You can’t, you just can’t, I tell you, play modern Christmas music with your cocktail or while hosting a party this December. The soul just isn’t there with these modern pop princesses and boy singers. Let your kids enjoy that stuff in the car; give ‘em that … but never in the home and especially never when the retro-glasses are out and the home bar overflows with your Christmas themed barware. Guests might never say anything, but believe me when I tell you just how much they appreciate that you’ve gone to the trouble of digging up the bygone era sounds of the holidays. These retro sounds with their rich accompaniment and lush production values are like sound-sweaters cloaked around your guests or yourself this season – as important as a perfect Manhattan the night of your festivities. Just one or two of the records presented here will more than make the evening fun and memorable.
Christmas With Patti Page – I’m guessing that after she lost her darlin’ during The Tennessee Waltz but before she bought her little doggie from the pet store window, Patti cut this wonderful Christmas album. I picked this one up on vinyl recently and was very impressed at just how well Ms. Page imparts a fun and fanciful Christmas vibe with her music. Released by Real Gone Music just a few months ago, this CD carries more than a few extra tunes not available on my LP’s release. Like most of our holiday suggestions here at Mr. Booze, you’ll find that strong sense of nostalgia and warmth on this pick impossible to find in today’s modern releases. Her voice is a true American one. Sadly, we lost Patti Page in January of 2013, but what we didn’t lose was her way with a song. She sings with gusto and a soft elegance forgotten by modern singers. Patti seems to be welcoming you to a Christmas party on the front cover, and that’s just what this album is – a 1950’s Christmas shing-ding that you and your guests will very much enjoy. Poodle skirts optional for the ladies while listening to this one. Songs include Boogie Woogie Santa Clause, Home for the Holidays (from her Xmas show), and Pretty Snowflakes. There’s even an old spot from her Xmas radio show that’s fun.
David Ian, Vintage Christmas – I purchased this one on a complete whim. Had no idea what I was buying when I carried this one home from a local record shop, but boy am I glad I took a chance. Just a small jazz group, a trio I believe, imparts that very soft jazz sound that many search for late at night when sipping an eggnog and staring at the lit tree are all you want to do. The jazz riffs presented here are all soft ones, none blast for attention nor will they ever dominate your experience. I’m not talking muzak-like soft jazz, I’m talking more lounge themed jazz. Sophisticated yet mindful of the season and in no way diminishing. Piano, bass, soft skins and a really lovely accompanying vocal on some tracks all make for one very mellow holiday album. I’d play this during a dinner party or after 9 with some great friends and the lights dimmed … except on the tree, of course. Songs include Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, and Christmas Time with You.
Christmas, Glen Campbell – Originally released in 1967 as That Christmas Feeling, this CD was apparently really asked for by fans of both Campbell and lovers of great Christmas music. I’m a huge Glen Campbell fan; he’s probably my very favorite country singer, and this record did not disappoint. Glen has always seemed to feel every word he sings, and he does that with this salute to the holidays even though some of the songs here are more than tried-and-true. Glen’s versions of Little Alter Boy, Pretty Paper, and There’s No Place Like Home, ring as true and heartfelt as any of his classic broken heart ballads. Old Toy Trains will leave a Christmas lump in your throat, I tell you that. This is another one of our record picks that may be best played during the more quiet times of the holidays. Play it with your family gathered around or maybe when the gang’s all out doing the shopping. The price is more than right.
Al Hirt, The Sounds Of Christmas (Deluxe Anniversary Edition) – You can’t get more retro than with this one. That grand ole’ New Orleans trumpet player really rings the Christmas bells on this record. Recorded during the height of Al’s popularity during the 60’s in the RCA Studios in Nashville, Al Hirt pulled out all the stops. Fourteen toe-tappin’ renditions of all your Christmas favorites, plus a few Al Hirt obscure picks of his own, make this just one heck of a fun choice for your upcoming holiday party. We all know his Green Hornet trumpet playing, but just wait till you hear his version of the weird theme and title song to Santa Clause Conquers the Martians. No one else will be playing that diddy in your neighborhood over December. There are sixteen trumpet-thumping songs on this just re-issued recording. What a mood you will set with good old Al playing his horn of classics like Rudolph, Sleigh Bells, Jingle Bells and more than a few songs that combine Christmas classics. This guy was a big player on Carson and his own show. Discover Al Hirt all over again on this Christmas card to yourself. The record’s “deluxe” on account of the included art and bonus tracks.
