So you think you know the best Christmas album of all time? No, you don't. Gonna try to convince me that Edge of Christmas is the ultimate in holiday listening? Sit down and let me tell you why you're so far past wrong you can't even seen right anymore.
The second of ten albums made to benefit the Special Olympics, A Very Special Christmas 2 is on constant rotation in my house from the day after Thanksgiving until New Years, along with AVSC 1 and 3, as well as some Beach Boys and an Alligator Records Blues Christmas selection. This music is my childhood. This music defines what the holidays are about for me. I am incapable of having Christmas without this music, and that's in part because this album in particular is the best Christmas album ever made, hands down.
Right out of the gate, we've got Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers singing a song that Petty himself wrote, "Christmas All Over Again." I suppose it shouldn't shock me that this guy got so stoned he lost track of time and Christmas snuck up on him (again). But I mean...You've got twelve months, right? How much did you smoke, Tom?
Next you've got Randy Travis with "Jingle Bell Rock." Solid little song, sung by a guy who knows exactly what we want out of him and he delivers with ease. Luther Vandross rounds out our first three songs with a velvety smooth rendition of "The Christmas Song," and just when you're getting comfortable, sure you're going to enjoy this auditory experience, BAM. Cyndi Lauper and Frank Sinatra hit you with a duet on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the insanity of 1992 Cyndi Lauper not only keeping up with Frank Sinatra and his 24-piece brass band, but challenging him to catch her? It's the most amazing thing in the world, shut up and enjoy it.
After that astonishing romp, we bring it back down with Boyz II Men and "The Birth of Christ." I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a little teary every time I hear this song, and I'm not all that religious. These guys just now know to seduce your ears without appearing to put any effort in at all.
Jon Bon Jovi tackles "Please Come Home for Christmas," which in 1992 would have set fire to many a pair of lacy underthings; it doesn't hurt that the music video for the song features Cindy Crawford in all her glory. Our early nineties dream team is immediately followed by Paul Young snapping his way through "What Christmas Means to Me" with some rolling bass that's unexpectedly motivating. Who the hell is Paul Young and why do I care, you ask? He was in the Q-Tips and provided the lead vocals for both the opening and closing lines of "Do They Know it's Christmas?," linking AVSC 2 to one of the most ridiculous and well-known holiday benefit musical circle jerks known to man.
Brace yourselves, now. Because next up is Aretha Franklin on "O Christmas Tree." I wanted to be her so badly when I heard her rocked up for the high "o tenenbaum" I can't even tell you. This track is a religious experience. And then you're diving immediately into Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love belting out "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and if you are not tapping your foot by the time they're done you have no soul. NONE. (Speaking of which, go watch Love in 20 Feet from Stardom the second you're done with this album. Protip.)
If you aren't already convinced that this is the best Christmas album known to man, I'm not really sure that you've got a human heart beating in your chest.
Honestly the next track is the only one that I shrug through (and sometimes skip). Michael Bolton does a decent job with "White Christmas," but is there really a way not to?*
Here's where we start ramping it back up. One of only two Christmas songs that will get me up on my feet and shaking my flat white ass, Run-D.M.C. slams "Christmas Is" straight into your earholes without mercy. Simmons** and McDaniels wrote this track themselves, and it is resplendent.
Listen to "Christmas Is" all the way through. The second to last line, delivered not by one of the band members but instead by a little boy, might well be the best part of the whole song. It's the matched twin to "Christmas in Hollis" from AVSC 1 and honestly I could probably get through Christmas with just these two tracks on repeat
If you need a breather after all that concentrated awesome, I totally understand. But I want you to hold on to your butts, because next up is "Christmas Time Again." I guess Tom wasn't the only one getting stoned...but this reminder of what time of year it is comes from Extreme. You know, the guys that did "More than Words."
These guys. It's hilarious and awesome.
"Merry Christmas Baby" is a great song, and Bonnie Raitt and Charles Brown deliver it with class and style. Raitt does that with pretty much everything though, so you can't be surprised; this track is like the last drink at a mostly empty bar, soothing and quiet. The next track comes from Tevin Campbell, one of those astonishing musicians that you've never heard of but still has managed to hit Billboard's Hot 100 not once, but twice. He's worked with Quincy Jones and Prince, as well as having guest spots on Fresh Prince and Moesha, and his rendition of "O Holy Night" is just as strong as you'd expect.
You thought Extreme was hitting the 90s hard? Wait for the next few tracks: Debbie (sorry, Debra) Gibson covers "Sleigh Ride," followed immediately by Vanessa Williams powering through a jazzy "What Child is This" with a sultry grace that I can't even come close to, no matter how much eggnog I down. Ann and Nancy Wilson, also known as Heart, croon "Blue Christmas" with such bittersweet, saccharine goodness that you'll never want a white Christmas again, and then Wilson motherfucking Phillips steps up to hit "Silent Night" so far out of the park it hits someone's car in the parking lot..
And as if we couldn't get any more 90s than we already are, the final track on the album is Sinead O'Connor purring Bob Dylan's "I Believe in You." I bet the studio smelled like pine trees and smoke while they were recording.
So there you have it. The very best Christmas album ever made. Hands down, bar none, and I will absolutely fight about it.***
Merry Christmas, you're welcome.
*Is this the whitest thing ever? I think it might be.
** Rev Run is I think the only artist to contribute three AVSC albums, performing "Santa Baby" in AVSC 3 along with Mase, Puff Daddy, Snoop Doggy Dog, Salt-n-Pepa, Onyx and Keith Murry in a song written in part by Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. It includes the lyric "If they could acknowledge my wisdom and understand that Santa Claus is a black man." I couldn't make this shit up, people. (Mary J. Blige, Tracy Chapman, The Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt, and PATTI SMITH are also on that album.)
***In case it's escaped your notice, out of 33 named artists (I'm not counting studio musicians or the Heartbreakers), only ten (six individuals and Extreme) are white dudes. There are ten black men, nine white women, and four women of color. The Very Special Christmas albums are literally the most diverse albums I own. By my count, Edge of Christmas has one POC and four women.