Each year's bounty of holiday music releases yields a diamond now and then, along with a whole lot of coal. In rounding up a dozen of the most poorly executed holiday albums ever, Calendar will blow by easy targets such as "Merry Christmas From the Brady Bunch," "A Partridge Family Christmas Card" and "Roseanne Barr Sings the Christmas Classics" — relics from the days when those with TV shows also found themselves tossed into recording studios to plow through "Jingle Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy."
Instead, we're zeroing in on offerings from bona-fide musicians, because presumably they, or someone in their circle, should have known better. And we're focusing largely on releases from the last 20 years because A) most are still in circulation and B) we've successfully purged the others from our memories.
Afroman, "A Colt 45 Christmas" (Hungry Hustler, 2006). The Florida rapper who spends the other 364 days of the year extolling the virtues of alcohol, weed and other consciousness-alterting substances took a day out to record the likes of "I Wish You Would Roll a New Blunt," "Afroman Is Coming to Town" and a version of "Deck the Halls" with a title that isn't suitable for a family publication.
David Archuleta and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Glad Christmas Tidings" (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 2011). A holiday collection for those who find Jerry Bruckheimer's work too nuanced. The "American Idol" alum from Utah joined forces with his church's fabled choir, leaving no stop unpulled.
Justin Bieber, "Under the Mistletoe" (Island Def Jam, 2011). Among the head-scratching holiday sentiments Bieber serves up here: "The wise men followed a star / The way I followed my heart… Imma be under the mistletoe / Shawty with you." This is best left to anyone bedazzled by Auto-Tuned vocals, electronic keyboards and shiny objects.
Michael Bolton, "This Is the Time: The Christmas Album" (Columbia, 1996). Bolton belts familiar yuletide songs with such physical intensity that you'd think he were in the throes of childbirth.
Kenny Chesney, "All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan" (BNA, 2003). Country music's paradise-minded hunk put an island spin on this collection of classics, which is largely an exercise in saccharine overload.
Kenny G, "Miracles: The Holiday Album" (Arista, 1994). The somnambulistic sax man's first holiday release sold more than 8 million copies, spawning two more equally yawn-inducers — "Faith: A Holiday Album" in 1999 and "Wishes: A Holiday Album" three years later. Music for those who lament the demise of the Muzak era.
Faith Hill, "Joy to the World" (Warner Bros., 2008): It's easy to imagine Hill and her co-producers listening to their cast-of-thousands, cranked-to-11 recording of the title track and shouting, "Take that, Mormon Tabernacle Choir!" Such vocal beauty, such a dearth of musical scale.
Whitney Houston, "One Wish: The Holiday Album" (Arista, 2003). For this set, Houston seemed intent on shoehorning more notes into each syllable than Mariah Carey (who deserves an entry of her own, but there's only so much space), resulting in an orgy of melismatics that often obliterates the spirit of these holiday tunes.
Elvis Presley & Guests, "Christmas Duets" (RCA, 2008): "Elvis' Christmas Album" from 1957 has been prized by fans and musicians for more than half a century, but that was no excuse for these posthumous Pro Tools-engineered pairings with Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, Wynonna Judd, Anne Murray and ... Anne Murray? Is it too much to ask to let the poor man rest in peace?
Keith Sweat, "A Christmas of Love" (Rhino, 2007). Presumably somebody, somewhere asked Santa for a slow-jam holiday album filled with clap tracks, sultry R&B vocalizing and swirling synthesized orchestrations. Tracks such as "Party Christmas" and "Be Your Santa Claus" create the impression that Christmas is just one more occasion for a boudoir workout.
Scott Weiland, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (Rhino, 2011). Trying earnestly to croon holiday classics such as "White Christmas" and the title track, the Stone Temple Pilots frontman sounds like an alien intruder who wandered into a Norman Rockwell painting.
Yeshiva Boys Choir, "The Yeshiva Boys Chanukah Choir CD" (IndieExtreme/Gerstner Music, 2011). Demonstrating that Hanukkah offerings aren't immune from the excesses that torpedo many Christmas collections, this session of overblown, '80s-drenched Yiddish pop is only for those who find the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas prog-rock blowouts too culturally biased.