The holidays are the one time of year that we can and should embrace nostalgia and all of its gooey center. The holiday routines of my childhood remain some of the fondest and most pure memories. As I grew older, of course, those routines adjusted and changed and dissipated. Santa Claus and gift counting, weighing and measuring eventually gave way for the comfort of family, friends, food, the records that get dusted off every year — these things become our traditions. During a certain point I forgot the comfort of these things. It’s not until they’re gone and reappear that we realize the odd, irrational place they hold in our hearts. I hope to share a number of my holiday traditions, both new and old over the next few weeks. Maybe something I write stirs memories of your own favorite family traditions. I’d love to hear yours too. Here are the Essential 30Hz Christmas Albums. Not the best (because let’s be honest here, Christmas music isn’t necessarily around all year for a reason), mind you. Merely the ones I can’t do without.
Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album
I grew up a Star Wars geek. I’ll forever be a Star Wars geek but there are some irrefutable classics on this record such as “What do you get a Wookie if he already has a comb?” And these three minutes of perfection sung by C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2… seriously… perfection.
John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
I own this one on vinyl and CD. Christmas isn’t Christmas without “Christmas is coming / the goose is getting fat / Please do put a penny in the old man’s hat” (sung by Miss Piggy) coursing through your brain.
The Rat Pack Christmas
Christmas isn’t Christmas without some crooning. Frank and Dean do hard work on this record. And it all culminates in the relentless earworm “A Marshmallow World.” You’ve been warned. Also blessed… because if I could only have one Christmas record, it would probably be this one.
Elvis Christmas Album
Why an Elvis bust isn’t atop every American Christmas tree baffles me. Can you think of a singer that has become a bigger fixture during the holidays than Elvis? I mean besides Miss Piggy, of course.
Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Every major holiday is made better by Charlie Brown and Charles Schultz’ Peanuts cartoons. A Charlie Brown Christmas is made perfect by Vince Guaraldi’s piano. Though, many of the jazz compositions are not inherently “Christmas songs,” they have become so closely associated with Christmas that they are now de facto holiday classics.
Nat King Cole Christmas Album
Somehow I ended up with three copies of this album on vinyl. THREE. Here’s the only explanation. The record is an omnipresent staple at all used record stores. Wander over to the Holiday section. Look! Nat King Cole Christmas is only $1! Well, you think, I can’t go wrong with Nat King Cole for $1. And because Christmas only happens once every 365 days, you have plenty of time to forget that you actually already have the record. By the time you reach the three-copy threshold you’ll finally realize that you’ve got that part of your collection covered. It’s like chicken broth that way. You always know you’ll use it… and you can’t remember if you have any, so you might as well and just go ahead and pick up another.
The Roger Whittaker Christmas Album
Of course, there are also some traditions that will forever remain rooted in a certain place and a certain time. We moved to Detroit, away from a little town called Marcellus, Michigan, when I was 12. Every year until then we spent Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s. At her house, Christmas invariably belonged to Roger Whittaker and Elvis. But mostly Roger Whittaker.
I doubt I could listen to this record now without shedding a tear, maybe two. The images from these nights remain so vivid to me. Aunts and uncles I saw once a year. Walnuts and a claptrap steel nutcracker that always bit me, sitting in a bowl in the china cabinet. The fake tree with silvery garland. Springer spaniel hair clinging to you like crazy glue. I rarely see those aunts and uncles and cousins anymore. I’d guess the last time for all of them would have been my grandmother’s funeral. She was the woman that kept everyone in the same orbit, each of my mother’s brothers and sisters so different than each other, so little in common. But I miss them all in their own way, their eccentricities grown endearing by time and distance. Damn you, Roger Whittaker. I’m not supposed to tear up writing bl-g posts. Also please, for the love of all that is holy, it’s about time you wiped that fake snow off your beard. It’s been there for decades.
Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets
Nick Lowe’s Christmas album was already brilliant. But now we’ve added Los Straitjackets to his Christmas set and added a few flourishes like Los Straitjackets playing Vince Guaraldi. OMG HOW AWESOME IS THAT? Anyway, this live record came out in 2015 and I felt the need to add it to my Essentials. But a British rock legend playing in front of masked surf guitar lunatics! Not enough exclamation points for this paragraph!