A Personal Christmas Collection, Robert Goulet – If you’re here for the first time, please pause to take a look down the list just so you know what you’re in for. I love the old stuff, even more so during the holidays. Not many artists invoke the pure feeling of a 60’s Christmas like Bob Goulet. His old-school, Broadway bravado not only makes its mark on this record, but, when combined with pure Christmas schmaltz … well, let’s just say it’s dazzling. Goulet, sure enough tackles the standard chestnuts, but he also takes some bizarre Christmas risks on this record with rare and downright “what-the-hell” choices like Panis Angelicus, This Christmas I Spend With You, and the almost unsettling – because it attempts to tie every Christmas cliché into one song – Christmas Day. This one song is worth the price of the record. It’s like an ancient song-writer whiling away in a nursing home attempted one more classic before he passed on. The words “hilarious” and “exhausting” come to mind while listening to it, but somehow Bob manages to pull it off. Goulet’s Christmas album is the one you break out when you’re truly looking for that lost era of December music. It will so take you back, and I promise you this … Bob Goulet at your Christmas party might be, if we’re like-minded, the perfect touch.
The 4 Seasons Christmas Album – Haven’t seen Jersey Boys, doubt I ever will, but I do appreciate the band and understand their resurgence and their popular longevity. When I stumbled upon this CD at a second hand shop, I knew I’d have to give it a whirl. Frankie Valli belts out one heck of a version of What Child Is This in that, at times, off-putting falsetto of his, a version well worth listening to. The boys also sing fantastic harmonies on Christmas Tears, Little Drummer Boy and The Christmas Song. The 1966 release date insures that you’ll be catching the lads at the top of their game. If you’re at all going retro this holiday, or are simply looking for an album that steps back in time, the finger snapping charm of the 4 Seasons and their catchy way with a ditty might just be the shot in the arm your party is looking for.
Christmas Joy, The Ventures – Gotta admit I was duped when I picked up this one. I do tend to buy books by their covers, and when I saw this beautiful, 60’s, glammed out gal on the cover of a Ventures Christmas CD I bit quickly. Then…I discovered too late that the darned thing was only recorded back in 2002. A 2002 Ventures Christmas album may be a far cry from a 1960’s Ventures Christmas album, but that’s all right. This one still pulls off what I was looking for – straight-up, tight Ventures guitar riffs on Christmas classics like Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Winter Wonderland. I tend to mix things up musically at Christmas, and this twangy, rhythmic holiday surf outing takes me where I want to go. Very rarely the sound drifts up into modern, but that’s cool. These guys have every right to grow and change with the times. I very much enjoy this California beach trip into the December vibe. I’m still going to keep my eyes peeled for an earlier Christmas piece by the Ventures, but this Christmas Joy album surfs along with all my retro albums this time of year.
Christmas With The Lennon Sisters – Sherman, set the Way-Way-Back Machine to 1968, and put on a hideous Christmas sweater ’cause we’re going back to the land of coasters on the table, no cussing whatsoever, and bed by nine. Far from a toe-tapper or even a Christmas party blast-off, this record should be listened to as more of a nostalgic and humbling cocktail experiment. I semi-recall the Lennon Sisters from time spent at my grandmother’s feet, sipping Pepsi and eating old gumdrops while she watched Lawrence Welk Christmas specials on the ole’ B&W. I poured a couple Brandy Crustas, lit a smelly candle, and gave this one a listen to a while back and quite enjoyed it. Perfect for the home bar on a late December night when you want to lose yourself in simpler times after reading the front page of the paper, Dee Dee, Peggy, Kathy & Janet will sing you someplace kind of special. No surprises here, you’ll know every song on the record, but so the hell what? Sometimes, the really old-fashioned sounding records have their place, too. Look at the cover again…that’s what this record sounds like.
Stan Kenton, A Merry Christmas – For me, it’s all about the horns with Stan Kenton’s Big Band, and believe you me, the horns soar in this Christmas album. Known as more of a 60’s Big Band leader, Stan Kenton’s sound was sort of the swan song to the whole Big Band era, and Stan’s unique, almost ethereal sound was a perfect close. Stan Kenton called his style of music “progressive jazz,” yet this 1964 album doesn’t sound that progressive any more. However, it does carry that optimistic West Coast jazz sound through the record. The sound is big, and like I mentioned at the start, the horn section practically plays a hundred feet over the heads of the rest of the band, soaring and swinging through each upbeat song. The surreal What Is Santa Clause?, a song over which Mr. Kenton narrates, Stan refers to Santa as a “magical, mysterious creature.” LOL! Put your kids to bed with that one in their heads. Another throw-back album, but a thick and beautiful holiday sound which should fill your home and party with fun seasonal cheer. Songs include Christmas For Moderns, Silent Night and Once In Royal David’s City.
