The Big 80s Christmas December always brings a wealth of seasonal albums from popular artists, as well as collections of past holiday hits, to help set the mood of Christmas. This year doesn't bring quite as many current superstar holiday albums as we've seen in the past, but Destiny's Child, B. B. King, Barbra Streisand and Olivia Newton-John all chime in with discs.

As usual, Rhino Records offers a couple of new collections repackaging past holiday hits. A new offering in its Big '80s series of albums comes in The Big '80s Christmas. This retro collection opens with Billy Squier's rockin' live recording of the celebratory "Christmas Is the Time to Say 'I Love You'" and continues with Hall & Oates' take on "Jingle Bell Rock." There's the perennial favorite "Christmas Wrapping," by The Waitresses, Bob & Doug McKenzie's comical "Twelve Days of Christmas," The Pretenders' "2000 Miles" and the classic duet of Bing Crosby and David Bowie on "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy." There are also some lesser-known holiday tracks from well-known '80s artists in Queen's "Thank God It's Christmas," Kate Bush's "December Will Be Magic Again," Squeeze's "Christmas Day," The Smithereens' "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and The Alarm's version of John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." There are also tracks from Pat Benatar, George Thorogood, Los Lobos and The Ramones.

Swing ChristmasRhino also offers Swingin' Christmas, which reaches back to the days of mono and Louis Prima for its opener, "Shake Hands With Santa," and then spotlights the horn section on Kay Star's "(Everbody's Waitin' For) The Man With The Bag." It also includes Woody Herman's instrumental orchestra's finger-snapping performance of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," Louis Armstrong growling "Cool Yule," and in a more modern vein, The Manhattan Transfer's big band medley of "Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season" that is reminiscient of the kind of music you'd expect to be piping out of the speakers at Marshall Field's 40 years ago.

My friends at Parasol Records, down in Urbana, have put together an "alternative" Christmas album featuring a number of the label's artists. With a mix of new and classic holiday songs and a college-town sensibility, this is a good album for those who want to celebrate the season, but in a less traditional carol way. Included on Parasol Presents: Stuck in the Chimney are The Green Pajamas' version of "O Holy Night," Neilson Hubbard's "Merry Christmas (Wherever You May Be)," Absinthe Blind's "Silent Night" and Fonda's excellent revisit of Wham!'s "Last Christmas," among others. The label also has released a seven-song album of largely original holiday fare by its mellow alternative guitar band The Green Pajamas in The Carolers' Song.

 

Destiny's Child Destiny's Child
8 Days of Christmas
(Columbia)


Destiny's Child brings its soulful crooning to bear on a dozen tracks here, ranging from traditionals ("Silent Night," "Little Drummer Boy," "Do You Hear What I Hear," "White Christmas" and "O Holy Night"), as well as a handful of new holiday tracks, starting with the title track a funky rewrite of the "12 Days of Christmas." Its best new track comes in "Winter Paradise," a smooth ballad spotlighting all the joys of the season, from "kissing your man under the mistletoe" to "loving and laughing and sharing." The girls spotlight their harmony talents the most on the closing track, an a capella new song borrowing heavily from "Carol of the Bells" called "Opera of the Bells."

 

Barbra Streisand - Christmas Memories Barbra Streisand
Christmas Memories
(Columbia)


Streisand's first holiday album in more than 30 years is a lush, orchestral affair that gives perfect adult contemporary voice to classics like "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Ave Maria" and "Grown-Up Christmas List," as well as Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember" and a new song called "Closer" that captures the bittersweet loss of a friend during the holiday season and beyond. There are also a number of other lesser-known Christmas songs that allow Streisand to soar and emote at her most entrancing. This is a perfect album to play late at night in the glow of the Christmas tree or fireplace.

 

Olivia Newton-John - The Christmas Collection Olivia Newton-John
The Christmas Collection
(Hip-O/Universal)
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Olivia Newton-John has never released a full-length Christmas album before, but she has recorded holiday songs over the years. This album collects tracks recorded in 1995, 1999 and 2000. A handful of them come from the 1999 TNN Kenny Loggins Christmas Special both "White Christmas" and "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!" were taken from that television performance and pair her with Loggins and Clint Black. She also teams up with Vince Gill for "Away in the Manger" and "(There's no Place Like) Home for the Holidays" and the London Symphony Orchestra for "Silver Bells," "O Holy Night" and "What Child Is This?" It's a gentle, soothing album of holiday standards that will provide an easy listening backdrop for any Christmas celebration.

 

B.B. King - A Christmas Celebration of Hope B. B. King
A Christmas Celebration of Hope
(MCA)


The blues legend offers his first holiday album this year, and sounds as sharp as ever, as he croons through "Please Come Home for Christmas" and his guitar Lucille cries and swings on "Lonesome Christmas" and the new instrumental "Christmas Love." King also struts through "Back Door Santa," brings in a classic '60s organ for "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and belts like a man half his age on "Merry Christmas Baby." He closes it all off with an instrumental walking blues twist on "Auld Lang Syne."

This is a great collection of holiday anthems for those who like the season to have a wry taste of the blues. MCA Records is donating all profits from the sale of the album to City of Hope, a biomedical research and treatment center for catastrophic diseases.