Human Resources’ Aaron Utterback
A Charle Brown Christmas, The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Charlie Brown is cool, and Christmas is very cool, but this record is just too cool. The trio puts on a jazz clinic, some of Vince’s voicings sound like he’s playing with an extra hand, and there is barely any singing, yet they still manage to create melodies that capture the holiday spirit and have stayed relevant for 50-plus years. The adaptations of the classics are smooth but the originals “Christmas Time is Here,” “Skating” and “Christmas is Coming” are really what elevates it to masterpiece status in my opinion. Not to mention, the production just straight holds up. I know more than one producer who would kill to nail the vibe of the drum sounds on this record.
My girlfriend got it for me on vinyl a year or two ago and that elevated the vibe even further. Plus she bought it at Cracker Barrel, which is hilarious to me for some reason.
Stop Light Observations’ John-Keith Culbreth
Christmas in tha Dogghouse, Snoop Dogg
The reason Snoop Dogg’s “Christmas in tha Dogghouse” is my favorite Christmas album all has to do with my grandmama (a.k.a. Grandamama Fat Bird).
It was 2008 and the recession just hit like Danny DeVito butt nakey on a wrecking ball with Hannah Montana and a bag a John’s Island sweet potatoes covered in Terriaki Jersey N Bobby Brownuts’s Scooty sauce. Times were rough and it was lookin’ like Santa was gonna throw the deuces and leave us kids hangin’ as if we were big blue baboon asses dingle danglin from a baobab tree in the summer Guinea night. It was scary. But I gotta say I’m blessed because during all that political emotion I had a long, strong Grandmama Fat Bird to cheer me and the fam up.
It was Dec. 23, 2008 and we were watching YouTube clips of Koreans sticking miniature pitchforks up their noses for erotic pleasure when Granadmama Fat Bird busted in the room with a pink Snuggie on and nothin’ underneath. She was holding a Sony boombox above her white permed head and was blasting the sweetest Christmas song I had ever heard … S.N. Double O. P. D. O. Double G’s “A Pimp’s Christmas Song.” Immediately my family started chewin’ chestnuts and pouring eggnog on our pants as we hoot ‘n’ hollered at a pile of peppermint pancakes.
It was the lyrics “We tryna get the dough I’m at the liqour store, I’m tryna crack a hoe, you know I’m gettin’ dough, I’m in a Bentley you know that motherfucker snow” that really got me feelin’ like a little boy again. Those lyrics combined with the gentle beat, the song reminded me of Christmas classics such as Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”
Neighbors from all around heard the righteous jam and joined us in our Snoop celebration. All chanting “Yeah this pimp’s Christmas.” And yeah, a pimp Christmas it was.
That Christmas morning I received a pair of socks with artichokes on them and a refurbished Sega Saturn. Grandmama Fat Bird cooked opposum bacon and cups of cocoa and Evan Williams as we all sat by the backyard trash fire singing our new holiday favorite “A Pimp’s Christmas Song.”
Secret Guest’s Brett Nash
A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Vince Guaraldi Trio
I wish I had a specific memory associated with this album, but I don’t. It has always been with me as long as I can remember, wafting its way into my ears every year, never truly at the forefront of my mind, but always there. Vince Guaraldi’s piano just has a way of projecting images of Christmas trees, lights, and snow into my mind’s eye. The dreamy chord progressions included in such classics as “Skating,” “Christmastime is Here,” and “Thanksgiving Theme” can immediately bring me to a state of peace and tranquil ity no matter what headspace I’m in, and that’s something I’m always longing for in music. I usually don’t identify myself as overly obsessed with the holiday season, but those charming, slightly-out-of-tune children’s voices that are interspersed throughout the album certainly do a great job of making me second-guess that notion. All of a sudden, the Christmas boy I always had within me is brought to prominence, and all is right in the world.
