Christmas can be a musically stressful time of year and with the current wealth of Christmas music that exists, finding the perfect soundtrack to your winter is not easy. So we have delved into the Christmas songs of old to give a restrospective insight to your Christmas playlist. Whether it be for your office party, your commute or Christmas Day itself, take a trip back in time and experience our top albums from the past four decades…
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (Philles records, 1963)
Standout track: Frosty the Snowman
The Crystals and of course, The Ronnettes, take virtually all the tracks as can be expected on any Spector Album. He of huge hair should be credited among the founders of the Christmas album. The jingling percussion and the harmonious voices against the infamous wall of sound set the bar high. Though not included in the soundtrack, the Ronnette’s Frosty the Snowman is one of several instantly recognizable Spector songs that can be heard in the background in Goodfellas, where a youthful Ronnie Spector’s voice is reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson.
Motown Christmas (Motown, 1973)
Standout track: Silent Night
Several variations of these compilations exist, but this psychedelic vinyl issue is the one to beat. Recordings made by a small, rotating roster of Motown’s heyday stars (Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, The Tempations) shapeshifting through 25 tracks, from Wonder’s sentimental Ave Maria to Robinson’s playfull Jingle Bells; the Holiday girl-band novelty of the Supreme’s ‘Joy to the World’, to rare finds recorded just for this record (Michael Jackson’s Little Christmas Tree). This is golden-era Motown sound primarily, and Christmas secondly, without the ubiquitous corniness that attaches itself to the name. Ok, it is still corny, but it’s the Christmas part that’s quintessentially corny, not the delivery. The opener, The Jackson’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town, may have enjoyed the most airplay, but when the Temptations covered Silent Night? The angels wept…
A Christmas Record (Ze Records, 1981)
Standout track: Christmas Wrapping
A Christmas Record has been retrospectively identified as the ‘world’s first alternative Christmas album’ by Ze Records founder Michel Esteban, US pioneering punk innovator who traded anti-Christs and Anarchists for presents and prose. The Waitresses’ cult hit Christmas Wrapping first appeared on this album, which also includes numbers by Nona Hendryx of Lady Marmalade fame, and elegant electronica from synth duo Suicide. Of the standout track; no other Christmas song before or since has captured the hipster ennui, consumerist exhaustion and of course, the thrill of the hunt (or, keeping composed when bumping into “…that guy I’ve been chasin’ all year!”) as humorously. Like an ‘80’s magazine photostory set to music, this is for if you only *secretly* love the most wonderful time of the year.
A Very Special Christmas 3 (A & M Records, 1997)
Standout track: Santa Baby
Keith Haring artwork, an enjoyable mix of traditional carols and contemporary 90s music, and the only album you’ll find Ma$e and Patti Smith on the same bill –A Very Special Christmas’ 3rd installation is the most iconographic. The voices belong in a 90’s time capsule; Natalie Merchant (Chilren Go where I send Thee), Sheryl Crow (Blue Christmas), Chris Cornell, RIP (Ave Maria), Mary J Blige & Angie Martinez (Christmas in the City). When the internet was in its infancy, the record industry knew how to raise a quick buck for any charity or cause, in this case, the Special Olympics. Standout track is definitely playful Santa Baby perfomed by this medley (Rev Run & the Christmas All Stars, featuring Ma$e, Puff Daddy, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Salt-n-Pepa, Onyx & Keith Murray).