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Essential classic rock Christmas albums

Holiday music, classic rock style

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Some of the songs may be familiar, but the arrangements are often not. Here are some of the best classic rock Christmas holiday music albums.

Annie Lennox - 'A Christmas Cornucopia'

Annie Lennox - A Christmas Cornucopia
Decca Records

The ex-Eurythmics vocalist-composer turned blue-eyed soul soloist, Annie Lennox has recorded a collection of traditional carols. "I've known these songs, these carols all my life," says Lennox. "I've sung them since I was little. They're just in me. They're a huge part of my life." A Christmas Cornucopia includes backing by a 30-piece orchestra, vocals recorded on locaton in South Africa with the African Children's Choir, and a new Lennox composition, "Universal Child". The artist earmarked all of the proceeds from the 2010 album to her own Annie Lennox Foundation, which funds HIV/AIDS prevention and education projects in Africa.

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Blackmore's Night - 'Winter Carols'

Blackmore's Night, the progressive/folk rock band featuring Candice Night as lead vocalist and lyricist, and former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on anything with strings. Their holiday music is rock, minstrel style.

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Bob Dylan - 'Christmas In The Heart'

Bob Dylan 'Christmas In The Heart'
Columbia Records

It seems just a tad strange to be mentioning Bob Dylan and a Christmas album in the same sentence, but such is the artist's legacy that you can always expect him to do the unexpected. Christmas In The Heart has generous helpings of both traditional and contemporary carols.

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Brian Setzer Orchestra - 'Christmas Comes Alive!'

Brian Setzer Orchestra - Christmas Comes Alive!
Surf Dog Records / WEA

Like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) the Brian Setzer Orchestra (BSO) has built something of a franchise around live and recorded performances of Christmas music. Where TSO employs multiple electric guitars and a big orchestral sound, BSO features Setzer's vocals and a '50s rock 'n' roll motif to celebrate the holidays. Christmas Comes Alive!, released in 2010, is BSO's fourth Christmas album.

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Canned Heat - 'Christmas Album'

Most of the songs are traditional carols, but the style is pure Canned Heat. Guest boogiers include Eric Clapton and Dr. John. It's Christmas, blues rock style.

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Carole King - 'A Holiday Carole'

Carole King A Holiday Carole
Hear Music

Exactly 40 years after her first album was released in 1971, singer-songwriter Carole King is releasing her first album of holiday music in 2011. Three original songs (co-written by her daughter and the album's producer, Louise Goffin and songwriters Jody Marr, George Noriega and Guy Chambers) compliment a well-chosen selection of holiday standards.

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks - 'Crazy For Christmas'

Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks - Crazy for Christmas
Surfdog Records

Dan Hicks was a fixture in San Francisco's eclectic rock scene in the '60s, starting with The Charlatans then forming his own Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks in 1968. The band's music defies easy labeling, mixing elements of bebop, bluegrass, pop and folk. As a result, Hicks was a darling of the psychedelic rock community simply because of his musical eccentricity. Thus, it isn't hard to imagine that the band's first Christmas album, 2010's Crazy For Christmas would appeal as much to the free-sprited Haight-Ashbury crowd as to their straight-laced grandparents.

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Jethro Tull - 'The Jethro Tull Christmas Album'

Jethro Tull's patented blend of rock and Renaissance lends itself equally well to traditional tunes like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Bouree" and less conventional fare such as "First Snow On Brooklyn" and "A Winter Snowscape".

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Jimi Hendrix - 'Merry Christmas And Happy New Year'

This five song maxi-single wasn't intended as a Christmas record. It is the result of Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies fooling around as they rehearsed for concerts at Filmore East during the 1969 holiday season. This probably won't be the first CD you run for when it's time to cue up the holiday music, but it is definitely worth having for its historical and entertainment value.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd - 'Christmas Time Again'

There's plenty of typical Lynyrd Skynyrd here -- "Run Run Rudolph" and "Skynyrd Family" -- but there are also a couple of surprises, like the sensitive, acoustic instrumental treatments of "Greensleeves" and "Classical Christmas".

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