Here's what I've been listening to (if you have Spotify, take a listen):
1. ELP's Christmas song is definitely not the song of a believer--but it's still classic Christmas. And it's the first progressive rock Christmas song (as far as I know). The vocals are fantastic. Just try to, uh, ignore the lyrics. :)
Emerson Lake & Palmer – I Believe In Father Christmas
2. Jackson Browne is quite different from most of what I listen to, but he has some fantastic songs, including this one. Again, not a believer (here he calls himself a "pagan")--but his message about the meaning of Christmas is right on.
"We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus"
Jackson Browne – The Rebel Jesus
3. California Guitar Trio (A Christmas Album)
California Guitar Trio – Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)
These incredibly talented guitar players do very intricate instrumental guitar music. This album is a bit simpler than most their stuff, and it's what I put on when I want to listen to my Christmas music and I'm worried about annoying other people with it. Compared to the rest of the albums here it's pretty mild. I didn't know one of these guys was a fellow Utahn when I discovered them--but there you have it. I recommend listening to the whole album (available in its entirety on Spotify).
4. Shadow Gallery--Christmas Day
Definitely light progressive metal. This one is actually one of my favorite songs by them. I find most of their stuff a bit too cheesy, but this song is great.
Shadow Gallery – Christmas Day (Act II)
5. Savatage--Dead Winter Dead
Okay, so this isn't really a Christmas album. It deals more with the evils of war. But hope is found on Christmas Day, and this progressive metal rock opera has a happy ending. The list on Spotify is not in order (which is horrible, since it is a rock opera and the songs tell a story--it's like reading a book with all the chapters out of order). You've heard "Christmas Eve" on the radio (it's the Carol of the Bells with electric guitar that gets played all the time around Christmas). The radio guys will say it's Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but Dead Winter Dead was the first time this gem was released. It actually led to the creation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and was included in their first album.
Savatage – Christmas Eve
And the most amazing song on the album--with hints of Queen, only metal, more intense, and, quite frankly, better:
Savatage – Not What You See
6. And, of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without Trans-Siberian Orchestra. They've got three fantastic Christmas albums. Electric guitars, intense lyrics, music that experiments with progressive rock, progressive metal, jazz, blues, classical--and it's all good. Some of it's heavily based on classic Christmas songs, but much of it is all or mostly original. The radio likes the traditional classic Christmas songs, while I favor the original ones. Most notably, they stay away from the non-religious Christmas songs. How many pop stars do the same? Some favorites:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – A Star To Follow
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The World That She Sees
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Three Kings And I [What Really Happened]
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – What Child Is This?
And they can't stop from redoing Savatage favorites--here's the TSO version:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Back To A Reason
And here's the Savatage version (which I prefer):
Savatage – Back To A Reason
These guys also put on a fantastic live show every year around Christmas.