Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas is virtually certain to wind up as the best-selling holiday album of 2009. The album, which has been #2 on The Billboard 200 for three straight weeks, has sold nearly three times as many copies as this year's #2 seasonal seller, Sting's If On A Winter's Night (which celebrates winter if not Christmas specifically).
This is the second time that Bocelli has been part of the year's top-selling holiday album. He teamed with Celine Dion to sing "The Prayer" on her smash 1998 album These Are Special Times.
Christmas is still three weeks away, but it's not too early to scroll back through the best-selling new holiday albums of each of the past 17 years. These best-sellers reflect a wide range of styles, from country (Garth Brooks) to new age (Enya). Two pop/jazz performers have had the top-selling new holiday album more than once. Kenny G led the pack three times. Harry Connick Jr. scored twice.
Holiday albums have a part of the season since 1945, when Bing Crosby first hit #1 with Merry Christmas. Since then, they've sold steadily and sometimes spectacularly. Two years ago, Josh Groban's Noel became the first holiday album to log five or more weeks at #1 since the Crosby album. It also became the first holiday album to wind up as the best-selling album of the year.
This year will mark the first time in the Nielsen/SoundScan era that an opera star has had the year's best-selling holiday album. But, since 1992, four other artists with varying degrees of classical influence (Mannheim Steamroller, Charlotte Church, Josh Groban and Il Divo) have had the year's #1 holiday album.
Having the year's top new holiday album is great, but it's not the be-all and end-all. Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas finished second for 1994, but its sales tally that year (1,859,000) exceeded the first-year sales tally of all but three of these albums. Carey's album spawned her holiday perennial, "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which has sold 1,335,000 digital copies, more than any other holiday song.
Here are the best-selling newly-released Christmas albums for each of the past 17 years. The artist and title are followed by the album's total U.S. sales in the year it was first released (not its cumulative total).
1992: Garth Brooks, Beyond The Season, 1,542,000. This album entered The Billboard 200 on Sept. 12. A tad early in the season? It worked: The album climbed to #2. It even spawned a country hit, "The Old Man's Back In Town." The country megastar was 30 when this album was released.
1993: Harry Connick Jr., When My Heart Finds Christmas, 748,000. The pop/jazz singer and pianist was 26 when this album was released. The album, issued four years after Connick broke through with music from When Harry Met Sally..., peaked at #13.
1994: Kenny G, Miracles-The Holiday Album, 2,987,000. This was the first holiday album to reach #1 on The Billboard 200 since Mitch Miller's Holiday Sing Along With Mitch, which was released in 1961. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" became an adult contemporary hit. The saxophonist was 38 when this album was released.
1995: Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas In The Aire, 1,844,000. This was Mannheim Steamroller's third blockbuster Christmas album, following Mannheim Steamroller Christmas (1984) and A Fresh Aire Christmas (1988). It peaked at #3.
1996: Michael Bolton, This Is The Time-The Christmas Album, 613,000. The power balladeer was 42 when this was released. The album, which featured duets with Placido Domingo and Wynonna, reached #11. This was the third best-selling holiday album of 1996. The top two, Miracles-The Holiday Album and Christmas In The Aire, were both holdovers from prior years.
1997: Hanson, Snowed In, 863,000. The teen-dream/power-pop trio capped its breakout year with the year's top-selling holiday album. The brothers ranged in age from 12 to 17 when this album was a hit. It reached #7.
1998: Celine Dion, These Are Special Times, 2,684,000. The Canadian diva was 30 when this was released. It reached #2, tying Amy Grant's 1992 hit Home For Christmas as the highest-charting holiday album ever by a female artist. Dion's album also sold more copies in its first year of release than any other holiday album by a female artist. The album featured "I'm Your Angel," a chart-topping duet with R. Kelly.
1999: Kenny G, Faith-A Holiday Album, 1,575,000. Five years after Miracles-The Holiday Album, Kenny G had the best-selling album of another holiday season. Faith reached #6 and yielded "Auld Lang Syne (The Millennium Mix)," which became an unlikely top 10 hit on the Hot 100.
2000: Charlotte Church, Dream A Dream, 1,077,000. The classical crossover star from Wales was just 14 when this was released. The album featured a duet with an even younger artist, country star Billy Gilman, who was 12 at the time. The album, which featured the London Symphony Orchestra, reached #7.
2001: Various Artists, NOW That's What I Call Christmas!, 1,614,000. This two-disk collection features both traditional favorites, such as Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" and Nat "King" Cole's "The Christmas Song," and rock-era staples, such as Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town." The album reached #3.
2002: Kenny G, Wishes-A Holiday Album, 501,000. This marked the third time that the saxophonist had the top new holiday album of the year. The album, which peaked at #29, included a new "Freedom Mix" of "Auld Lang Syne." (This was the year's third best-selling holiday album, but the top two, NOW Christmas! and Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas Extraordinaire, were both holdovers.)
2003: Harry Connick Jr., Harry For The Holidays, 687,000.Ten years after landing the #1 holiday album of 1993, Connick scored again with this cheekily titled album. It peaked at #12. The album included a duet with country legend George Jones, "Nothin' New For New Year."
2004: Clay Aiken, Merry Christmas With Love, 1,004,000. Aiken appeared with his fellow American Idol finalists on 2003's American Idol: The Great Holiday Classics. The following year, he scored with this solo album. Aiken was 26 when the album hit. The album reached #4 and spawned a top 20 adult contemporary hit, "Winter Wonderland."
2005: Il Divo, The Christmas Collection, 544,000. This was the second year in row that the year's top holiday album had an American Idol connection. Simon Cowell, Idol's resident Scrooge, created this classically-influenced vocal quartet. The album peaked at #14.
2006: Sarah McLachlan, Wintersong, 759,000. The Canadian singer was 38 when she released this album, which reached #7. The album included a duet with fellow Canadian singer Diana Krall and featured a cover of "River" by yet another Canadian artist, Joni Mitchell.
2007: Josh Groban, Noel, 3,699,000. This sold more copies in its year of release than any other holiday album in Nielsen/SoundScan history. Two songs from Noel became hits: "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "The First Noel," a duet with Faith Hill. The album also features collaborations with Brian McKnight and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The classical crossover star was 26 when he released the album.
2008: Enya, And Winter Came..., 580,000. The Irish new age star was 47 when she released this album. And Winter Came... reached #8 and yielded the single "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." This was the year's #2 holiday album. The year's #1 title, Noel, was a holdover.
2009: Andrea Bocelli, My Christmas, 687,000 (so far). Bocelli, 51, is vying to become the first operatic tenor to hit #1 on the pop album chart since Mario Lanza scored in 1951. The album features collaborations with Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole, Reba McEntire, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Muppets.
And what are we to call this season? The word "Christmas" appears in the title of seven of these albums. The word "holiday" is in the title of four of them (including three by Kenny G). The winter "winter" is in the title of two. So, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a wonderful winter.