." B.B. King is truly a treasure of American Music. His Christmas Album befits a king.
2) Ray Charles - The Spirit of Christmas. Brother Ray's Christmas album is perfectly titled. The passion and spirit he brings to the recordings on this album reverberate through the speakers. He runs through eleven well known Christmas songs and pretty much makes most of them his own. Whether he's singing lighter fare like "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" or the more serious "What Child Is This" he injects each track with his soulful vocals and inventive musical styling. For my money though the closing track, "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the highlight of the set and one of the benchmark vocals of his career. Crank up some Brother Ray this Christmas, he'll keep you warm!
1) Elvis Presley - Elvis' Christmas Album. All these years later the one Christmas album I play the most every year is this one. It's also one of the first I owned. 2007 marks 50 years that this one has been out. Like most of Elvis' output from the late 50's it still sounds fresh and integral. Does anyone want to hear anyone else sing "Blue Christmas" after hearing Elvis own it? "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" is probably worth the cost of the CD all on it's own. Elvis runs through several more sacred numbers on the album and he sings them with reverence. If you're only going to own one Christmas album, Elvis' is the one to go with. He's the King for a reason.