*1. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Vince Guaraldi: Perhaps the best jazz Christmas album ever AND the best Christmas soundtrack ever from the best Christmas special ever.
*2. December - George Winston: Probably the best solo piano Christmas album ever. Winston's blend of classical and new age styles is particularly impressive on "Pachelbel's Canon", "The Holly and the Ivy", and "Carol of the Bells".
*3. Noël - Joan Baez: Remastered version of her classic Christmas album, beautifully sung, and tastefully arranged by Peter Schickele.
4. The New Possibility - John Fahey: His first Christmas album, "The New Possibility", is the best solo folk guitar Christmas album ever. This CD also contains his second Christmas album, which was almost as good.
*5. A Festival of Carols in Brass - Philadelphia Brass Ensemble: One of the first - and best - brass Christmas albums. Their arrangement of "Twelve Days of Christmas" is a familiar classic.
6. We Three Kings - The Roches: Great three-part harmony from this sister act on traditional and original carols, including a hilarious "Winter Wonderland" with Bronx accents.
*7. On Yoolis Night - Anonymous 4: The first of several early-music Christmas collections from this sublime four-woman choral group, featuring seasonal music from the middle ages and Renaissance.
*8. The Bells of Dublin - The Chieftains: Wonderful celebration of the season from the Irish legends, plus help from friends like Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith and the McGarrigle sisters.
9. The Phil Spector Christmas Album - Phil Spector et al.: His stable of girl groups created a rock n' roll Christmas card - lots of fun, and Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is a true tour de force. (also released as A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector)
10.The Jethro Tull Christmas Album - Jethro Tull: A tasty wassail of folk-rock, with dashes of classical and jazz, from the veteran band. Also their best album in many a year.
11. Handel: Messiah - Toronto Symphony Orch./Toronto Mendelssohn Choir/Andrew Davis: There are several good versions of this, the most beautiful choral piece ever written. This is one of my favorites - there's also a 1-disc "highlights" version available.
12. Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (Complete Ballet) - London Symphony Orchestra/Charles Mackerras: There are several good versions of this around, too, but this is my favorite. It is actually the soundtrack of the 1990 film of the ballet (with Macauley Culkin!)
13. Noël: Christmas at King's - King's College Choir, Cambridge: The legendary all-male British choir shines on this 2-disc compilation of traditional carols.
*14. A Winter's Solstice - Various Artists (Windham Hill): The first of a long series from Windham Hill artists, and still one of the best - peaceful and inspiring.
15. The Peace Album - Paul Horn: Beautiful album by a master flutist, who overdubs himself on several flute parts to create a nearly-orchestral sound. His version of "Angels We Have Heard on High" will give you goose bumps.
16. Celtic Christmas - Various Artists (Windham Hill): There must be a hundred "Celtic Christmas" collections out there, but this Windham Hill series was the first, and still the best. Gentle and gorgeous - you can almost hear the snow falling.
17. In Dulci Jubilo - James Galway: A lush and lovely classical celebration, led by the great flutist, with orchestra and boy choir. "James Galway's Christmas Carol" is also an excellent CD.
18. Ultimate Christmas - The Beach Boys: Their classic 1960's Christmas album (featuring "Little Saint Nick"), plus tracks from their unreleased 1970's sequel, and assorted rarities - a Yuletide treat!
*19. Holiday Spirits - Straight No Chaser: This ten-man a cappella group became a huge hit thanks to their viral video, a very amusing version of "12 Days of Christmas". The music of that performance is here, along with a dozen other great arrangements of popular and traditional songs. A delightful mix of jazz and doo-wop.
20. The Spirit of Christmas - Mormon Tabernacle Choir: I always loved their older material better, with just the organ accompaniment, not the symphonic bombast. This is one of the few collections on CD of their earlier recordings.
*21. Christmas with Robert Shaw - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw, cond.: A personal favorite - Shaw conducts both symphony and chorus in a splendid program of classical and traditional Christmas compositions, ending with a rousing "Hallelujah Chorus".
*22. It's a Holiday Soul Party! - Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: The late Ms. Jones had soul to spare! She and her band created a fun and funky record which kicks off with "8 Days of Hanukkah".
23. Daquin: Douze (12) Noels - Christopher Herrick, organ: This program of noels for solo organ by French composer Daquin may not be as familiar to American ears, but each one is inspiring and beautiful and definitely has that "carol" feel.
24. Sounds of the Season - Maggie Sansome: Sansome is a virtuoso of the hammered dulcimer, and she and her ensemble create a lovely program of traditional Christmas carols and other Celtic tunes.
*25. To Drive the Cold Winter Away - Loreena McKennitt : McKennitt's gorgeous ethereal voice and interesting arrangements always make for an entertaining program of seasonal songs. Also recommended is her album Midwinter Night's Dream.
26. A Canadian Brass Christmas - The Canadian Brass: It's not Christmas without brass, and these guys have put out a number of holiday albums. This is the first, to my knowledge. It's charming and occasionally silly fun.
27. Acoustic Christmas - Various Artists (CBS Records): A wonderful compilation of mainly folk and "adult alternative" artists, including Laura Nyro, Shawn Colvin, Roseanne Cash, and Art Garfunkel, who does an absolutely gorgeous version of "O Come All Ye Faithful".
