Essential classic rock Christmas albums

Holiday music, classic rock style

Some of the songs may be familiar, but the arrangements are often not. Here are some of the best classic rock Christmas holiday music albums.

Annie Lennox - 'A Christmas Cornucopia'

Annie Lennox - A Christmas Cornucopia
Decca Records

The ex-Eurythmics vocalist-composer turned blue-eyed soul soloist, Annie Lennox has recorded a collection of traditional carols. "I've known these songs, these carols all my life," says Lennox. "I've sung them since I was little. They're just in me. They're a huge part of my life." A Christmas Cornucopia includes backing by a 30-piece orchestra, vocals recorded on location in South Africa with the African Children's Choir, and a new Lennox composition, "Universal Child". The artist earmarked all of the proceeds from the 2010 album to her own Annie Lennox Foundation, which funds HIV/AIDS prevention and education projects in Africa.

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Blackmore's Night - 'Winter Carols'

Blackmore's Night, the progressive/folk rock band featuring Candice Night as lead vocalist and lyricist, and former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on anything with strings. Their holiday music is rock, minstrel style.

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Bob Dylan - 'Christmas In The Heart'

Bob Dylan 'Christmas In The Heart'
Columbia Records

It seems just a tad strange to be mentioning Bob Dylan and a Christmas album in the same sentence, but such is the artist's legacy that you can always expect him to do the unexpected. Christmas In The Heart has generous helpings of both traditional and contemporary carols.

Brian Setzer Orchestra - 'Christmas Comes Alive!'

Brian Setzer Orchestra - Christmas Comes Alive!
Surf Dog Records / WEA

Like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) the Brian Setzer Orchestra (BSO) has built something of a franchise around live and recorded performances of Christmas music. Where TSO employs multiple electric guitars and a big orchestral sound, BSO features Setzer's vocals and a '50s rock 'n' roll motif to celebrate the holidays. Christmas Comes Alive!, released in 2010, is BSO's fourth Christmas album.

Canned Heat - 'Christmas Album'

Most of the songs are traditional carols, but the style is pure Canned Heat. Guest boogiers include Eric Clapton and Dr. John. It's Christmas, blues rock style.

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Carole King - 'A Holiday Carole'

Carole King A Holiday Carole
Hear Music

Exactly 40 years after her first album was released in 1971, singer-songwriter Carole King is releasing her first album of holiday music in 2011. Three original songs (co-written by her daughter and the album's producer, Louise Goffin and songwriters Jody Marr, George Noriega and Guy Chambers) compliment a well-chosen selection of holiday standards.

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - 'Crazy For Christmas'

Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks - Crazy for Christmas
Surfdog Records

Dan Hicks was a fixture in San Francisco's eclectic rock scene in the '60s, starting with The Charlatans then forming his own Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks in 1968. The band's music defies easy labeling, mixing elements of bebop, bluegrass, pop and folk. As a result, Hicks was a darling of the psychedelic rock community simply because of his musical eccentricity. Thus, it isn't hard to imagine that the band's first Christmas album, 2010's Crazy For Christmas would appeal as much to the free-spirited Haight-Ashbury crowd as to their straight-laced grandparents.

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Jethro Tull - 'The Jethro Tull Christmas Album'

Jethro Tull's patented blend of rock and Renaissance lends itself equally well to traditional tunes like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Bouree" and less conventional fare such as "First Snow On Brooklyn" and "A Winter Snowscape".

Jimi Hendrix - 'Merry Christmas And Happy New Year'

This five song maxi-single wasn't intended as a Christmas record. It is the result of Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies fooling around as they rehearsed for concerts at Filmore East during the 1969 holiday season. This probably won't be the first CD you run for when it's time to cue up the holiday music, but it is definitely worth having for its historical and entertainment value.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'Christmas Time Again'

There's plenty of typical Lynyrd Skynyrd here -- "Run Run Rudolph" and "Skynyrd Family" -- but there are also a couple of surprises, like the sensitive, acoustic instrumental treatments of "Greensleeves" and "Classical Christmas".

Moody Blues - 'December'

The Moody Blues' orchestral backup is well suited to the sounds of the season. Songs range from traditional ("White Christmas") to original ("Don't Need a Reindeer") to a cover of John Lennon / Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)".

Peter Cetera - 'You Just Gotta Love Christmas'

Peter Cetera 'You Just Gotta Love Christmas'

After leaving Chicago in 1985, Peter Cetera (one of the band's founding members) quickly found success as a solo artist. You Just Gotta Love Christmas featured several Cetera-penned songs in amongst traditional holiday tunes. Cetera's daughter, Claire provides some of the vocals and his daughter, Senna was responsible for some of the album art.

REO Speedwagon - 'Not So Silent Night'

Sony Music

The songs are traditional and, for the most part, so are the arrangements (which isn't surprising, given REO Speedwagon's history of power ballads and orchestral accompaniment.) After 42 years and two dozen albums (with non-traditional titles like You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish and The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and A Chicken) the band released its first Christmas album in 2009. The songs are familiar, but the band imprints them with their own style.

Steve Lukather - 'SantaMental'

Steve Lukather gives new meaning to the concept of Christmas music for strings on SantaMental. This 10-track compilation also features Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Steve Vai, and Edgar Winter lending their rock guitar virtuosity -- and on some tracks, their voices -- to traditional Christmas carols.

Steve Lukather talks about SantaMental

The Ventures - 'Christmas Joy'

Christmas on a surfboard? Well, not really, but done with The Ventures' signature slide guitars, prominent percussion, and lots of reverb. Arrangements of traditional carols are pretty faithful to the originals, with a liberal amount of '60s surf rock flavoring.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 'Christmas Eve and Other Stories'

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Lava / Atlantic

Trans-Siberian Orchestra is best experienced in live concert performance, but a good sound system is a next-best way to enjoy TSO's BIG orchestral rock sound. Although not exclusively a Christmas music band, most of their touring and recording center on holiday music. My favorite of their three-holiday albums is their first, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, released in 1996 and subsequently a 2x Platinum seller.