The Christmas album is a strange beast, indeed. Dig through any thrift store vinyl bin, and you will come across countless holiday offerings that veer between the staid n’ somber (looking at you, The Norman Luboff Choir!) and the eye-gougingly annoying (Frosty the Snowman by the Peppermint Kandy Kids, anyone?), almost all of which will be quite deservedly gathering dust for all eternity.
There are legitimate classics of the genre, of course, like the 1963 Phil Spector–produced A Christmas Gift to You from Philles Records, the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and John Fahey’s 1968 solo acoustic guitar meditation The New Possibility—to name three albums that can bring comfort and joy to the darkest of Decembers. But too often, the Christmas album is conceived and recorded as a simple cash-in, an easy way for record companies to squeeze a few more bucks out of their artists, and for artists to squeeze a few more bucks out of their fans.
And then there are the Christmas albums that occupy a league of their own, simply due to their intrinsic weirdness. Christmas albums that exist in jarring contrast with the season for which they were created, or whose concepts make you wonder who the hell came up with (or green-lighted) them in the first place; Christmas albums that will bring your office holiday party to a screeching halt, and maybe even get you fired. Here, my friends, are ten such Christmas albums.
10. Mirror Image — Disco Noël
The disco boom of the late 1970s inspired a wide array of cash-in records, including several that featured dancefloor-friendly rearrangements of classic Christmas songs. Disco Noël, recorded by unidentified studio musicians and released on the low-budget Pickwick label, is actually the best of the lot; even if its grooves are not quite Studio 54–worthy, the record’s giddily coked-up vibe certainly is.
9. John Schneider and Tom Wopat — Home for Christmas
Nearly thirty years after they’d last appeared together in the TV series The Dukes of Hazard, actors Schneider and Wopat reunited…not to take the “General Lee” for a spin, but to record an album of mildly boozy Christmas songs, with a few holiday-themed jokes thrown in for good measure. The fact that this album actually made it all the way to number 12 on the Billboard Jazz charts probably horrified even Kenny G.
8. William Hung — Hung for the Holidays
Nothing says “cultural detritus” quite like a Christmas album recorded by a gag contestant from a televised singing competition. In January of 2004, Hung garnered a huge cult following via his one-and-done American Idol performance of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” and parlayed his inimitable vocal stylings into a three-album deal; this off-key stocking stuffer—which also included a bonus rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions”—was released in time for that year’s holiday season.
7. Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas
There have been some truly great country Christmas albums released over the years—like 1973’s Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present—but this platinum-selling 2013 album by the stars of TV’s Duck Dynasty sure ain’t one of ’em. Country stars Luke Bryan, George Strait, Josh Turner, and Alison Krauss all got roped into this hairy holiday mess, but the album’s most memorable track finds the Robertsons using their duck calls for the refrain of “Deck the Halls.” Come back, William Hung—all is forgiven!
6. Luke Campbell — Christmas at Luke’s Sex Shop
Helpful tip for shoppers on a budget: If “Christmas dick” is on your holiday shopping list, they’re practically just giving it away at Luke’s Sex Shop! This 1994 offering from Luke Campbell is pretty much what you’d expect from the 2 Live Crew leader, with bass-heavy tracks tracks like “Ho Ho Hoes,” “Christmas Spliff,” and “Christmas F-ckin’ Day” asserting that the real reason for the season is to smoke weed and get nasty.
5. J.J. Hrubovcak — Death Metal Christmas
There are almost as many heavy metal Christmas albums in the bins these days as there are washed-up shredders at LA’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, but none of those records are as brutal or uncompromising as this 2013 EP from Hate Eternal’s bassist, who plays all the instruments and growls on these hellishly bleak reworkings of Christmas classics. Sure, it’s a bit on the short side at only five songs, but you’re probably not metal enough to handle much more.
4. Tales from the Crypt — Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas
As Christmas-themed horror-comedy albums go, it’s hard to think of one that embraced the concept as fully as this 1994 release, which now goes for serious bucks online. John Karris, a.k.a. The Crypt Keeper from TV’s Tales from the Crypt, intones such Christmas song parodies as “Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie,” “We Wish You’d Bury the Missus,” and “Twelve Days of Cryptmas” with ghoulish glee, injecting morbid puns into the proceedings at every possible turn.
3. Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album
1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special has been making the internet rounds in recent years, but less well-remembered is this holiday offering from 1980. Timed by the RSO label to exploit the popularity of The Empire Strikes Back, this C-3PO-centric romp crashed like a downed X-wing fighter jet, thanks to an unrelated $200 million lawsuit brought against the company by the Bee Gees. These days, the album primarily holds the distinction of being the first record to feature a vocal by Jon Bon Jovi; then known as John Bongiovi, he was brought in by his cousin Tony Bongiovi (who co-produced the album with Meco Monardo) to sing lead vocals on “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
2. Various Artists — A John Waters Christmas
A man with excellent taste in musical oddities, cult film director John Waters was the perfect choice to compile a Christmas collection. This delightfully festive twelve-song compilation ranges from Alvin and the Chipmunks’ speedy “Sleigh Ride” to Akim and Teddy Vann’s Kwanzaa-riffic “Santa Claus Is a Black Man,” with several seasonally appropriate doo-wop and R&B gems thrown in. All that’s really missing is audio of Divine’s hilarious “cha-cha heels” scene from Female Trouble.
1. Rudy Ray Moore — This Ain’t No White Christmas
Whether you’ve just gotten hip to Rudy Ray Moore via Eddie Murphy’s portrayal of the legendary comedian in Dolemite Is My Name, or you’ve been a fan of his pimpin’ poetry since the original blaxploitation era, few things will make your spirits bright quite like his “ghetto expressionist” rendition of “The Night Before Christmas.” Recorded in 1971 as The Rudy Ray Moore Christmas Album, and re-released thirty years later with extra tracks, This Ain’t No White Christmas also features Moore’s impressively straight vocal turn on Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas, Baby.”