At least two Lexington radio stations are playing Christmas music 24/7. Just about every store in America (and beyond) is playing holiday tunes non-stop. There's an awful lot of yuletide music out there — and a lot of it is awful (we're looking at you, Mannheim Steamroller).
So we're here to help. Three of us on the LexGo.com Central staff have come up with lists of our favorite Christmas songs and albums, music that rises above the dreck that populates the airwaves this time of year, at least in our opinions.
There's a bit of overlap, but that's because some of these picks are true classics that anyone who loves music, as we do, would adore.
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WALTER TUNIS, contributing music writer and critic
A collection of great holiday albums:
John Fahey, The New Possibility (1968): Still one of the most masterful contemporary solo guitar albums of all time, this one from Fahey weaves holiday spirituals into a portrait of plaintive, calming folk introspection.
Various artists, A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector (1963): Before transforming into a murderous crackpot, Spector was a pop genius. This record is proof, with "wall of sound" holiday fare from Darlene Love, The Ronettes and others.
Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Nothing transports you back to the kinder ghosts of Christmas past more readily than Guaraldi's unassuming piano jazz score to the classic Peanuts TV cartoon.
Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable (1975-2006): A compilation of three versions (spanning 30 years) of country classicist Harris' sublime holiday album. The ghostly highlight Golden Cradle still sends chills.
Booker T. and the MGs, In the Christmas Spirit (1966): The ultimate holiday chill-out album, In the Christmas Spirit serves up holiday favorites drenched in Booker T. Jones' sleek and soothing B3 organ soul sound.
Various artists, God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen (1981): A splendid jazz sampler compiled when Columbia Records was home to heavyweights like Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner and a very young Wynton Marsalis.
Los Straitjackets, ' Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets (2002): Christmas heads for the surf with trash, twang and thunder from the masked marvels of vintage instrumental rock 'n' roll. The season's top party album.
Marah, A Christmas Kind of Town (2005): A mix of boozy charm, lively kitsch and surprisingly emotive nostalgia, the Philly-turned-Brooklyn rockers of Marah serve a holiday party that's a blast from first note to last.
The Blind Boys of Alabama, Go Tell It on the Mountain (2003): Backed by a downright decadent guest list (Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, George Clinton), the Blind Boys embrace a sense of deep, spiritual soul.
The Albion Christmas Band, A Sound in the Frosty Air (2011): The latest in a series of albums highlighting traditional carols, accordion-led dance tunes and spoken tales that ignite the yuletide spirit of Old England.
SCOTT SHIVE, LexGo.com editor
Christmastime Is Here, Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965): I have often told my friends that the holiday season doesn't officially arrive for me until I hear this song from A Charlie Brown Christmas. So delicate, quietly joyous and nostalgic — Christmastime pretty much summed up.
All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey (1994): Not since I was a middle-schooler have I been a fan of Carey, or of most Top 40 radio. This song is a big exception. I love it. Fun, bright and reminiscent of the "wall of sound" of the amazing 1960s album A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, it makes great use of Carey's chops but also limits her typical vocal acrobatics.
Joseph, Who Understood, The New Pornographers (2007): Few Christmas songs get written from the point of view of Christ's earthly father, who must have had quite the crisis of faith when his wife came to him with her big news. This song from the deservedly indie darlings perfectly captures what the young man might have thought: "You're asking me to believe in so many things. Oh, Mary, is he mine?"
Calling on Mary, Aimee Mann (2006): In holiday music, I tend toward the melancholy, the Gothic, the, um, emo. Enter the wonderful Mann, queen of wistful, and "one more drifter in the snow's" take on lost love at Christmastime. "'Cause comfort's not possible when you look past the joy to the end."
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie and Bing Crosby (1982): Possibly the weirdest duet pairings ever. But it works, and well.
Just Like Christmas, Low (1999): This upbeat little ditty is positively giddy for slowcore mainstays Low. Find it on two great holiday albums, Low's own Christmas and the surprisingly great The O.C. Mix 3: Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah from the Fox TV show.
Last Christmas, Wham! (1984): This tune from a spurned lover is so poppy and fun you'll forget it's basically a big kiss-off.
The Christmas Tree's on Fire, Holly Golightly (2006): If you like the kitsch factor of Elmo and Patsy's Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer but are sick of hearing it, check out this low-fi tune from a British singer who sounds like she did some time in an American trailer park. It's a yarn about a Christmas tree that got so dried out by February it caught fire, and the narrator tries to extinguish the flames by "beatin' it back with a tube sock and a cushion from the couch."
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, Sufjan Stevens (2006): The indie rocker has recorded dozens of Christmas songs, but this stark, banjo-backed rendition of the medieval hymn is lovely.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Tracy Thorn (2012): This modern classic, one of my favorites, gets a brand-new version from the Everything But the Girl singer, who has one of the warmest voices in pop music.
RICH COPLEY, Herald-Leader Culture Writer
Happy Xmas (War Is Over), John and Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir (1971): I first noticed this 1971 classic as a teen in the days after John Lennon's death in December 1980, when it re-entered the pop charts. The past decade, the chorus "War is over, if you want it," sadly has renewed relevance.
Do They Know It's Christmas?, Band Aid (1984): The original all-star relief-effort song, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure's tune deftly became a Christmas pop classic and raised consciousness that there is a great big world out there that we should not forget at Christmastime.
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You), Nat King Cole (1946): It has the distinction of being the most performed Christmas song, but there is nothing like Cole's recording with a small string section to make you feel all Christmasy inside.
I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas, Relient K (2008): In a minute and a half, the Relient K guys recapture that feeling of the kid who is certain his misdeeds — putting a frog in his sister's bed, spilling ink on mom's rug, making his brother eat a bug — have put him off Santa's list because, "Somebody snitched on me."
Christmas at Denny's, Randy Stonehill: Big caveat: This is the most depressing song I have ever heard. But the story, about a family falling apart after the death of a child, is so vividly told — the red wagon rusting in the rain kills me every time — I cannot think about Christmas or Denny's restaurants without it coming to mind. It's a sobering reminder that while many of us gather with family and friends for the holiday, many others are alone with no home and only memories of those kinds of Christmases, if that.
Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses (1981): The Waitresses might be better known for this Christmas tune than their big hit, I Know What Boys Like. As idyllic as we try to make the holiday, this romp — about an exhausted young woman who wants to skip Christmas and just find this guy she met in ski lodge last winter — somehow feels more real.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, David Crowder Band (2011): So many versions of this classic lean on overwhelming singing and orchestrations. Crowder took it in a different direction, focusing on the lyrics with a voice and a guitar, swelling into something bigger a few times, but mostly remaining meditative.
I Celebrate the Day, Relient K (2008): The second song on this list from my favorite Christmas album, Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer, is very different from the boisterous Nuttin' for Christmas. It sounds as if Matt Thiessen has a quiet moment with Jesus and just wants to tell him how he really feels about him, and ask him some questions. Sniff.
Twelve Days of Christmas, Bob and Doug McKenzie (1982): The Christmas classic as only The Great White North guys could sing it — if you call what Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis were doing singing. Whenever I sing, "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me," I want to say, "a beer."
Wonderful Christmastime, Paul McCartney (1979): Bookending this list with Beatles, McCartney was always a master of the simple thought. This little confection epitomizes that. "Simply having a wonderful Christmastime," sung primarily to a cheesy keyboard accompaniment that sounds like snowflakes dancing outside the window. What more could we want?