28. Christmas with the Puppini Sisters - The Puppini Sisters: A throwback to the Big-Band Era "sister" vocal groups - tight harmony and great musicality, kicking off with a novel arrangement of Elton John's "Step into Christmas".
29. Strange Communion - Thea Gilmore: A little darker and more non-traditional than the standard seasonal fare, but Gilmore's rich voice makes it a rewarding experience, mixing Christmas and solstice to great effect. Highlight: "The St. Stephen's Day Murders", co-written by Elvis Costello and the Chieftains' Paddy Maloney.
*30. James Taylor at Christmas - James Taylor: JT's mellow voice is the perfect fit for this collection of holiday songs, including an novel, jazzy arrangement of "Jingle Bells" and a beautiful rendition of the lesser-known "Some Children See Him".
31. Christmas - Bruce Cockburn: The great Canadian singer-songwriter's collection of original and traditional tunes. Rootsy, folky, and very fine.
*32. The Best of B.B. King Christmas Collection/20th Century Masters - B.B. King: B.B. has always sung "Merry Christmas, Baby" like he owns it, and here he's in top form, performing it again with several other bluesy holiday standards. (Also released as A Christmas Celebration of Hope)
*33. Light of the Stable - Emmylou Harris: Probably the best "country" Christmas album ever. New and familiar carols rendered by Emmylou's angelic voice, and friends like Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt. This release features new bonus tracks.
34. A Tapestry of Carols - Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band: Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span fame) and the Carnival Band present carols with an Olde English flavor. Very enjoyable.
35. Winter - Steeleye Span: Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band are great, but here's Maddy with her original band. A strong return to form - sublime harmony and instrumentation, but also the rockin'est "Good King Wenceslas" you've ever heard.
*36. Songs for Christmas - Sufjan Stevens: Alternatively reverent and fun, complete with entertaining inserts, this box set of EP's is Sufjan at his quirky-genius best - a fine collection of familiar and original holiday tunes.
*37. Tinsel and Lights - Tracey Thorn: One half of the acclaimed British duo Everything But the Girl has created a fine holiday album. Her rich alto carries us through a program of mostly lesser-known contemporary seasonal songs, plus "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Joni Mitchell's "River".
*38. A Very Special Christmas - Various Artists: The first of a series that, in my opinion, are the best of the "pop/rock" Christmas collections - eclectic and entertaining, and for a good cause (the Special Olympics). Features Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Madonna, The Eurhythmics, the Pointer Sisters, U2, et al. I also recommend volume 2.
39. Christmas with the Smithereens - The Smithereens: A rockin' good time from the venerable Jersey band, with original songs, standards, and interesting covers, like "Christmas" from the Who's "Tommy" and the rare Beatles tune "Christmas Time is Here Again."
*40. On Christmas Night - Cherish the Ladies: The best Irish-American women's group around does familiar carols and less-familiar Celtic tunes, by turns beautiful and sprightly.
41. My Holiday - Mindy Smith: Sweet honeyed voice, kind of a cross between Norah Jones and Emmylou Harris. Mellow alt-country originals and some fine covers of Christmas standards, too.
42. Snow Angels - Over the Rhine: A mellow collection of mostly-original tunes for the season. Karen Bergquist's vocals, from wistful to sultry, really carry the material well. "Darlin' (Christmas is Coming)" is one of the highlights.
*43. 12 Songs of Christmas - Etta James: The R&B legend's 1998 album of holiday tunes is a satisfying blend of blues and jazz, and like a good scotch - smooth but a little sassy.
44. Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan: Sarah's ethereal voice lends a wistful mood to old and new favorites, including her previously recorded version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night".
*45. Christmas Songs - Diana Krall: Ms. Krall lends her cool-but-sultry vocal and piano stylings to the "usual suspects" of modern holiday classics, with big-band arrangements and one slight program surprise, "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep."
*46. Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas - Mary Chapin Carpenter: A quiet, contemplative, and beautiful album from the country-folk artist, featuring original songs and some less-familiar traditional carols. Warm and cozy as a Yule log fire.
47. A Holiday Carole - Carole King: Collaborating with daughter Louise Goffin, King is still in fine voice on this 2011 recording, a fine sampling of familiar tunes and some new ones too, done in her unmistakable style. (Originally titled A Christmas Carole)
48. The McGarrigle Christmas Hour - Kate and Anna McGarrigle, et al.: A real "family affair", like spending an evening in the living room of musical friends. A warm and entertaining album featuring Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Kate's offspring Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and friends like Emmylou Harris.
49. Christmas Time Again - The dB's et al.: This is a fine collection from one of the underappreciated "jangle-pop" bands of the 1980's, and an impressive bunch of "friends" like Big Star, Whiskeytown and Marshall Crenshaw. Expanded to 21 tracks in its last release.
50. Christmas Means Love - Joan Osborne: Joan's strong and versatile voice is used to great effect here, whether tackling gospel ("Go Where I Send Thee"), slightly raunchy blues ("What Do Bad Girls Get?") or rootsy folk (The Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight"). Some unique arrangements, too - overall a very