(Atlantic Records)

The ultimate Christmas music guide: The 30 best new releases and reissues of the holidays

Sia, Cheap Trick, The Minus 5, Gwen Stefani and the Beatles lead this year's pack of holiday releases and reissues


Annie Zaleski
December 10, 2017 8:30PM (UTC)

Yes, holiday music is polarizing. For every person who perks up when radio stations flip to 24-7 seasonal songs, there's another who bah-humbugs their way through the millionth airing of "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Wonderful Christmastime."

In some ways, the Grinchiness is understandable. All holiday staples aren't created equal, after all. Some should even be retired (looking at you, "Baby It's Cold Outside").

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But there's something to be said for the ability of a sleigh bell to lift the spirits, or the cozy feelings evoked by some of the classic holiday tunes from the '50s and '60s. No wonder so many artists are fond of covering the latter — it's a way to stay connected to the past and keep those nostalgic feelings alive.

This year's crop of festive releases is especially strong, in large part because they run the gamut of genres and, perhaps more importantly, eschew novelty. Even 2017's more irreverent takes on holiday tunes — from the likes of Dude York and the Minus 5 — don't skimp on respect.

Here are 30 holiday reissues and new releases to get you in a holly, jolly mood.

New Releases:

 

cheaptrick-gatewayCheap Trick, "Christmas Christmas"
Rockford's favorite sons have released a few holiday songs over the years — most notably, a tongue-in-cheek, punkish re-do of "I Want You To Want Me" called "I Want You For Christmas." (Sample lyrics: "I want you for Christmas/I need you for Christmas.") Smartly, the band's debut seasonal full-length also focuses on upbeat power pop ("Merry Christmas Darlings") and rock 'n' roll ("Run Rudolph Run").

More than anything, however, "Christmas Christmas" reflects the band's uncanny ability to curate — and then Cheap Trick-ize — only the hippest cover songs. The album features classics from the Kinks (a ringing "Father Christmas"), a "Saturday Night Live" sketch (a hot-rodding, rockabilly-punk spin on "I Wish It Was Christmas Today") and Wizzard (a saxophone-aided, faithful update of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day") And, let's be honest: Cheap Trick were born to cover Slade's towering glam achievement, "Merry Xmas Everybody."

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Buy it here at Amazon.

gwenstefani-gatewayGwen Stefani, "You Make It Feel Like Christmas"
Back in the '90s, at the height of their ska-punk fame, No Doubt did a spring-loaded cover of the underground cult fave "Oi! To The World." It's clear from listening to the retro-kissed "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" — No Doubt vocalist Gwen Stefani's first full-length holiday release as a solo artist — that we're not on Warped Tour anymore.

Don't mistake that for snark, however. On the high-stepping, effervescent "Jingle Bells," she resembles a '40s jazz singer fronting a big band; the wintry "Let It Snow" is glamorous and romantic; and she transforms "Last Christmas" from an '80s pop nugget into a string-dusted ballroom dance. The title track, meanwhile, is a duet between Stefani and her beau, Blake Shelton — and it resembles an early '80s Dolly Parton pop collaboration with a season-appropriate filter. The record does have a few throwaways — yet another cover of "Santa Baby," a nasally, Rat Pack-nodding "White Christmas" — but its mix of traditional and contemporary sounds works.

Buy it here at Amazon.

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theminusfive-gatewayThe Minus 5, "Dear December"
When Salon recently interviewed Peter Buck, he said that listeners could expect no "traditional holiday songs" on The Minus 5's first holiday record. "It's [Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey's] perspective on holidays. You're not getting a happy, holly-jolly holiday record. It's a little psychedelic." That's certainly true: As with many Minus 5 records, "Dear December" has a delightfully fractured worldview that manifests itself in eclectic, hooky rock 'n' roll. But the album also has no shortage of melancholy — "The Fourth Noel," a mournful, seasick ballad with lead vocals from the Decemberists' Colin Meloy; the gentle, twangy "When Christmas Hurts You This Way" — and sweetness ("Yule Tide Me Over," a striking, rootsy duet with Kelly Hogan). There's even a positively life-affirming vibe to "See You In December," a frisky rock 'n' roll hootenanny featuring M. Ward and Chuck Prophet. With McCaughey's recent stroke while on tour, buying "Dear December" is also a good way to support his recovery.

