A Very Special Christmas - Various Artists (1987)
The last truly awesome thing Jimmy Iovine did before selling his soul to the D(r)evil was wrangle this copious collection of contemporary rock acts to create one of the most complete Christmas albums ever made, all in the name of raising money for Special Olympics.
Everybody's who was anybody at the time is here: Bon Jovi, Springsteen, U2, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Sting, Run DMC, Whitney Houston, John Mellencamp, the Pretenders, the Pointer Sisters, Eurythmics, and Alison Moyet. Despite the varied styles, the album flows amazingly well so its great for parties where you just wanna click play and not have to worry about skipping over anything. If you're party ain't happening, by the time this album is three songs in, five bucks says you got yourself an old-fashioned sing-off.
Note: Make sure to track down the original version of this album that features Bon Jovi's cover of Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa", which was later removed and replaced by the completely non-essential "I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas".
A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)
There are few songs more indicative of the holiday season than Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy". This album also features other familiar songs from the popular Peanuts' holiday special. best of all "Skating" and "Christmas Time Is Here".
The album is rounded out by Guaraldi's interpretation of more traditional fare ("O Tannenbaum" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!", for example) done in his inimitably cool style.
No Christmas playlist is complete without some Elvis. His first foray into seasonal music came in 1957 with the absolutely timeless and essential Elvis' Christmas Album. You got your "Santa Claus Is Back In Town", "Here Comes Santa Claus", and "Silent Night", not to mention both "Blue Christmas" and "White Christmas".
We believe that it is actually impossible to play this album during the holidays and not immediately feel warm and fuzzy all over.
Christmas - Mannheim Steamroller (1984)
From the first moment you heard the robotic synth stylings of Chip Davis (aka Mannheim Steamroller) on this legendary 1984 Christmas collection, we were hooked. There's just something about hearing "Deck The Halls", "We Three Kings" and a host of other played-out favorites delivered in sterile and detached analog synth fashion that actually manages to breathe new life into this host of well-worn standards.
The album's success (over 6 million copies sold) makes this one of the best-selling Christmas albums ever made and the words "Mannheim Steamroller" synonymous with the Christmas season.
Trivia nugget: Chip Davis co-wrote the 1975 novelty hit "Convoy" by C.W. McCall.
The Christmas Album - Various Artists (1985)
I've never owned this record, but a handful of my friends do so, over the years, I've gotten to know it as well as anything in my collection. Why so many of my friends own the same import-only Christmas album from 1985 that was the very first holiday compilation released by the then-relatively-new "Now That's What I Call Music" franchise is something I have pondered on many occasions.
While this entire track listing is available on other, more recent, contemporary compilations, this was the first time these tracks were compiled on one collection. Also, much like A Very Special Christmas, the variety of artists and musical styles on display here creates for a surprisingly listenable collection despite featuring a few UK-centric nuggets from Slade, Wizzard, Mud and Shakin' Stevens that have since caught on here in the US.