There are too many Christmas albums. Way too many. Most of them are awful, because they're hastily recorded things full of saccharine songs and syrupy arrangements, crass attempts to either capitalize on an artist's fame or to squeeze a few extra bucks out a signer who's just about to plummet into complete obscurity.
(In case it's not obvious, we're talking about popular music genres here, not classical. Obviously some of the most sublime music ever written is classical music with a Christmas theme.)
Its good to have a few Christmas albums in any collection, so here are a few that are so good you can listen to the all year 'round. (Any album that includes either "The Little Drummer Boy" or "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" is automatically disqualified.)
"A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector." The luster has gone off this one a bit since the days when it was so hard to find that it was the stuff of legend, and since Phil Spector went over-the-edge crazy. But his brilliant arrangement of classic seasonal songs, and the performances by the Ronettes, the Crystals and Darlene Love make this one of the finest rock albums of all time, period.
"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," which Spector wrote with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, is maybe the best contemporary Christmas song ever, and no one does it better than Darlene Love.
"The Beach Boys' Christmas Album." About half original songs, including the exuberant hit "Little St. Nick," plus beautifully rendered covers of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Auld Lang Syne." The Beach Boys' harmonies are perfect for Christmas songs.
"The Classic Christmas Album" by Barbra Streisand. Streisand released two Christmas albums, one in 1967 and one in 2001. Both are wonderful, but
this 16-song compilation, which came out this year, will be easier to find and has most of the best songs from those two recordings. Streisand offers a heartbreaking "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the greatest "Jingle Bells" ever.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. There are actually two different versions of this album, one from 1965 and one from 1988. The songs are the same, except that the 1988 version adds "Greensleeves," but Guaraldi plays with different musicians on both. Get whichever one you can find. Swingin' and fabulous.
"The Magic of Christmas" by Nat King Cole. All 14 songs are long-time Christmas favorites delivered by one of the smoothest and classiest vocalists of all time. Gorgeous renditions of "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night."
"The Ventures' Christmas Album." Christmas rock done right. Huge amounts of fun with upbeat secular seasonal songs -- "White Christmas" is the only ballad -- and, of course, great musicianship by the best instrumental band in rock 'n' roll history.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.