Michael Buble is sure to have a merry Christmas. His 2011 album, Christmas, will top the 3 million mark in U.S. sales within the next two weeks. (Current sales tally: 2,749,000.) It will be the first Christmas album to go over the 3 million mark since Josh Groban's 2007 smash Noel. Buble's album is expected to rebound to #3 on this week's Billboard 200, pulling ahead of this year's top holiday album, Rod Stewart's Merry Christmas, Baby.
Buble's album is being boosted by an hour-long TV special which NBC has already aired twice this month and plans to air again on Dec. 21.
Even in an era of digital song downloads, Christmas music remains an album-oriented genre. Twenty-three holiday albums have sold 2 million or more copies in the Nielsen SoundScan era. By contrast, just one holiday song, Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," has sold 2 million digital copies.
Kenny G's Miracles—The Holiday Album remains the best-selling Christmas album of the Nielsen SoundScan era. It has sold 7,277,000 copies since its release in 1994. Kenny G's second holiday album, Faith—A Holiday Album, has sold 2,752,000 copies since its release in 1999. The album spawned a top 10 hit on the Hot 100, "Auld Lang Syne (The Millennium Mix)."
Josh Groban's Noel is the second best-selling holiday album of the Nielsen SoundScan era. It has sold 5,550,000 copies since its release in 2007. It's the top-seller by a vocalist. The album features "Ave Maria" and I'll Be Home For Christmas."
Mariah Carey's Merry Christmas has sold 5,261,000 copies since its release in 1994. It's the top-seller by a female vocalist in the Nielsen SoundScan era, narrowly edging out Celine Dion's These Are Special Times, which has sold 5,257,000 copies since its release in 1998. Carey's album features "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which has sold 2,311,000 digital copies. Dion's album contained the #1 hit "I'm Your Angel," a collabo with R. Kelly, though the song's connection to the holidays was slight.
The classical-rock ensemble Mannheim Steamroller has topped the 2 million mark with four holiday albums, which is more than any other act.
The ensemble's first two releases, 1984's Mannheim Steamroller Christmas and 1988's A Fresh Aire Christmas, were released prior to Nielsen SoundScan setting up shop, so on those and other pre-1991 releases in this report, let's also look to certifications from the Recording Industry Assn. of America. Both of these albums have been certified for U.S. sales of 6 million copies. Mannheim Steamroller is the only act with two Christmas albums certified at the 5 million level or higher. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas has sold 3,493,000 copies just since 1991. A Fresh Aire Christmas has sold 3,645,000 copies just since 1991.
The other multi-million-selling Mannheim Steamroller albums are Christmas In The Aire, which has sold 3,735,000 copies since its release in 1995, and Christmas Extraordinare, which has sold 2,953,000 copies since its release in 2001.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra has also had several big sellers. Christmas Eve And Other Stories has sold 3,347,000 copies since its release in 1996. The album includes "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24," which has sold 1,002,000 digital copies, second only to Carey's perennial. Lost Christmas Eve has sold 2,261,000 copies since its release in 2004. Christmas Attic has sold 1,803,000 copies since its release in 1998. It includes the popular "Christmas Canon."
The first Christmas album to reach #1 on The Billboard 200 was Bing Crosby's 1945 album Merry Christmas. The album featured Crosby's 1942 classic "White Christmas." Remarkably, it took more than 50 years for executives at MCA, now Universal Music, to change the title of the album to White Christmas, to more fully capitalize on the popularity of the song. The album has sold 1,887,000 copies since the title was changed in 1998. (The RIAA has the album certified at 4 million.)
The best-selling Christmas albums that were released in the 1950s are Elvis Presley's Elvis' Christmas Album (1957) and Johnny Mathis' Merry Christmas (1958). The RIAA has certified Presley's album for U.S. sales of 10 million copies, which is more than any other holiday album in history, and Mathis' album at 5 million. Presley's album includes the classic "Blue Christmas."
The best-selling Christmas albums that were released in the 1960s are Nat "King" Cole's The Christmas Song (1963), Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Barbra Streisand's A Christmas Album (1967). The RIAA has certified these albums at 6 million, 3 million and 5 million, respectively.
Cole's album was originally released in 1960 under a different title (The Magic Of Christmas), but (get this) without "The Christmas Song," which he first recorded in 1946 with the King Cole Trio. A Cole Christmas album without "The Christmas Song" is a bit like an Adele greatest hits album without "Rolling In The Deep."
Guaraldi's music for A Charlie Brown Christmas has grown in popularity through the years. The album has sold 3,226,000 copies just since 1991. The most popular tracks are "Linus And Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here."
