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Five Essential Christmas Music Albums

As December looms into view, 'tis the season to browse the shelves (or your iTunes collection) and dust off your Christmas records for their annual airing. With the music TV channels already pumping out a steady diet of Yuletide warhorses by the likes of Wham, Slade, Jona Lewie et al, it's time to look beyond the obvious and check out these other fine festive collections:

O'Neal's 1988 album ticks the Christmas classics box ("Little Drummer Boy", "The Christmas Song") but it's the five tracks written and produced by his Minneapolis pals Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis that really stand out. Their trademark flywheel riffs propel the Santa-baiting "Sleigh Ride" and provide a suitably epic backdrop to "Our First Christmas" and the title cut.

A mix of traditional carols and seasonal folk songs, with Rusby's striking vocals as comfortable and warmingas a glass of mulled wine.   

At first glance, this album almost seems like heresy - a rogue's gallery of studio wizards take a handful of classic Christmas songs by the likes of Bing Crosby, Lena Horne and Dean Martin and remix them into the 21st century. However, the material is respectfully handled and results in an immaculate collection of winter warmers. Special praise must go to Markus Enochson's remix of "Christmas Time is Here", which manages to make the Charlie Brown perennial even more melancholy and haunting than the original - quite a feat.

For his second Christmas album, the former Stray Cat again turns the formidable talents of his big band onto a range of traditional and contemporary holiday songs. The choices are a little bizarre, ranging from standards such as "White Christmas" to "You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch" from the Dr Seuss cartoon and, incongruously, "My Favourite Things" from The Sound Of Music. The sheer swinging enthusiasm of the band does make it work a treat and there's even space for a couple of rockin' Setzer originals.

Mark Vidler has made a name for himself in producing startlingly original mash-ups from some unexpected musical bedfellows. This Xmas-themed compilation is no different - Elvis Presley sings "White Christmas" alongside C-3PO and R2-D2, whilst McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and "Pipes Of Peace" run seamlessly alongside Blondie's "The Tide Is High". In keeping with the season of goodwill to all men (and women), it's available as a free download.