Buy it here at Amazon.

fantasia-gatewayFantasia, "Christmas After Midnight"
It's somewhat surprising that Fantasia Barrino (who many still know as the winner of the third season of "American Idol") hasn't released a Christmas record until now. After all, the R&B singer possesses a smoky, gospel-tinged vocal timbre that's ideal for interpretations of both secular and religious music. Naturally, "Christmas After Midnight" covers a lot of ground — including a faithful spin on the jazz standard "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"; an exuberant, gospel choir-augmented version of "This Christmas"; and the old-school soul-funk of "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto." Better still is "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)." Above whispered percussion, velvety flute and jazz piano, Barrino turns in a sophisticated, emotion-rich vocal performance that elevates the familiar song. And, unsurprisingly, she imbues "Silent Night" and a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" with reverence and gravitas. In short, "Christmas After Midnight" is a worthy album to put under your tree.

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Buy it here at Amazon.

butchwalker-gatewayButch Walker & His Holiday Players, "Over The Holidays (And Under the Influence)"
In early November, the prolific rocker announced the surprise release of an eight-song holiday record featuring chestnuts galore: Songs covered include "Frosty the Snowman" and "Jingle Bell Rock."

Buy it here at Amazon.

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sia-gatewaySia, "Everyday Is Christmas"
Sia's first holiday record is more like a pop album that just so happens to be holiday-themed: The ten songs — including the breezy reggae-influenced "Santa's Coming For Us" and the meet-cute "Puppies Are Forever" — are all original compositions.

Buy it here at Amazon.

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smokeyrobinson-gatewaySmokey Robinson, "Christmas Everyday"
It's hard to believe, but "Christmas Everyday" is Motown legend Robinson's first-ever solo Christmas album. The release contains three originals and choice covers. On the former tip, the title track also appeared on one of Robinson's long-ago holiday records, 1963's "Christmas With the Miracles." As far as interpretations go, he puts a unique spin on Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas" and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas."

Buy it here at Amazon.

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bloodshotrecords-gatewayVarious Artists, "Bloodshot Records' 13 Days of Xmas"
If it's released by Bloodshot Records, you know it's quality — and that extends to the label's forthcoming holiday album, which features Dex Romweber Duo, Kelly Hogan, Jon Langford, Murder by Death, and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages.

Buy it here at Amazon.

rodneyontherocks-gatewayVarious Artists, "Rodney On the ROQ Presents: Santa's Got a GTO Vol. 2"
The sequel to the long-time radio DJ's beloved Christmas compilation features eggnog-spiked rock 'n' roll from artists such as CJ Ramone, The Donnas and The Dollyrots.

Buy it here at Amazon.

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dudeyork-gatewayDude York, "Halftime For the Holidays"
Holidays aren't always chocolate and cheer. As Dude York discusses on their razor-sharp, '90s-inspired pop surge "Break Up Holiday," this time of year can also be a time to make a clean relationship break. The rest of the band's first holiday album promises classics ("Silent Night") and awesome irreverence (a shambling cover of the BTO revamp "Takin' Care of Christmas").

Buy it here at Amazon.

themavericks-gatewayThe Mavericks, "Christmas Time Is Coming 'Round Again"
This unfortunately isn't a full-length record, just a 12-inch single, although it's hard to quibble with any release that tackles the staple "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

Buy it here at Amazon.

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tavfalco-gatewayTav Falco, "A Tav Falco Christmas"
The cult rocker puts his inimitable, raucous spin on holiday classics such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Blue Christmas," in conjunction with a band that includes bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose), guitarist Mario Monterosso and drummer Toby Dammit (touring keyboardist for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds).

Buy it here at Amazon.

hanson-gatewayHanson, "Finally It's Christmas"
Twenty years after their first holiday album, "Snowed In," the Hanson brothers return with another dynamic collection of seasonal soul-rock exuberance. The title track is a horn-peppered barnburner; the band channel Huey Lewis and the News (not a dis!) on a cover of Aretha Franklin's "Winter Wonderland"; and their take on Stevie Wonder's "Someday At Christmas" is solemn and tasteful.

Buy it here at Amazon.

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98degrees-gateway98 Degrees, "Let It Snow"
Speaking of '90s groups putting out their second Christmas album, nearly 20 years after releasing "This Christmas," the reunited boy band has issued "Let It Snow," a showcase for their harmonies — cue up a cover of the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick."

Buy it here at Amazon.

holidaysrule-gatewayVarious Artists, "Holidays Rule, Vol. 2"
"Holidays Rule" is the kind of holiday music compilation that might introduce you to a new favorite artist; the album's track list has a solid balance of up-and-coming and established artists. Of note: The Decemberists covering Big Star's "Jesus Christ," buzzy electropop trio MUNA covering Paul McCartney's "Pipes of Peace" — and Macca himself re-doing "Wonderful Christmastime" with the Roots and Jimmy Fallon.