The Definitive American Songbook, A Vintage Christmas – Nothing really here that you haven’t heard lots before, but it is a grand collection of 40’s and 50’s Christmas music that sets the tone in the living room faster than you can say “scotch & soda.” Pretty much all the chestnuts you know roasting on the same fire, but…they’re good chestnuts and ones that, through the test of time, are guaranteed to fill the heart and warm the spirit. If you don’t have a lot of Christmas music and want a good collection to jump on board with, this is a dandy record to begin with. Songs include Peggy Lee’s I Like a Sleigh Ride, Les Paul’s Jingle Bells, and Ella’s The First Noel.
Ed Ames, Christmas Is The Warmest Time Of The Year/Christmas With Ed Ame – I received an advanced copy of this double-record CD and was quickly reminded of why I like Ed Ames’ voice so much. Like I mentioned on our regular album page, with his record My Cup Runneth Over, Ed has this singing quality that’s now completely lost. We don’t have singers like this anymore and definitely not one like this Ames Brother. These are Christmas albums recorded back when they really meant something. Your mom or dad might have popped into a real record store and returned home one snowy December night with one of these wrapped in brown paper tucked under their arm. This is a great example of the old stuff with the sounds so rich that you could listen to it with Aunt Lucy’s fruit cake while Dad spent the hour getting the tree to stand straight in the stand. Deep, smoky, optimistic and jazzy, both these albums combined will saturate your holiday get-together with a sophisticated nostalgia as perfect as your whiskey punch. Songs include O Bambino, I Wonder As I Wander, and Let It Snow.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Performed by Jonathan Winter – Do you ever have those late afternoons or evenings during the holidays where you feel like doing something Christmassy, yet you’re all alone, or the person you’re with is feeling all Bah-Humbug? Boy, do I have a treat for you! This recording, when teamed up with a cocktail, an empty house and a lit tree or fireplace, will absolutely enchant you for the next hour. Recorded for NPR just a few years ago, our fathers’ comedian, Jonathan Winters, reigns himself in a bit when tackling this abridged version of Dickens’ most famous winter tale. I don’t need to tell those in the know what an absolute master of storytelling and characterization Jonathan Winters is, but for those born a little too late to know of Winters, this man is just a living legend. This isn’t a comedy album; Winters actually voice-acts his way through the story here and gives a very credible and joyous performance. I know we know A Christmas Carol. But…tradition during Christmas is a good thing; you just gotta mix it up. Buy this recording, mix a nice drink, throw a log on the fire and say bye-bye to the humbugs for a little while.
A Merry Mancini Christmas, Henry Mancini, His Orchestra & Chorus – Mancini was such a craftsman, honestly, I compare him to a master woodworker — every line straight as it can be, every corner perfect, every small component exactly where it should be. This man, who scored the 60’s in terms of film and pop-culture, leaves, yet again, his craftsman’s mark on his Christmas album. Recorded in 1966, this one is absolutely smothered in 60’s sound. The first half of the album sounds as if the North Pole elves from the Rankin Bass Rudolph classic television specials just continued on with their Christmas party for a while after the show ended. The chorus drips with that schmaltzy sound that permeated the specials of the decade. The second half of this relatively short and to-the-point record carries the 60’s vibe onward with the arrangements and instrumentations of the turtleneck richness of the era. I still dig this type of music and realize it still has its place. Cocktail party music? Nah, but Christmas Eve with a saucy cocktail? Most definitely. An ode to time lost but still pertinent and valid to those who remember … or wish to simplify in a hectic season. Songs include Drummer Boy, Carol for Another Christmas and The Christmas Song.
The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Sound of Christmas – I purchased this disc just a few days after submitting last year’s picks, and I couldn’t believe my timing was so off. This has to be one of the best Christmas records I own. I adore it. It is just so elegant, hep, and seasonal that it will elevate your gathering to the next level. The title song, The Sound of Christmas, is one of the most perfect cocktail Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. Ramsey Lewis plays piano on these tracks in such a manner that they often transcend into almost just pure jazz. If they weren’t so celebratory in that December kinda way, you could play ‘em in July as a jazz fan. Subtle yet delightfully intrusive, these sophisticated odes to joy and the season will bounce to the top of your holiday play list. One of the few holiday records I own that I’ll turn right around and play again. Recorded back in 1961, this is a Christmas cocktail party in record form that’s an ode to that forgotten party. Songs include Sleigh Ride, Merry Christmas Baby, The Sound of Christmas.
