Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
Today’s Question: What is the best Christmas album of all time?
Jami’s Take: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Vince Guaraldi Trio
It’s tough to choose a “Best” Christmas album because they are mostly variations on some combination of the same 20 songs. And yet, we all have attachments to the ones that serve up a healthy dose of nostalgia personally.
For me, there’s nothing too different about Nat King Cole’s Christmas album and someone else’s Christmas album except that Nat King Cole’s is what my Baka used to play (on cassette tape) every year while we baked Christmas cookies together. When I hear it, it still takes me back to that kitchen.
When someone does come along and do something different, usually it takes a little bit to grow on people. Most of us already have our favorite versions of songs (sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” all you want, but if you’re not Judy Garland I don’t want it), so when people try to mix it up, it just doesn’t sit right (that said – if you want some unhinged holiday fun, Sheryl Lee Ralph’s “Sleigh.” album is worth a listen. Wait til the beat drops in Little Drummer Boy!)
So it takes something special to veer from the standards and still create a classic holiday album. For me, while John Williams’ “Home Alone” score comes close (I’m willing to bet any 80s/90s kid springs to life when they hear this score), no one accomplishes this better than Vince Guarald Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
This album includes instrumental/choir versions of a handful of standards (“O Tannenbaum,” “What Child is This,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) but it also includes spectacular standouts you won’t find on any old Christmas album, including “Christmas Time is Here,” “Skating,” and eternal banger “Linus and Lucy.”
The mostly instrumental album capitalizes on the nostalgia of Peanuts, particularly the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special for which it is the score. It’s an ode to a simpler time of childhood joy, where the adult drama that often surfaces at the holidays seemed nowhere to be found. You were too busy writing letters to Santa, skating with your friends, or playing with your dog, in excited and nervous anticipation of Christmas morning.
It is both a sugar-coated warm hug and a melancholic masterpiece that somehow manages to reconcile the magic of childhood and the beauty of simplicity at the holidays with the knowledge that maybe the warm glow of holidays gone by was always going to fade.
But it also reminds us that maybe the kids have it right. Sure, they’re often focused on the gifts under the tree, but they also haven’t been defeated by The Man yet or jaded by the real world, and their unquestioning joy and the absence of adult cynicism are beautiful.
Couple the emotions this album evokes with the Guaraldi’s smooth jazz style and artful piano playing, and there’s a reason this album is still sparking joy for people of all ages, nearly 60 years after it was first released for the TV special. It is all the emotions of the holidays wrapped into one perfect album, whether you’re in the middle of the hustle and bustle doing last-minute shopping, sitting under the tree waiting for your parents to give you the go-ahead to unwrap Santa’s presents, one-drink-too-deep at Christmas dinner, or silently watching snow fall on Christmas Eve in a quiet moment of reflection.
Matt’s Take: “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together”
Man, this one is tough for me, because (as you can see in the tweet below), I grew up on four main Christmas albums, and all four absolutely slap, but for very different reasons.
The Carpenters’ Christmas album is the mellow, soothing stuff you put on while you are relaxing and drinking hot cocoa and perhaps cuddling up with your special someone. The Chipmunks album is completely unhinged childhood joy on vinyl. Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album is a masterpiece from start to finish, and her version of “Jingle Bells” might be the best reinvention of a Christmas carol in history.
But, ultimately, for me, the best of the bunch is 1979’s “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.” This album has everything that you could possibly want from a Christmas recording, from the fairly traditional “Silent Night” (sung respectfully by the Muppets, in part in the original German while Denver explains the origins of the song) to the modern and sentimental “A Baby Just Like You” (in which Denver sings to his son “little Zachary”) to the progressively bonkers “Christmas Is Coming” to the epic “Twelve Days of Christmas” (which is the reason that, to this day, I always sing “ba-dum-bum-bum” after hearing “five gold rings”), it is a perfect collection of everything that the holidays have to offer.
Christmas — or whatever holiday(s) you choose to celebrate — is not just one thing; it is not just gingerbread houses and roasting chestnuts on an open fire; it is also stressing out over party plans and running to Walmart of Christmas Eve because you forgot to get a gift for your Aunt Edna, and there is no holiday album that I know of that captures the varied extreme emotions of the season quite like “John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together.”
I would think that Jami of all people would appreciate this selection, considering earlier this week she penned a thoroughly researched, painstakingly considered article comparing every Big Ten football program to a character in “The Muppets’ Christmas Carol.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem rocking out to “Little Saint Nick” and Kermit warbling through “The Christmas Wish” is what a holiday album is supposed to be, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Who has the right answer to today’s question?
This poll is closed
Jami: "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi Trio
Matt: "John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together"