Buy it here at Amazon.

chantemoore-gatewayChanté Moore, "Christmas Back To You"
The Grammy-nominated Moore serves up an eclectic R&B album encompassing romantic holiday slow jams ("Every Day's Like Christmas"), grooving pop-soul ("Santa Don't Sleigh") and funky '90s throwbacks ("Christmas In L.A.").

Buy it here at Amazon.

herbalpert-gatewayHerb Alpert, "The Christmas Wish"
For his first holiday album in nearly 50(!) years, trumpeter Herb Alpert went all out, working with a symphony orchestra and carefully curating a track list filled with nothing but beloved classics.

Buy it here at Amazon.

lindseysterling-gatewayLindsey Stirling, "Warmer in the Winter"
Violinist Lindsey Stirling's contemporary spin on classical music works like a dream on this collection, especially with guests such as Trombone Shorty (the title track) and Sabrina Carpenter (a horn-stacked, dance-pop spin on "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch").

Buy it here at Amazon.

reba-gatewayReba, "My Kind of Christmas"
The country icon alternates between religious- and secular-leaning songs on this piano-heavy record, which boasts guests such as Darius Rucker, Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

Buy it here at Amazon.

Reissues:

charliebrown-gatewayVince Guaraldi Trio, " A Charlie Brown Christmas" LP
Even the most cold-hearted Grinches can't resist "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or the special's soundtrack. This audiophile-geared, 180-gram vinyl reissue brings back artwork from the original 1965 pressing.

Buy it here at Amazon.

mariahcarey-gatewayOriginal Motion Picture Soundtrack, "Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You"
The soundtrack to the pop icon's animated film features a new song from her ("Lil Snowman") and, of course, her unstoppable holiday juggernaut "All I Want for Christmas Is You."

Buy it here at Amazon.

thebeatles-gatewayThe Beatles, "The Christmas Records"
It's a very merry Christmas indeed for Beatles fans: This 7-inch boxed set compiles the band's fan club holiday greetings and newsletter replicas into a cheerful, tidy package.

Buy it here at Amazon.

thesupremes-gatewayThe Supremes, "The Ultimate Merry Christmas"
This double-CD set includes the stereo and mono versions of the 1965 holiday staple — along with 16 unreleased tracks and new liner notes.

Buy it here at Amazon.

reospeedwagon-gatewayREO Speedwagon, "Not So Silent Night: Christmas With REO Speedwagon"
This album features the AOR icons' original tune "I Believe In Santa Claus," as well as revved-up takes on classics ("Deck The Halls," "Sleigh Ride") and mellower numbers ("Little Drummer Boy").

Buy it here at Amazon.

jonbatiste-gatewayJon Batiste, "Christmas with Jon Batiste"
Every holiday season needs a record to throw on as the soundtrack for hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire. This year, that album belongs to Jon Batiste — a member of the band Stay Human, a.k.a. the house band on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" — who has crafted a smooth collection of jazzy tunes.

Buy it here at Amazon.

leslieodomjr-gatewayLeslie Odom Jr., "Simply Christmas"
Is there anything Leslie Odom Jr. can't do? The musician — who's also an accomplished actor known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton" — is reissuing his 2016 holiday record with four new songs, including an imploring, jazzy take on "Please Come Home For Christmas."

Buy it here at Amazon.

train-gatewayTrain, "Christmas in Tahoe"
There's a little something for everyone on this deluxe reissue of Train's holiday album. A crooning cover of "Blue Christmas"? Yup. A faithful tribute to Chuck Berry, "Run Run Rudolph"? Of course. A version of "Please Come Home For Christmas" that recalls Bon Jovi's take on the tune? Done and done.

Buy it here at Amazon.

ohiocitysingers-gatewayThe Ohio City Singers, "All Wrapped Up"
This band of Northeast Ohio musicians — which includes Don Dixon, known for his production work with R.E.M. and the Smithereens — offers up a greatest hits collection of holiday originals that should appeal to anyone who enjoys '80s jangle-pop, Bloodshot Records releases and well-crafted alt-country.

Buy it here at iTunes.

blackmoresnight-gatewayBlackmore's Night, "Winter Carols"
On this expanded reissue, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore gives an "eclectic Renaissance touch" (as a press release terms it) to bonus tracks "Deck The Halls," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "O Christmas Tree," all of which feature spirited vocalist Candice Night.

Buy it here at Amazon.

joshgroban-gatewayJosh Groban, "Noël"
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of this release, Groban tacked on six extra songs, including a duet with Tony Bennett on "Christmas Time Is Here" and a new version of "White Christmas" recorded with a 70-piece orchestra.

Buy it here at Amazon.


Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

MORE FROM Annie Zaleski

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Christmas Christmas Music Entertainment Gwen Stefani Holiday Music Holidays Lists Music Sia The Beatles




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