Matt Belsante, White Christmas – I mentioned this kid over at our regular music page, and for many of the same reasons, I’m pointing out his Christmas record here. Bottom line is he’s pretty damn good. I’m leaning heavy on the jazz instrumentals this year and feel you’ll still need some vocals to round it all out on the moonlit December nights. I, for one, am just so happy that there are still young singers out there with the wherewithal to tackle the old songs, that I’ll pay attention. Belsante just happens to really know what he’s doing, and proves it once again with his Christmas album. The voice is rich and peppered with the arcs and changes that prove to me that he has a strong future. If you’re at all a fan of the new styles and the old songs, like a few are tackling now, pick this recording up. Songs include Home For The Holidays, Let It Snow, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
Jimmy Smith, Christmas ’64 – “Cool” and I’m using the word as it was used in 1964 by no cat over the age of 40. This record is as cool as a pair of sunglasses sported while driving along a Pacific highway in December with the top down. Jazz of this era flirted and played with the Hammond organ, heck, some artists built albums around it, but Jimmy Smith laid an entire Christmas album around it with such success that this listener was lost in West Coast bliss. I won’t stop there…add to the mix Kenny Burrell on jazz guitar and a band of musicians so accomplished, that the album matters more than a lot of straight jazz records I have from the time. If you’re at all a jazz fan, then buy this. If you happen to love Christmas music too, then you will thank me every December. From the bass drum opening on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to the guitar solos on We Three Kings, all of course wrapped by Mr. Smith’s rich Hammond, you will play this album during your holiday parties, on your car stereo, while cutting your turkey and while stirring your peppermint martinis. Chistmas ’64 is just that, with all the “cool” that it implies. Songs include The Christmas Song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jingle Bells; all played with such style, you’ll be listening to these standards for the 1st time.
Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, That Holiday Feeling – I have this on vinyl and happen upon it at practically every estate sale I hit. It must have been a big album in the 60’s. Having said that, I’ll warn you that the cd version is oddly expensive, as are all Steve & Eydie cd’s. I’m at a loss as to why. The couple has the chops but justifying $5 or $10 more over a standard cd of the same type of music leaves me bewildered. Still, this album is worth it. It does stand apart if you’re at all a fan of the era and the sound. Hurry Home For Christmas as sung by this team is just fantastic and will set the mood to a candle-lit holiday party perfectly. Soft, flirty, musically gifted, the husband and wife team impart a charm found nowhere else. It swings more than it whispers, which is a good thing if your entertaining…but then it gets romantic and just a tad schmaltzy, which is a splendid thing if you and your significant other are snuggling by a fireplace. Steve & Eydie were/are an important team, and their music was/is from a bygone era that I truly appreciate. Songs include Hurry Home For Christmas, What Are You Doing New Years Eve and Let Me Be The First To Wish You A Merry Christmas. If you just buy one or two Christmas records a year, this would be a great addition.
Kenny Burrell, Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas – Here’s the soft one. This is the record to put on this season when you’re either alone with a bourbon, with your spouse enjoying a bottle of wine, or just with a few friends gathered ‘round the basement bar. This album is as great a Christmas jazz album as I have, but it’s quite reflective and introspective. Kenny Burrell, who played jazz guitar with Oscar Peterson and other greats, along with leading his own groups off and on for the past half century, plays with such style on this record he stands alone & special. When I was a kid, my parents would play Wes Montgomery records on their stereo, and with this record I’m reminded of them in a cool nostalgic way. Jazz guitar is not the guitar most of today’s & even yesterday’s rock listeners should expect. Burrell uses his instrument as any beyond-accomplished jazz musician or singer does. He challenges the listener while wrapping the music around them as if a blanket. Don’t get me wrong, this is a Christmas album and a superb one at that, it’s just a tad more demanding than the usual fare, but the challenge is soft and warm and will compliment your evening perfectly. Songs include Little Drummer Boy, My Favorite Things, and Children Go Where I Send Thee.
Walter Schumann, The Voices Of Christmas – If you’re of a certain age…say, you grew up during the 60’s or 70’s, chances are your dad put on a few of the choral records during the holidays. I’m not talking religious choir music; I’m talking about these rather over the top men’s and women’s choruses who belted out Christmas standards in layers, with jingle bells and horse clip-clops in the background — The Ray Conniff Singers, The New Christy Minstrels, The King Family, to name a few. These types of records were as part of a 60’s & 70’s Christmas as were Rankin-Bass TV specials and department store Christmas windows. Well, composer Walter Schumann, who was the bee’s knees of radio and early television themes and composition, gathered twenty of the best vocalists working in film and television, and created his “Voices of Walter Schumann”. His Christmas record is the Cadillac of this genre — the “A game” of holiday sing-a-longs, the top of the heap. It will remind you of innocence lost and will certainly put a smile on your face. This record would be perfect for a holiday open house, when friends, family and neighbors come a calling in the late afternoon and you’ve put out a punch bowl of rum or bourbon spiked eggnog. You need one of these in your collection, and this is the best. Songs include What Child Is This, Lully, Lully, Lu and Christmas In Killarney.
