Every holiday music fan knows Dasher and Dancer — and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donder and Blitzen — and they can certainly recall the most famous reindeer of all.
But as timeless as “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” may be, holiday hits have come a long way since the 1939 staple. Just look at Billboard’s list of 100 “Greatest of All Time Holiday Songs,” which is topped by Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
Whether it brings out your inner Grinch or makes you want to do the Jingle Bell Rock, you’ve probably already heard the 1994 hit this season, or will soon. But it doesn’t have to be the only piece of modern music on your playlist.
This year some new hits are heading your way from other fan favorite artists — including Cher, who has released the first holiday album of her seven-decade career. The aptly titled “Christmas” is also her first studio album in five years and was produced by “Believe” collaborator Mark Taylor.
The album’s first single, “DJ Play A Christmas Song,” was written by Sarah Hudson, known for her work with Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan. Industry experts have said it serves as “a rebel’s anthem for anyone whose parents told them Santa Claus would skip their house if they didn’t go to sleep.”
The Warner Records release is 13 tracks of reimagined classics and original hits. Cher is joined by Michael Bublé for “a haunting version of ‘Home’” written by the crooner, and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with Darlene Love. The performers first recorded the song together 60 years ago for “A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector,” one of Rolling Stone’s Top 25 greatest holiday albums ever.
Stevie Wonder also features on “What Christmas Means to Me,” a personal highlight for Cher. “Every time I hear that harmonica, I’m a teenager again,” she said. “It’s a personal dream come true for me to record this song with Stevie.”
The singer is also joined by Cyndi Lauper for “Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart” and for “Drop Top Sleigh Ride,” she’s paired with rapper Tyga. As a holiday promise, the album ends with “This Will Be Our Year.”
“I never say this about my own records but I’m really proud of this one,” Cher said. “It is one of the most amazing highlights of my career.”
The music veteran isn’t the only artist with a holiday debut this year. R&B and pop superstar Brandy — who also stars in Netflix’s film “BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER!” — is out with “Christmas with Brandy” from Motown Records.
The company calls it “a beautiful journey through the ups, downs and surprising twists that accompany the holiday season.” Brandy said the release is “for all of my beautiful fans.”
“I feel so blessed to be able to create an album surrounding joy, family, love and quality divine time with the ones you love,” she announced. That’s clear on “Christmas Gift,” her duet with daughter Sy’Rai.
“‘Christmas with Brandy’ sees the genre-defining vocalist delivering classic covers and original holiday material that’s sure to be listened to for years to come,” Motown notes. The album’s 12 tracks also include Brandy’s renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Santa Baby,” “The Christmas Song” and “Jingle Bells.”
For those looking for live entertainment, Darren Criss is also helping modern music fans get into the spirit this year. “A Very Darren Crissmas” is on tour now with stops in Central Florida and Tampa Bay.
“Since bursting onto the pop-culture landscape from Fox’s hit show ‘Glee’ over a decade ago, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Darren Criss has embodied the kind of kaleidoscopic artistry that’s entirely uninhibited by form or genre,” the tour is officially billed. “The multi-hyphenates illustrious career spans television, film, music and stage.
“Kicking off the Christmas season Criss will perform songs from his recent holiday album, ‘A Very Darren Crissmas,’” the synopsis continues. “His first ever full-length project includes a wildly eclectic collection of songs from big band Christmas classics to novelty tunes to modern-day folk-pop ballads.”
Criss worked with producer Ron Fair on the album, which includes 12 tracks on its original release and two others on a deluxe version, each from UMG Recordings. The performer has said that “I always knew that if I ever made a Christmas album, it would have to be much more than just a collection of songs you already knew.
“I’d want it to be a journey through songs that not only had a personal significance in my life, but also a unique introduction to songs folks had never heard before,” he continued. “Every eclectic choice led this album to feel astutely true to its namesake. A very, indisputably, ‘me’ Christmas.”
“A Very Darren Crissmas” visits Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater Nov. 25 and the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando Nov. 29.
This feature was originally published in Watermark’s 2023 Holiday Guide. Read it online here for an LGBTQ+ look at the holiday season in Central Florida and Tampa Bay.