10 Hottest Holiday Albums of 2012

If it seems like everyone is putting out a Christmas album this year, it's no coincidence: holiday albums have become one of the few surefire ways to still sell music. Not only was Michael Buble's "Christmas" the second biggest seller last year, the top 200 holiday albums sold 11.5 million copies in 2011, compared to 11 million in 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A fresh glut of holiday releases means even more useless renditions of "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow," but with a few original surprises thrown in (Colbie Caillat's surfing-with-Santa "Christmas In The Sand," Carly Rae Jepsen's "Mittens" for the Now That's What I Call Today's Chrismtas" compilation, the mere existence of a John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John Christmas duets album.) So we've sifted through the stacks of potential stocking stuffers to recommend this year's 10 best bets for holiday musical cheer.

Holiday Albums Chart | Holiday Music Central

ROD STEWART Rod Stewart
"Merry Christmas, Baby"

It's a good thing that Rod Stewart had a change of heart when working up his first-ever holiday album, "Merry Christmas, Baby." Veteran rocker Stewart told Billboard he once thought "it was beneath me, years ago, to do a Christmas album" but he eventually came to see it as a natural progression from his American Songbook series. Audiences agree: "Merry Christmas, Baby, which features guest appearances by Michael Bublé, Cee Lo Green, Mary J. Blige and more, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 earlier this month. The album's track "Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" has earned Stewart his first No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart in more than 19 years.

SCOTTY MCCREERY Scotty McCreery
"Christmas with Scotty McCreery"

2011 American Idol winner Scotty McCreery drew upon his childhood Christmas music favorites when making "Christmas with Scotty McCreery," the young star's first seasonal album. High on his list, Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas." "My favorite Christmas album growing up was Elvis's Christmas Album," he recently told Billboard. "When that song comes on, it's Christmas time." Other highlights on "Christmas with," which bowed in the Billboard 200's top five, include "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and "Jingle Bells." "Christmas In Heaven," which McCreery calls his "favorite song on the record" because it makes him think of his grandfather, is nothing short of a first-class tearjerker.

COLBIE CAILLAT

Colbie Caillat

"Christmas In The Sand"

Inspired by her California upbringing and an early-2012 trip to Bali, Colbie Caillat takes a West Coast approach to the holidays with "Christmas In The Sand." Anchored by the playful title track, which finds Colbie spotting Santa trying to catch a wave (in his bathing suit!) instead of a sleigh ride, the upbeat, bluesy collection features duets with Brad Paisley ("Merry Christmas Baby"), Gavin DeGraw ("Baby It's Cold Outside") and Justin Young ("The Christmas Song") as well as three more Colbie originals that lend further warmth to the occasion. Even "Christmas With The Beach Boys" wasn't this unabashedly sunny.

A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS 25 "A Very Special Christmas: 25 Years"

Commemorating the quarter-century anniversary of the first all-star compilation, which united the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Madonna, U2 and Bob Seger in support of the Special Olympics, Big Machine has compiled a diverse lineup of stars for the latest edition. Country stars Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride and Vince Gill all contribute new recordings, as does Train, Jordin Sparks and even K-Poppers the Wonder Girls. Most fun of all, however, is Cheap Trick's "I Want You For Christmas," a holiday rewrite of their own "I Want You To Want Me" (sample lyric: "didn't I, didn't I, didn't I say I want you for Christmas?")

CEE LO GREEN

Cee Lo Green

"Cee Lo's Magic Moment"

Laced with enough Motown-inflected cheer to soften even the Grinch-iest heart, The "Lady Killer" singer's new seasonal offering is as soulful and fun as its Cee-Lo-in-fur-in-a-pimped-out-sleigh-car album cover suggests. Among his "Magic" moments are Christmas favorites re-imagined as interesting duets; Cee Lo with the fellow "Voice" coach Christina Aguilera on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Cee Lo with a cappella group Straight No Chaser on "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," Cee Lo with The Muppets on "All I Need Is Love."

HOLIDAYS RULE "Holidays Rule"

Starbucks and superstar music supervisors Search Party teamed up for this hipster holiday compilation, which collects 17 eclectic Christmas covers from the likes of The Shins ("Wonderful Christmastime"), fun. ("Sleigh Ride"), The Civil Wars ("I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"), Eleanor Friedberger ("Santa, Bring My Baby Back To Me") and a rare holiday chestnut from Sir Paul McCartney ("The Christmas Song," natch) featuring Diana Krall on piano and John Pizzarelli on guitar. Extra props to Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten, who turn in a delightfully non-creepy "Baby It's Cold Outside."

BLAKE SHELTON

Blake Shelton

"Cheers, It's Christmas"

The holiday season is certainly a key time for getting together, and CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton throws the door open to several of his friends on his first holiday platter. Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson, Michael Bublé, and wife Miranda Lambert lend their talents to the album. The singer and "The Voice" coach also keeps it in the family with a special duet with his mother, Dorothy, on the song "Time For Me To Come Home."

CHRISTINA PERRI

Christina Perri

"A Very Merry Perri Christmas"

Christina Perri breathes new life into rock and pop Christmas favorites -- The Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" and John Lennon & Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" -- by applying one of her own best assets: her vocal prowess. The six-track EP also includes an original song, "Something About December," which should help fans hold on while she preps her sophomore studio album for spring 2013.


LADY ANTEBELLUM

Lady Antebellum

"On This Winter's Night"

Expanding on 2010's Target-exclusive "A Merry Little Christmas EP," Lady Antebellum largely plays it safe and family-friendly with "On This Winter's Night," sticking to jazzy takes on standards like "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "This Christmas" in favor of twangier, Nashville-friendly arrangements. Still, their slow-jam cover of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is a pleasant surprise, and the title track (the album's sole original cut) is worth a good Christmas cuddle.

SUFJAN STEVENS

Sufjan Stevens

"Silver & Gold"

As a follow-up to 2006's five-disc boxed set "Songs For Christmas," "Silver & Gold" compiles five more EPs recorded by Stevens from 2007 to 2011 with collaborators like the National's Bryce and Aaron Dressner. The expansive collection ranges from lo-fi, recorder-backed hymns to spacey, progged-out originals like "The Child With The Star On His Head" and "Christmas Unicorn," each of which clock in at over 12 minutes. Bonus for Sufjan super-fans: the boxed set comes with limited-edition stickers, temporary tattoos, a Christmas ornament, a poster and an 84-page booklet with original Christmas essays.