The Andrew Sisters, Christmas – For six bucks on Amazon, this is a pretty great buy. It’s nothing more than a trip back in time, but it sure is a nice trip. I like the old stuff; the production seems richer, the backing bands & orchestras more lush, and, in this case, the harmonies more honest. With two Danny Kaye duets and five Bing Crosby duets, this record keeps you pretty interested. Crosby and the Andrew Sisters teamed-up on numerous occasions, but these Christmas pairings seem especially nice. I realize that there are more complete and expensive Andrew Sisters Christmas records out there, but for a trip back to the 1940’s, while the turkey’s browning and the wrapping paper’s being cleaned up, this one’s fine and dandy. Songs include Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland and Poppa Santa Claus.
Gene Autry, The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings – Sometimes during the holidays, and this happens more than I’ll admit, I just want to put on something silly, something that reminds me of being a kid, something that I can just enjoy myself listening to. People may come over, people may not, but gosh-darned if I’m not going to celebrate the season and just smile. The Singing Cowboy wrote the book on Christmas songs, and his cheerful voice is as infectious as it is nostalgic. You’ve all heard his Rudolph and his Up On The House Top, and his Frosty is played too much this time of year. But…with this record, you’ll hear more than a few contagious songs you’ve probably never experienced. Finish your shopping, come home, put this one on and just relax. Songs include Where Did My Snowman Go, He’s a Chubby Little Fellow, and An Old Fashioned Tree.
Christmas Cocktails V 1, 2 & 3 – I’ll be quick and to the point with these. You want to have a 85 proof Christmas party, you’ve planned the menu, the drinks to pour and what kitschy decorations to hang. All you need are party appropriate X-Mas songs to play. Throw these disks in with your regular Christmas album rotation. You’ve heard a lot of them, Deano’s Rudolph, Nat Cole’s The Christmas Song, Peggy Lee’s Winter Wonderland, but there are plenty of rum soaked selections you may not have heard.
Warm December by Julie London, Wayne Newton’s version of Jingle Bell Rock, Exotic Night by Martin Denny all add up to a cool Christmas play list. You have enough to worry about throwing a X-Mas bash, don’t let the music be one of your worries.
June Christy, This Time of Year – Readers of the regular Mr. Booze album review page should recognize this name. June Christy was herself, a jazz instrument. She sang unlike any other female singer of her era. The misty Miss Christy just had a remarkably personal way of interpreting a song, and this Christmas album is an absolute jewel in her crown. Shame we have such a short block of time to play this one. Her choices have always been a bit avant-garde and off the beaten path, and this album is the same way. Personally, I like a Christmas album with more than a few songs I don’t hear played to death come the season. Songs include The Merriest, Sorry To See You Go, Seven Shades Of Snow and Christmas Heart. This one works quite well with a cold Manhattan, a dim room, and a bright tree.
Jack Jones, Christmas – This would be a great team-up album with June Christy’s This Time of Year mentioned here. Jack Jones is another one of those soft singing, jazz-balladeers of a bygone era. Fortunately for us, he still occasionally tours and is sounding better than ever. This Christmas album is a quiet one. I wouldn’t lean on this one during a big party; this record is better for a night ‘round the tree or in the basement bar with another couple or just a few friends. This is an intimate holiday album that never fails to eventually hush the room in a good way. Songs include Little Alter Boy, Silver Bells, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Oh, Happy Day. A great cocktail album when you’re just having a few friends over for drinks and snacks.
Snowfall, The Tony Bennett Christmas Album – He may look silver haired and older on the cover, but this record was actually released back in 1968. I have the original vinyl and you can really feel, while listening, that this was recorded at the height of the singer-standard period in popular American music. This album is one of my favorites for a reason — it swings when it wants to, goes soft and silky at times, plays wonderfully in a crowd or with just a few, and always entertains. Tony’s arranger uses jazzy brass on some songs, and yet on others it’s just Bennett’s soft-as-silk voice. You’ll recognize most of the chestnuts on this record yet there are a few surprises. Songs include Snowfall, White Christmas, and Santa Clause Is Coming to Town. This one goes well with something festive to drink. A Brandy Alexander would be perfect.
