Help Me Find Straightforward Christmas Music
November 29, 2007 5:10 AM   Subscribe

I need a recommendation for a good, classic, straightforward Christmas album.

What I'm looking for is just plain, straightforward Christmas music, of the more classic, older bent. I don't know how to explain, so some examples:

Not "jingle bell rock", but "joy to the world"
Not "rudolph the red nosed reindeer" but "carol of the bells"

I'm not necessarily looking for only choral music (though those two examples are), but the kind of Christmas music you imagine yourself listening to quietly around the tree with a cup of eggnog, not singing along with in the car with the kids when going to cut a tree.

Also, it would help if the songs were generally sung straightforward. I've heard some pieces by big-name musicians (Perry Cuomo, Nat King Cole) that have all these weird pauses or tonal flourishes due to the musician trying to give their own spin to the music. I'm looking for the original music that other people are adding spin to, not their spun versions.

A single Christmas album (or 2 CD set or whathaveyou) would be best. Or, of course, downloadable would be awesome.
posted by Bugbread to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You can't go wrong with "Carlie Brown's Christmas" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
posted by LN at 5:29 AM on November 29, 2007

Anne Murray's double album What a Wonderful Christmas should fit the bill.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:33 AM on November 29, 2007

this is what you're looking for

and if you want to hear the most beautiful voice the world has ever heard, Kathleen Ferrier's, singing "Silent Night", this is the CD
posted by matteo at 5:33 AM on November 29, 2007

Traditional Christmas Classics is my favorite Christmas album of all time. It does have Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on it, but it also has O Little Town Of Bethlehem, The Little Drummer Boy, Joy to The World and Silent Night. It also has the definitive versions of each Christmas song: Bing Crosby's White Christmas, Burl Ives's Rudolph, Mel Torme's The Christmas Song and Judy Garland's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Great CD.
posted by ND¢ at 5:42 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: Maybe something from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? I think their recordings are beautiful.
posted by olinerd at 5:52 AM on November 29, 2007

Here's a beaut: Phoenix Chamber Choir's Christmas Is.
posted by Ohdemah at 6:08 AM on November 29, 2007

My favorite Xmas album of the last couple of years is Christmas with the Rat Pack. Just Sinatra, Davis Jr and Martin doing their thing. Few flourishes, no screechy kid-style jingles - eminently listenable.
posted by widdershins at 6:26 AM on November 29, 2007

Try the Harry Simone Chorale's Little Drummer Boy; pretty straightforward classics.
posted by jadepearl at 6:39 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: The Robert Shaw Chorale has probably exactly what you're looking for. Yes, it's choral stuff, but it's all straightforward singing. They're all good -- look at the track listings to determine which album(s) you want.

John Rutter's Cambridge Singers (in the various combinations -- Clare College Singers, Cambridge Singers, King's College Singers) are also good, although not quite as straightforward. They're a more technically proficient group than the Robert Shaw Chorale, and the arrangements take advantage of that. The Cambridge Singers also tend to do more English traditional carols in the English style, while the Shaw Chorale does US Christmas stuff.
posted by jlkr at 6:41 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

This might be too classical but I find it really relaxing: A Victoria Christmas in Song or as jlkr mentioned, The Clare College Choir, particularly The Holly and the Ivy, if you can find it.
posted by nnk at 7:06 AM on November 29, 2007

For early/medieval music, you can't beat the a capella polyphony of Anonymous 4. Some of their albums are Christmas-themed.
posted by Quietgal at 7:29 AM on November 29, 2007

Gold standard on this is The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. It may have a few new ones mixed in there (e.g., I think the Muppets doing "Jingle Bell Rock" might be in there, I'm not sure), but the largest bulk of it is the classic classics — Como, Crosby, Robert Shaw Chorale, orchestras, etc. It's definitely the source of my "classic" Christmas recordings.
posted by WCityMike at 7:32 AM on November 29, 2007

Ah — reading it, you indicate you didn't care for Como. Well, he's on there, but most of them feel to me fairly straightforward. I really think it's precisely what you're looking for.
posted by WCityMike at 7:33 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: 2nding everything jlkr said. If you want non-pop Christmas, that's as good as it gets.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:44 AM on November 29, 2007

What you're looking for is "The Carol Symphony" by Victor Hely-Hutchinson.
posted by grumblebee at 7:49 AM on November 29, 2007

John Fahey's Christmas albums always do the trick for me.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:18 AM on November 29, 2007

My family's favorite Christmas album (aside from Bing Crosby) is by Mario Lanza. (Not that specific album but the album we have is not on CD.) I think he adds less of a flourish than Como and Cole, but it's not as by-the-book as a chorale version will be.

Also, my parents have recommended Roger Wagner Chorale and the Canterbury Choir.
posted by cabingirl at 8:18 AM on November 29, 2007

Mannheim Steamroller? I'm at work but I am pretty sure they have their stuff on iTunes.
posted by adamwolf at 9:37 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: I'm with you. I love the big, choral Christmas carols. I even go to Midnight services just for the choir some years. You should be able to find cds of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir pretty easily and affordably. My brother-in-law made a great mix tape that included Pavorotti singing Ave Maria; it's fantastic, so I'd recommend one of his Christmas cds. I've heard some of Bette Midler's Christmas cd, and liked it a lot, but most Christmas cds of 1 singer don't do it for me. Last year, Amazon had quite a bit of free Christmas music.
posted by theora55 at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2007

check the email in your profile.
posted by theora55 at 12:41 PM on November 29, 2007

I don't think this quite fits your description and may be too "spun", but I'm not a great judge of Christmas music and I quite like it, so I'll throw it out there. Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong from last year is one of the most beautiful albums I've heard in a long time.
posted by Caviar at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers. I'm noting that Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Robert Shaw Chorale, and John Rutter's Cambridge Singers have all gotten seconded, so I'll start checking with those. I think this is going to be one of those AskMe's where the answers are really valuable, but I won't be able to Best Answer anyone, because buying all the albums to see which answer is best would break my bank.
posted by Bugbread at 8:41 PM on November 29, 2007

Mahalia Jackson: "Mahalia sings songs of Christmas" and "Christmas with Mahalia".
posted by iviken at 12:59 AM on November 30, 2007

It's solo piano, maybe not what you're looking for but "music you imagine yourself listening to quietly around the tree" immediately made me think of George Winston's December.
posted by zanni at 3:09 AM on November 30, 2007

Response by poster: Ok, I've checked out some of the recommendations, and I'd like to thank everyone, but especially those who recommended the King's College Singers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I said I wasn't just looking for choral music, but after listening to those, it seems I was wrong: choral music was exactly what I was looking for. I also realized two qualifiers which would have helped in my question (though I didn't know them when I asked): I guess I was looking for traditional religious Christmas music, and that I was looking for Christmas music that, to my yank ears, sounds like it would probably be British / European.

Again, thanks, all. All they play here in Japan on the musak are the modern Christmas songs, and, maddeningly, Paul McCartney's "A Wonderful Christmas Time" over and over and over again. I wanted some actually beautiful Christmas music so my son could grow up with that side of the season as well.
posted by Bugbread at 5:10 PM on December 1, 2007

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