Christmas Songs by Sinatra, Frank Sinatra
Because his voice is smoother than eggnog and it’s the perfect music to listen to while cooking and eating. I also love gettin’ stoned and listening to this record. The harmony of his smooth voice, the ethereal lift of marijuana and holiday spirit is better than sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. You don’t have to print that verbatim — I realize how inappropriate it is.
A Motown Christmas, Various Artists
The Motown Christmas compilation album has to be at the top of my list, easily. In fact I don’t think any other album even comes close. Christmas doesn’t begin in my family until you hear the Temptations singing “Silent Night” or a young Michael Jackson leading “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” This album is practically timeless and captured some of the greatest voices we ever heard in their prime and at the height of stardom. Stevie Wonder’s version of “Ave Maria” is a mix of soul and classical instrumentation that hadn’t been heard much previous to the release of this album. Every song top to bottom is special and attached to the holiday memories of families all over, domestic and abroad. If Sinatra’s Christmas album was far left then Motown would have to be the furthest right. Both great in their own right but Motown’s roster was stacked with the most impeccably talented voices of our time.
Jug-Band Christmas, Emmet Otter
My favorite part of the holidays is the music! Narrowing down a favorite holiday album is tough, but I think I would have to go with something that holds a unique mix of nostalgia and beautiful songwriting — my pick would be the soundtrack to Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, a 1977 Jim Henson holiday TV special. It features a new cast of muppets and original songs written by Paul Williams. The story centers around a poor otter family that risks everything for the chance to win the cash prize of a Christmas talent show, with the music taking on a folk/bluegrass flavor. The songs and the story are so heartwarming and really shine a light on what makes the holidays special … friends, family, and community. (Honorable mentions would be the Christmas Eve Austin City Limits Tom Waits episode (1978) and When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick Jr.)
The Silver Bells’ Nicholas Doyle
Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, Ella Fitzgerald
My all-time favorite holiday record is Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas by Ella Fitzgerald — specifically, her version of “Jingle Bells,” which is track one, side one. I love this song so much that I have a hard time articulating why — it’s ridiculous and fantastic at the same time. On the surface, it’s a regular jazz-version-of-a-cheesy-holiday-song-everyone-knows, very tongue and cheek and silly. To be honest, having one of the best singers of all time is enough to make the song a winner, but my second-favorite thing about the song is the totally square background vocalists — at one point they shout “I’m just nuts about bells!” and I gotta say, you really believe that they are in fact nuts about bells. The best part of the song happens at the end, however — after a little bit of scatting, right when you think the song’s going to stop, Ella belts out “I’m just crazy about hor-SES!” and I swear that that makes the whole damn song. The rest of the album is great — especially her version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” — but even if this was just a single featuring “Jingle Bells” I still think it’d be my favorite.
Christmas, Kirk Franklin & the Family
My favorite Christmas album is Christmas by Kirk Franklin & the Family. Just thinking of that album brings me back to my childhood. Riding in the car with my large and rambunctious family, passing the overly decorated houses, bright Christmas lights, giant snowmen and the bitter cold yet comforting winds. Winter in Oklahoma is no joke! The album is so creative and doesn’t stick to the typical standards you’d expect to hear in a Christmas album, let alone a gospel Christmas album. The arrangements are so soulful and jazzy that you could honestly listen to some of them comfortably outside of the season. More than the sounds, this album is a part of my family’s holiday tradition. There have been so many crazy stories and endearing moments shared to this amazing album and my mother’s cooking. It’ll always have a special place in my heart!
Ultimate Christmas, Frank Sinatra
My favorite Christmas album is Frank Sinatra’s Ultimate Christmas album. You can never go wrong with the iconic, smooth vocals and live instruments! There is also something about hearing Frank sing, “I’ll be home for Christmas” that really makes you feel that warm sensation of Christmas and love, like even though this year had its tough moments everything will still be all right. Oh, and I can’t leave out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland. The song is beautiful and slightly melancholy, and every time I hear it it brings me back to Christmas when I was a child and driving to see my cousins and great grandmother. Warm and fuzzy.