The 25th Day of December With Bobby Darin – Back when Darin sang, you’d put on a sport-jacket and tie when you headed out to a neighbor’s holiday party. This album feels like that; it feels like 1960, the year it was first released. I confess that when I purchased this CD, I was expecting the Darin I knew and loved, the swinging, finger-snapping Bobby Darin. I was wrong. This album doesn’t swing too much. What it does do is celebrate the true season with songs leaning surprisingly towards the holiday’s true meaning — the birth of Christ. Darin sings beautifully spiritual carols on this record but in a sophisticated manner that carries quite easily into the land of cocktails around the tree. Sometimes, and especially during the holidays, it’s nice to be reminded of the important things. Go figure…. Bobby Darin pulls it off splendidly with this record. Songs include Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baby Born Today and Silent Night. This one will profoundly and pleasantly surprise you.
Doris Day, The Complete Christmas Collection – If you only remember Ms. Day from her older television programs, I’ll remind you that she started as a big-band singer. Sure, she’s a bit sweet and sugary, but she’s also a bit sophisticated and smoky. There are 22 songs on this Christmas album which makes it perfect for a gathering where you know you’ll be busy. I just throw this one on in a mix and relax and concentrate on mixing drinks. This is fun, old-school 60’s, Martinis and Manhattans x-mas music. Songs include Silver Bells, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, Winter Wonderland and White Christmas. Doris could sing, people.
The Sinatra Christmas Album – There are a ton of Sinatra holiday records available and I’m pretty certain I’ve heard them all. I have a few but … I always go back to this one. This is a fantastic Sinatra album period. It just happens to have a short shelf life. He recorded the lion’s share of these songs in the mid 60’s when I feel he was at the top of his game. Granted, there’s the almost unbearable 12 Days of Christmas sung by the whole Sinatra clan to slog through, but the rest of this album is pure Christmas gold. One song, Whatever Happened To Christmas, is just an amazingly beautiful song of regret and remorse, and who does that better than Frank? I tell ya, a couple Bourbon on the rocks and this song, and you may very well have to hit the bathroom to dry your eyes. I play the hell out of this record starting Thanksgiving night. Songs include We Wish You The Merriest (w/ Bing), Little Drummer Boy and Whatever Happened to Christmas.
Dean Martin, Making Spirits Bright – Can’t mention Frank without bringing Dean Martin to the party. If you’re planning a holiday bash this season, this record is a must. Probably one of the most 80 proof Christmas records I own, this Deano’ album positively rings with the spirit of the season. He just couldn’t sing any cooler, with any more sparkle than he does here. This album pairs wonderfully with the sounds of tinkling ice, boozy laughter and doorbells chiming. Retro-Christmas squared. Songs include Blue Christmas, A Marshmallow World, and Rudolph The Red Beaked Reindeer. Stir up a glass pitcher of Peppermint Martinis and put this record on.
The Don Ho Christmas Album – Well, welcome to the Christmas party Mr. Ho, and thanks for bringing your A game. Don was just so damn cool. He got it … life is tough; you gotta chill sometimes with palm trees, white chino pants, tiki drinks and canvas shoes. I knew I was going to like this record even before I put it on. Hawaii and Christmas, what a groovy combination, and it positively shines through on this album. If you’re like me and get a little tired of the same old x-mas sounds, let Don Ho mix it up for you. This album mixes wonderfully with other singers of the 60’s era. Songs include Silver Bells, Mele Kalikimaka (better than Bing’s version) and It’s Christmas Time Again. This guy sang like he didn’t have a care in the world … and it’s infectious. Whip up a Harvey Wallbanger, fire up the outside Christmas lights, and mellow out with Don Ho around the tree.
Jo Stafford, Happy Holidays – Former big-band Singer Jo Stafford really hit one out of the park with her Christmas album entry. She chose quite an eclectic group of winter-themed songs here. Sure, you have your 40’s/50’s Christmas favorites like Baby It’s Cold Outside and Jingle Bells, but she also throws harder-to-find tunes like By The Fireside and I Wonder As I Wander. This is a very nostalgic record that probably wouldn’t go over too well in a large gathering. However, if it’s going to be just you, maybe the kids or a few close friends, this album is very toasty. Put on your cardigan, spike a batch of eggnog, and loose yourself in some snowy woods with Jo Stafford.
Christmas With Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – I’ve been thinking it might be high-time I started introducing fans of Mr. Booze and his music picks to the wonders of 1960’s Country Music. I know, I know…I love my jazz, I love my standards, I love my pianos and saxophones … but, I’ll tell you drinking and 60’s country often walked hand in hand. I’ll hold off a bit before I begin pouring the occasional whisky soaked, 60’s Country album reviews on the regular music page, but I’ll be damned if I won’t mention Buck Owens and his Christmas entry here. This album is pure twangy, California toe-tap fun. You put this one on during a holiday party and I’ll guarantee you’ll have a good time. This is just uncomplicated, unfiltered Christmas Spirit. I promise I won’t go all Barbara Mandrell on you in the future, but a little country, and especially this caliber, deserves a mention and a spot on your player. Songs include Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy, Blue Christmas Lights and Because It’s Christmas Time. C’mon, why not take a chance with this one.
