Each artist, seemingly, has their own holiday album.
And that’s terrific. There are so many classic songs out there that represent the best of the season. Our favorite musicians should all take a swing at putting their unique styles on the time-tested tracks.
But what are those holiday albums that rise to the top? The creme de la creme, so to speak?
Well, the staff here at American Songwriter wanted to share our favorites. From Elvis to Tchaikovsky, these are our favorite holiday albums to listen to this time of year.
1. Christmas Portrait – The Carpenters
Like most things around the holidays, Christmas music is steeped in tradition. There are few things as nostalgic as the music that soundtracked our childhood Christmases. The Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait is a holiday spirit incarnate. What is more comforting than Karen Carpenter’s voice lulling through “Have Your Self a Merry Little Christmas” or “O Holy Night?” Not to mention the album holds the most stellar version of their “Merry Christmas Darling”—a seriously underrated carol if I do say so myself. The duo doesn’t stray too far from the classic Christmas tunes, but they are classics for a reason. (ALEX HOPPER)
2. Once Upon a Christmas – Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
The perfect Dolly-Kenny collab, their undeniable love for each other is palpable on the classic holiday country album. (ALLI PATTON)
3. A Very Kacey Christmas – Kacey Musgraves
No one does Christmas quite like Kacey Musgraves. With A Very Kacey Christmas, the multi-time Grammy winner continues to demonstrate her ability to combine tradition with modern elements, tying it all together in a festive bow of her own unique flair. Whether she’s turning “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” into a two-stepping good time or adding a mariachi flair to “Feliz Navidad,” you can count on Musgraves to offer up something unique.
But where she really shines is on the original tracks, like “Willie Nice Christmas,” with a guest spot from the legend himself, Willie Nelson. The two Texans reference marijuana and friendship, while her collaboration with Leon Bridges on “Present Without a Bow” is the perfect blend of soulful and festive. And I dare you to make it through “Christmas Makes My Cry” without tearing up. It’s one of those special kinds of songs that make you think about the people who are suffering during this time of year—giving the spirit of the season a whole new meaning. A Very Kacey Christmas is a gem of an album—just like the singer herself. (CILLEA HOUGHTON)
4. Elvis’ Christmas Album – Elvis Presley
It’s easy to see why Elvis Presley’s 1957 holiday record, Elvis’ Christmas Album, remains the best-selling Christmas album in the U.S. according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The timeless classic features Presley’s rich baritone as he reinterprets holiday standards “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night,” as well as puts his unique spin on tracks including the soulfully somber “Blue Christmas.” The King shares his jolly side too—specifically in “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Is Back in Town,” the latter written by the hit writer-producer team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The project closes with four gospel tunes previously featured on Presley’s Peace in the Valley EP, blending all the singer’s musical influences, and ending on a hopeful note to carry listeners through the holiday season. (ANNIE REUTER)
5. The Christmas Album – Neil Diamond
Marking his first foray into holiday music, Neil Diamond’s The Christmas Album is a master class of classic renditions from the opening “O Come O Come Emmanuel / We Three Kings of Orient Are” through the tender “Silent Night,” the boisterous “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and the closing “O Holy Night,” in true Diamond style. In 2022, Diamond released a newly curated collection of his favorite holiday recordings, including some earlier remixes from his other four holiday albums for A Neil Diamond Christmas. (TINA BENITEZ-EVES)
6. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
No matter what generation, there’s something innately sentimental in a Nat King Cole Christmas song. Releasing The Magic of Christmas in 1960, everyone got a first listen to Cole’s take on holiday classics like “The First Noel,” “Joy to the World” and a smooth-as-egg nog “O Tannenbaum,” among others. Later reissued as The Christmas Song, in 1999, the album with added tracks, is a standard on any holiday playlist. (TINA BENITEZ-EVES)
7. The Nutcracker Suite – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
When I think of Christmas albums, I think of those records appropriate for a fireside listen. I don’t even own a fireplace, but I don’t need to when I listen to The Nutcracker Suite. It warms my heart and, somehow, my toes. There are so many songs from the album, that many may not realize are from The Nutcracker, and each is emblazoned in our holiday-loving souls. (JAKE UITTI)
8. White Christmas – Martina McBride
In 1998 McBride released, arguably, one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time when she released White Christmas. So good in fact, that it was re-released again in 1999 and 2007. A staple for any collection, White Christmas contains all the classics, such as “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas,” “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night,” all sung to perfection and exactly how Christmas songs should be sung. (LISA KONICKI)