I’m as surprised as you are, but Starbucks’s 2012 album Holidays Rule is a straight-up good album that deserves a spot on anyone’s Christmas list.
5. Starbucks, Holidays Rule (2012)
If the defining characteristic of Target’s The Christmas Gig was fun songs that add something to a holiday mix without necessarily rocking anyone’s world, this one is kinda the opposite. The highs are high; the lows are… fun.’s version of “Sleigh Ride.” Oh my God, it’s annoying. And that’s the first track!!
But once we make it over that hump, it’s pretty much smooth sailing: a bunch of great musicians doing interesting, contemporary, mostly indie-folk-and-Americana arrangements of lesser-known Christmas songs.
The Shins somehow make “Wonderful Christmastime” (my least favorite Christmas song) non-grating; Rufus Wainwright and Sharon van Etten do a croony rendition of my second least favorite Christmas song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” that somehow makes it non-creepy. Paul McCartney’s “The Christmas Song” makes me realize that it’s always secretly been a piece for jazz trio; Calexico’s “Green Grows the Holly” makes me forget any other version (to be fair, I didn’t have a strong impression to begin with); Andrew Bird’s “Auld Lang Syne” is quirky and charming. The whole album is full of choices like that, offbeat and compelling, even definitive.
Except for fun., ugh. And Holly Golightly’s bewilderingly off-key “That’s What I Want for Christmas.” And, okay, it sometimes gets very soft and even a bit melancholy, similar but not identical to Nick Lowe’s occasional “boring” problem. I’m giving this album the edge because of the playlist-friendly musical variety, a few truly great tracks, and the more contemporary feel. Cue this baby up for a cocktail party with your sophisticated friends; just don’t mention its corporate origins.
*I genuinely don’t know of any good holiday albums that aren’t heavily oriented toward Christmas rather than Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/the solstice, etc., though hopefully it goes without saying that everything on this list is secular enough that you don’t have to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday to enjoy it.