The music industry keeps shrinking, but the amount of music released continues to grow. This is never more apparent than during the holiday season, when the wave of Christmas CDs rises higher each year. This season, part of the blame goes to Josh Groban, with an assist from Oprah Winfrey. The two of them saw to it that Groban’s Noël was the biggest-selling album of 2007, ensuring that everyone from Faith Hill to Neil Sedaka to Sheryl Crow to Enya to Brian McKnight to Elvis Presley would have a new holiday album in stores in 2008.
And part of the credit goes to the growing digital-music marketplace, where it’s easier than ever for artists to deliver a seasonal treat to fans by serving up a single or EP without the cost of producing a full-length album.
What follows is a CD-length Christmas music playlist, with all songs, even the old ones, drawn from 2008 releases. All are available on iTunes, many of the songs can be streamed at the artists’ MySpace sites, and you can find the complete playlist up on my blog, at http://go.philly.com/inthemix.
1. “Jingle Bells,” Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. Banjo master and his band of merry pranksters enlist Tuvan throat singers on a deliriously inventive reinterpretation. From Jingle All the Way.
2. “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Weezer. Amped-up 18th-century hymn, recorded for iPhone app and now available on iTunes.
3. “Christmas Is Coming Soon,” Blitzen Trapper. Sweetly folkie rumination from Portland indie rockers, from the digital-only I’ll Stay ‘Til After Christmas.
4. “Another Winter in a Summer Town,” No Kids. “The beach is empty, they covered the pools.” December melancholy in Canadian trio’s take on a tune from Grey Gardens, the Broadway musical. Also from I’ll Stay ‘Til After Christmas.
5. “Stuck at the Airport,” Money Mark. Chiming lament from the Beastie Boys’ keyboardist, stranded with a broken iPod. Appears with Jack Johnson and G. Love on This Warm December: A Brushfire Christmas, Vol. 1.
6. “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas,” The Boxmasters. Billy Bob Thornton’s roots-country band, stuck in the big house in this standout track from Christmas Cheer.
7. “A Christmas Duel,” The Hives & Cyndi Lauper. Unlikely duo of Swede singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and Lauper in an over-the-top insult contest. He sleeps with her sister, she one-ups him.
8. “Come On Santa,” The Raveonettes. Sexy wall of sound from Danish rock duo’s EP Wishing You a Rave Christmas.
9. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Keyshia Cole. R&B and BET reality TV star cheers up bummed-out perennial.
10. Elvis Presley & LeAnn Rimes, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).” Best of the hokey Christmas Duets, pairing mostly contemporary country acts with the posthumous King.
11. “Frosty the Snowman,” Fiona Apple. Sprightly ditty stands out on the female-only The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs, also featuring Sara Bareilles, Priscilla Ahn and Nicole Atkins.
12. “Blue Christmas,” Sheryl Crow. Crow’s Hallmark-store exclusive, Home for Christmas, is unadventurous, but she has a little fun with this nod to Presley.
13. “Back Door Santa,” Clarence Carter. You’ve heard those horns before, sampled on Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Soul man’s sneakin’ around song is one of many winners on the highly recommended Little Steven-curated compilation Christmas A Go-Go, along with the Kinks, Joe Pesci (!), and the Chevelles’ “O Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls.”
14. “Christmas Eve,” Jim Jones & Skull Gang. Dark but not entirely unsentimental Christmas point of view, from rapper’s second holiday release, A Tribute to Bad Santa. “I can’t be with my honey on Christmas Eve, ’cause I’m thinkin’ about robbin’ you.”
15. “Nutmeg,” John Legend & Stephen Colbert. Soul man plays it straight, promises to “nog the egg” of his loved one. From A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All.
16. “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love),” Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul takes on a Gamble and Huff tune, originally done by the O’Jays, on her first-ever holiday album.
17. “Can I Interest You in Hannukah?” Stephen Colbert & Jon Stewart, from A Colbert Christmas. Daily Show host makes singing debut, teaches Colbert about dreidels and latkes.
18. “Dreidel,” Erran Baron Cohen, featuring Jules Brookes. Borat’s brother gets the dance floor moving with Jewish holiday tunes, Songs in the Key of Hannukah.
19. “Mr. Santa Claus,” The Fleshtones. Garage-punk stalwarts gets their jingle on. From Stocking Stuffer.
20. “Santa Claws is Coming to Town,” Alice Cooper and others. Cooper makes Kris Kringles’ expedition sound ominous. From We Wish You a Metal Xmas . . . and a Headbanging New Year.
21. “Careful What You Wish For,” Glasvegas. Cautionary tale from Glaswegian rockers’ A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss).
22. “Santa’s Blues,” Charles Brown. Jazzy piano man swings, on the excellent Putumayo Presents: A Jazz & Blues Christmas, alongside Ray Charles and B.B. King.
23. “What a Night!,” Harry Connick Jr. New Orleans piano man delivers his third classy holiday album with What A Night! A Christmas Album.
24. “Winter Wonderland,” Tony Bennett. Octogenarian saloon singer makes good on the title of A Swingin’ Christmas.
25. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” The Pretenders. Acoustic mischief from Chrissie Hynde, on a four-song digital Holiday EP.
26. “Away in a Manger,” Los Lonely Boys. Texas’ Garza brothers deliver heartfelt harmony singing on otherwise upbeat Christmas Spirit.
27. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” Julian Koster. Indie multi-instrumentalist Koster sticks to the musical saw on The Singing Saw at Christmas Time. Moving in small doses, perfect for driving relatives from the room when the volume is turned up.