The RIAA certification for Streisand's album puts it a tie with the Carey and Dion albums as the best-seller overall by a female artist, though most of Streisand's sales occurred prior to the Nielsen SoundScan era. The album has sold 1,599,000 copies since 1991.
Sadly, Presley, Cole and Guaraldi, all so associated with Christmas, all died young. Cole died in 1965 at age 45. Guaraldi died in 1976 at age 47. Presley died in 1977 at age 42.
Another artist who is closely associated with Christmas died even younger than those three. Karen Carpenter died in 1983 at age 32, less than five years after Carpenters released Christmas Portrait. The album has sold 1,895,000 copies just since 1991. The album features Karen and Richard's 1970 holiday hit "Merry Christmas Darling."
One of the best Christmas songs ever written ("The Christmas Song" by Mel Torme and Robert Wells) includes a line, "…to kids from one to 92." The age range of artists who have had hit Christmas albums in the Nielsen SoundScan era isn't quite that vast, but it's pretty close.
It extends from Jackie Evancho, who was 10 in 2010 when she had a million-seller with O Holy Night to Tony Bennett, who was 82 in 2008 when he had a hit with A Swingin' Christmas, a collabo with the Count Basie Big Band.
Other young artists to score big with Christmas albums include Billy Gilman, who was 12 in 2000 when he released Classic Christmas; Charlotte Church, who was 14 in 2000 when she released Dream A Dream; Hillary Duff, who was 15 in 2002 when she released Santa Claus Lane; and Justin Bieber, who was 17 last year when he reached #1 with Under The Mistletoe. (He was the youngest artist ever to reach #1 with a Christmas album, surpassing Elvis Presley, who was 22 in 1957 when Elvis' Christmas Album achieved the feat.)
The best-selling Various Artists holiday album is A Very Special Christmas, which has been RIAA-certified for U.S. sales of 4 million. It has sold 2,496,000 copies just since 1991. The album features such all-stars as Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Madonna. A sequel, A Very Special Christmas 2, has sold 2,191,000 copies since its release in 1992.
The best-selling two-disk Various Artists holiday album is Now That's What I Call Christmas!, which has sold 3,443,000 copies since its release in 2001. (It's certified at 6 million because the RIAA counts each disk in a multi-disk package as a unit.) The next two installments in the Now Christmas series also topped the 1 million mark.
A Charlie Brown Christmas isn't the only TV soundtrack that has become a hit Christmas album. Burl Ives' 1966 album Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer has sold 1,226,000 copies just since 1991. Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album has sold 1,060,000 copies since its release in 2010.
The Polar Express is the best-selling movie soundtrack that has become a hit Christmas album (694K). The 2004 album features Josh Groban's "Believe."
*NSYNC's Home For Christmas has sold 2,713,000 copies since its release in 1998. It's the best-selling holiday album by a boy band in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Others are Hanson's Snowed In (1,081,000) and 98 Degrees' This Christmas (1,004,000).
Garth Brooks' Beyond The Season has sold 2,649,000 copies since its release in 1992. It's the best-selling holiday album by a country artist in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Runners-up include Vince Gill's Let There Be Peace On Earth (1,787,000) and Martina McBride's White Christmas (1,641,000).
Here are four other albums that have sold more than 2 million copies in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Harry Connick Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas has sold 3,119,000 copies since its release in 1993. Andrea Bocelli's My Christmas has sold 2,901,000 copies since its release in 2009. Amy Grant's Home For Christmas has sold 2,542,000 copies since its release in 1992. Susan Boyle's The Gift has sold 2,123,000 copies since its release in 2010.
Boyz II Men's Christmas Interpretations has sold 1,767,000 copies since its release in 1993. It's the best-selling holiday album by an R&B artist in the Nielsen SoundScan era. Runner-up: Luther Vandross' This Is Christmas (1,147,000, combining two editions, both on Epic).
Jackie Evancho's aforementioned O Holy Night is the best-selling Christmas EP. It's followed by Michael Buble's Let It Snow… (1,032,000) and Taylor Swift's Sounds Of The Season: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection (934K).
Larry The Cable Guy's A Very Larry Christmas (991K) is the best-selling comedy Christmas album.
Here's a little more holiday trivia for you.
Most surprising Christmas album hit (besides the aforementioned Larry The Cable Guy album)? Rosie O'Donnell's A Rosie Christmas (957K).
Cheekiest title for a Christmas album?: Barenaked Ladies' Barenaked For The Holidays.
To My Readers: Merry Christmas, everybody.