Signs of Christmastime are different all over the world, as are Christmas traditions. But no matter where you are or how you celebrate the holiday, one thing that is universal during the holiday season: Christmas music.
Cold or hot, jolly or not, if there’s Christmas music playing, you know you’re about to be enveloped in holiday cheer. And while many musicians have tried to put out timeless carols or seasonal ballads, only a few have truly succeeded. If you're looking for some tunes to help celebrate the holiday, here are some can't-miss choices that are guaranteed to make even the end of 2020 feel merry and bright.
1. Christmas // Michael Bublé
Released in 2011, Michael Bublé’s Christmas is a perfect holiday album for those who love a classic, smooth vocal, but also want to hear something with a bit more of a modern spin than Frank Sinatra (though A Jolly Christmas from Frank is also an excellent choice). The album includes a cover of Judy Garland’s iconic (albeit depressing) “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” that manages to make the song sound almost optimistic.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas // Vince Guaraldi
The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas is perfect for those who want to avoid big band sounds this holiday season. An original jazz score by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, the soundtrack to the 1965 TV special debuted an original song that would become an instant Christmas classic: “Christmas Time Is Here.” The track was originally an instrumental composition by Vince Guaraldi, but producer Lee Mendelson ended up adding lyrics he wrote himself.
3. Wrapped In Red // Kelly Clarkson
A more modern offering, Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 Christmas album Wrapped in Red definitely deserves a spot on your Christmas rotation. The collection features a mix of original songs and covers, covering all kinds of genres. But what makes the album truly unique is the claiming of Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now” as a Christmas song. "That was my family Christmas—highly dysfunctional,” Clarkson told Billboard as to why she wanted to cover it on the album.
4. A Motown Christmas // Various Artists
No Christmas is complete without The Jackson 5’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which is why A Motown Christmas, the 1973 compilation album of holiday songs performed by Motown Records stars, is a Christmas staple. The album features The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, and Smokey Robinson, and every song is a classic.
5. A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector // Various Artists
Phil Spector is known for being an iconic songwriter and producer and ... well, a convicted murderer—which might make A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector a controversial pick for some listeners. But with classics performed by Darlene Love and The Ronettes, to name just a couple, the greatness of the music far outweighs its unfortunate title. Released in 1963, the album is full of upbeat holiday classics, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Marshmallow World,” plus one original tune, Love's “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” The latter song steadily grew into a hit and, two decades after the album’s release, landed Love the title of “Christmas Queen,” something David Letterman called her after inviting her to sing her hit on his show.
6. Merry Christmas // Mariah Carey
There’s a reason Mariah Carey is the patron saint of the modern Christmas season, even 25 years after the release of her first Christmas album, Merry Christmas, and that reason is “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The original track, co-written by Carey, has become a classic holiday song over the years—a near impossible feat for a modern artist. The song was the first Christmas song Carey had ever written, and it’s continued to be her most successful to date. But, of course, the 1994 album isn’t all original music. It’s one of the best because it mixes original songs with classics like “Silent Night” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” To produce a fun, beautiful Christmas album is a feat in itself, but writing an original instant classic? That’s music magic.
7. Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas // Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas elevates classic holiday tunes by giving them a jazzy kick and booming vocals, all thanks, of course, to Ella Fitzgerald. The album begins with a bang courtesy of an uptempo “Jingle Bells” that’s perfect for dancing to while decorating the tree. Released in 1960, the album is a perfect selection of Christmas songs, especially for those who don’t celebrate Christmas as an especially religious holiday. There’s no “O Holy Night” here, just fun, feelgood songs like “Frosty the Snowman,” with a few slower, sultry songs peppered in (Fitzgerald’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” is a must-listen). It just feels like a warm cup of cocoa—with marshmallows on top.