An Oscar Peterson Christmas – Man, this is just the best. My favorite Jazz pianist of all time laying down some of the softest, most beautiful, cocktail party Christmas music you’ll ever hear. You have 14 songs on this album and all are gems. Just five musicians on top of their game playing unbelievable Christmas music. This record is perfect for so many holiday situations: you can enjoy it by yourself with a drink; it’s great for a dinner party; and even works with a house full of boozers. Oscar Peterson demands a listener’s attention while at the same time contributes to the soft celebration. I just can’t recommend this one enough. Songs include God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Away In A Manger, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and Silent Night. No vocals here, just great interpretations by a master.
Croon and Swoon, A Classic Christmas – This is one of those little gems I stumbled upon perusing the Christmas music bins at the old Tower Records. I like the old stuff and figured I’d give this one a shot. It’s a great little collection that covers most of the standards 40’s & 50’s bases. Perfect for a party, you really can’t go wrong, and yet still make a retro Christmas statement. Goes great with stiff drinks and loud-mouths. You get most of the big singers of the day on this one: Doris Day, Perry Como, Gene Autry, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and more. Songs include Silver Bells, Frosty the Snowman, We Need a Little Christmas.
A Big Band Christmas – Cheap on Amazon and really a fun Christmas album, I love this hodge-podge collection of 1940’s tunes. One can easily imagine folks gathered ‘round the big living room radio, sipping beer and listening to these forgotten gems. I listen to this one late at night with just the tree lights on and with a fat bourbon. It truly is a big band throwback to a simpler time. Songs include Little Jack Frost Get Lost, There’s Frost On The Moon, Christmas Night In Harlem and Sleigh Ride. This collection sets the mood perfectly and like I said, it’s great to listen to, alone or during a big fun party.
Jim Nabors’ Christmas – Made you look! I won’t even say he’s an acquired taste; this is just a fun record to have around the house at Christmas time. There’s a schmaltzy elegance I find here that, after a few drinks, I simply must share with my guests (a few of whom have been known to leave). This is a throw back album, plain and simple. Originally played in living rooms filled with pipe smoke, cardigan sweaters, and plastic covered furniture, Jim Nabor’s Christmas record just plain old works. Jim believes in his Christmas album, you can tell by listening; so, so do I. I’m not going to apologize. I sometimes like to go back in time with a record. Jim and I, a tasty cocktail and our white shoes will be just fine. Join us, if you dare. Songs include O Come, All Ye Faithful, Little Drummer Boy, and Jingle Bells.
Michael Buble, Let It Snow – Short and sweet with just six songs, this album plays wonderfully. Let’s face it, during the holidays, you’re rushing. Here’s just the record to throw on before you serve dinner or when you’re celebrating for a short while before stepping out. I love this kid’s voice, and feel he’s done wonders to re-popularize crooning. With a voice as smooth as silk, Buble sings the heck out of Let It Snow, White Christmas and The Christmas Song.
Bonanza: Christmas On The Ponderosa – Here’s a weird, fun, absolutely hypnotizing Christmas album that goes perfectly with lots and lots of cocktails (consumed, not choices). If you’re of a certain age and remember Bonanza on TV, or are just an extremely experimental, kitschy, open-minded fan of the holiday, I feel that it’s my duty to point this album out to you. The whole thing is like a weird 1960’s Bonanza episode where the Cartwrights are semi-forced to celebrate Christmas with a bunch of booze-soaked, prairie neighbors. At various points Little Joe, Hoss, Adam and even Ben are all talked into singing cowboy carols. We’re even treated to an uncomfortable scene where a tipsy widow suggestively hits on the Ponderosa’s patriarch. When I’ve had too much mulled cider or too much rum-spiked eggnog, I hit this album. On a weird drunk level, it works splendidly.
Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song – I almost didn’t mention this one, it’s just so obvious. Nat Cole’s Christmas album simply covers all the bases. If a Christmas passes where I don’t play this record, well, I just can’t see that ever happening. We all grew up with this one; we’ve heard it our whole lives, yet it still works on an almost archetypal level. I play this one on Thanksgiving night as the official kick-off to the season. An Apple Ginger Sangaree, spicy Bourbon & Ginger, a Brandy Alexander — all drink exceptionally well with this classic. Celebrate with a crowd or with just a few with this record, just celebrate. Songs include I Saw Three Ships, Deck The Halls, and of course, The Christmas Song.
