Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas albums - Rated

So in the weeks leading up to Christmas I made it my mission to uncover only the very best Christmas songs to play on a Christmas Special of my radio show. I made myself a rule not to listen to a single Christmas song till December the 1st, and I stuck to that rule until the appropriate day. So over the last 25 days I have been indulging in some great festive music, and some perhaps not so great.

BB King's album 'A Christmas Celebration Of Hope' provides some impressive blues and soul but is let down by the bland and characterless production, although his take on the much-covered 'Merry Christmas Baby' injects life into the song that other performers never quite captured (6.5). Plus most of the album is heavily inspired by Charles Brown's 'Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs' which is worth getting hold of just for the utterly beautiful 'Please Come Home For Christmas', and which does a much better job than the BB effort (8). Charles Brown also later recorded 'Cool Christmas Blues', an album which features some of the same tracks as the first as well as some less impressive moments (6.5). 

Another Brown who delivered a wealth of festively-themed excellence was the Godfather of Soul himself James Brown, and his 'Funky Christmas' album must be the single best festive album ever made. There's the irresistible funk of 'Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto' where Mr Brown tells Santa to make the underprivileged a priority, there's one of the best versions of 'Merry Christmas Baby' you'll ever hear, and of course there's the stunning 'Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year'. The fact that the legend passed away on Christmas Day 2006 just makes this album even more special (9.5)

Elvis Presley originally released 'Elvis's Christmas Album' in 1957, and what an album it is. The wonderful 'Blue Christmas' is still the standout, although 'Santa Claus Is Back In Town' is an excellent seasonal rocker. (8.5) Elvis also released 'The Wonderful World Of Christmas' in 1971, an album which leans heavier on the ballads and traditional numbers, with the standout track being the brilliant 'On A Snowy Christmas Night' (8). Lynard Skynard's 'Christmas Time Again' is just awful (2) while Emmy The Great And Tim Wheeler's 'This Is Christmas' could have been great but disappointingly delivers a collection of lazy festive numbers that are often either boring or just plain silly (3.5). 

Johnny Cash released an album called 'The Christmas Spirit' in 1963, which contains the fantastic 'I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day' and elsewhere leans more towards traditional carols. (6) Not quite as consistent as what I expected from the great man, although it is MUCH better than his 1980 album 'Classic Christmas' which is completely ruined by a bad choice of songs and some dreadful production (2).

'What A Wonderful Christmas' by Louis Armstrong And Friends is let down by the 'And Friends'... We get an amazing take on 'Winter Wonderland', the excellent 'Christmas In New Orleans' and best of all there's 'Zat You Santa Claus', simply one of the finest seasonal tracks you're ever likely to set ears upon. Then we get the 'friends'... No offence to Peggy Lee, Mel Torme and Dinah Washington but none of the other tracks are a patch on the great Satchmo. (8 for Louis, 2 for his Friends). Low's 'Christmas' is a beautiful and low key collection of winter treasures and features the classic 'Just Like Christmas', a song so good it should be played all year round (8). Finally we end with The Beach Boys who issued 'The Beach Boys Christmas Album' back in 1964. Apart from the wonderful 'Little Saint Nick' and 'Christmas Day' (a stunning track written by Brian Wilsion and sung by Al Jardine) there isn't much here to suggest that the boys put a lot of thought into this recording (5.5).

Well that's it until next year, but make sure you listen to my Christmas Special here and check out my Christmas Essentials compilation here...

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