Normally, I like to chat about entrepreneurship and business and apps and all sorts of related topics, but this week—being Christmas week—I thought we’d break from the usual content and have some fun with holiday music.
Little known fact: I love Christmas, and I love Christmas music. So it’s no surprise that I have a well-stocked Christmas playlist in my iTunes. I thought this might be a fun opportunity to share a few Christmas albums that I love, that might not be a part of your regular rotation.
Without further ado… here are four Christmas albums you should know.
Carpenters: Christmas Portrait
“Whoa, whoa… what is this?” I can already hear the objections. “Carpenters’ Christmas music is iconic. Why would you put it on a list of albums I wouldn’t know?”
The answer is simple: while this album (first released in 1978 and occasionally tweaked since) may have a number of well-known songs, very few people listen to the album in whole, and this is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its (also great) parts. Christmas Portrait harkens back to the days where the album—that monolithic entity—reigned supreme; the idea of listening to single tracks off an album was really the domain of radio—it was just too cumbersome to switch LPs.
And as a monolithic entity, designed for being enjoyed in one fell swoop, Christmas Portrait delivers. The album is introduced by a beautiful overture that segues into Karen Carpenter’s iconic take on “A Christmas Waltz”. From there, we are moved seamlessly through other Christmas gems (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Silent Night”, etc.), a now-famous original track “Merry Christmas Darling”, and a number of smart medleys.
Christmas Portrait is one of my favourite Christmas albums of all time, and a joy to revisit every holiday season.
An Oscar Peterson Christmas
This album is a recent discovery for me, but it has quickly moved into regular rotation. An Oscar Peterson Christmas is a delightful, easy-to-enjoy album of jazz piano takes on the most popular Christmas carols. Its closest sonic cousin is probably the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (an album you need to have, if you don’t have it already), which is a good indication of what to expect.
Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, An Oscar Peterson Christmas puts the piano front and center. Unlike ACBC, Oscar Peterson has a bit more “fun”, and the arrangements are often more full and “jazzy”. Where ACBC is imbued with melancholy (which I love), An Oscar Peterson Christmas is steeped in playfulness and the spirit of improvisation.
The Boston Pops Orchestra: A Christmas Festival
You have probably heard one of the Boston Pops’ famous recordings of Sleigh Ride, Leroy Anderson’s popular Christmas tune (originally written for orchestra; vocals/lyrics came later). But you probably haven’t heard the orchestra’s take on any other carols. Fortunately, A Christmas Festival is here to change that, with 16 additional tracks, including the eponymous 8-minute medley “A Christmas Festival”.
The album also contains excerpts from The Nutcracker, traditional carols (“Greensleeves”, “O Christmas Tree”, etc.), and modern classics (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Winter Wonderland”, and others). A Christmas Festival is an excellent soundtrack to the Christmas season, from one of America’s most distinguished orchestras.
Duke Ellington And His Orchestra: The Nutcracker Suite
You’ve probably heard The Nutcracker, but you probably haven’t heard it like this. In Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker, the symphony orchestra is replaced with a big band, and Tchaikovsky’s arrangements are given a jazzy and swingin’ overhaul. It’s not the whole score—can you imagine how amazing that would be?!—but it’s definitely all the best parts (sans act two’s “Pas de Deux”, my personal favourite). The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”, “Waltz of the Flowers”, and the “Arabian Dance” are all represented.
This interpretation of The Nutcracker is easily one of my favourites. The arrangements are clever, exciting, and simply fun to listen to!
What are your favourite Christmas albums that others might not know? Share your suggestions in the comments!