Harry Connick, Jr., What A Night – Before there was Michael Buble, there was Harry Connick, and I really feel remiss for taking so long to mention him on this page and on our regular Album Reviews Page (I’ll fix that mistake soon enough). Connick has three Christmas albums out, but I really feel that this one, his latest, is the best. He’s a modern day, 1950’s singer plain and simple. His love of music and showmanship shine through on all his records. You just can’t help catching his contagious way with a standard. I play this one whenever we’re Christmas socializing because everyone always loves it. Guests are familiar with Connick; he’s modern enough to still be party relevant yet old school enough to fit right on in with your Sinatra, Jack Jones and Dean Martin Christmas albums. This album’s huge, and brassy and fun. Songs include Zat You Santa Claus, Deck The Halls, It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and lot’s more.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album – Recently, BMG re-issued most of Herb Alpert’s records, and I was happy as Santa on his sleigh to see this one included. Herb Alpert, in so many ways, is the 60’s for me. His music permeated popular American culture when I was a kid. Tijuana Brass is just so optimistic, cool and instrumental without being jazz. This record demands a holiday party built around it, or at the very least, a few friends over for a liquor-laden punch or silver shaker. Brassy, toe-tappers include My Favorite Things, Sleigh Ride and Jingle Bells … all played, of course, the Herb Alpert way.
Jackie Gleason Merry Christmas – I see that this is out of print and quite expensive if you’re buying new, but I also see that used copies are going for under twenty bucks on Amazon, so it’s worth mentioning. I really like Gleason’s Christmas Album. It’s soft and retro-romantic, so it won’t be the one to go to at a party. That being said, this is the record to put on when it’s you, your significant other, a pitcher of peppermint martinis and a couch lit only by the Christmas tree. The whole album sounds like it was recorded under cold gin. There’s a boozy, rich, unique quality that no other instrumental album has. It feels like Jackie Gleason took his love of the booze and stirred it directly into this recording. It’s a tipsy Christmas album and well worth a track down. Buy, mix a batch, and enjoy. Songs include I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Snowfall, By The Fireside and The Christmas Song. This record is like a soft snow, best enjoyed at home and in quiet.
Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas – I was hesitant to mention this one too, seeing as how you can’t walk into a Pottery Barn department store or Target without having a few songs from this album shoved down your throat. Alas, seems that a few tunes from Ella Fitzgerald’s Holiday Songbook have become exceptionally mainstream. Stores for grown-ups, trying to go for that cinnamon scented sophistication, begin playing a little Ella right after October. Still, there’s a lot of this album that never makes the stores. Songs like Good Morning Blues, What Are You Doing New Years Eve, and Winter Wonderland often get sidelined for the more popular. Bottom line, this is a truly great Christmas album that works so well at holiday gatherings you owe it to yourself to pick it up. She’s just an amazing singer on so many levels, the record’s crazy popular for a reason.
A Dave Brubeck Christmas – Those of you expecting to hear a finger-snapping, jazzy Christmas album may be pleasantly surprised. Sure there are up-tempo, jazzy piano versions of Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but there are also deep, lavish interpretations of Silent Night and What Child Is This. This is a sophisticated Christmas album, no doubt about it, and one that calls for a bit more attention than the average holiday fare. But trust me, if you or a few of your guests truly appreciate the challenging jazz I feel Brubeck delivers, then I know you’ll like this album. It’s another soft one, but I kind of like that. Any reason, during the holidays, where I can relax at night with a drink, do a little soul searching and be musically challenged and entertained, I’ll take it! Just dig the vibe…light a fire in the fireplace and dig the whole Christmas vibe.
Merry Christmas Baby, Romance and Reindeer From Capitol Records – Yet another great Christmas record out of print. I’ve included the Amazon link, which leads to affordable, used copies. This is a showstopper of a collection. It has a bizarre, 1951, Guy Lombardo recording of Auld Lang Syne which must be heard to be believed. The whole song takes place in the city apartment of a 1950’s newly married couple and just sort of time trips through the holidays with both husband and wife talking to each other about celebrating. You won’t be able to tear yourself away. The album has two Lou Rawls bombs which don’t really get in the way. Also included are Ring a Merry Bell by June Christy, The Christmas Spell by Peggy Lee, You’re All I Want For Christmas by Al Martino and more. This is a cool album to own, chuck full of swank Christmas music you won’t find anywhere else.
This should provide you with some food for thought. Here’s hoping your Holiday and Christmas celebrating includes some great music.
Cheers & Merry Christmas from Mr. Booze.