Following are the holiday albums included on the Recording Industry Association of America's list of the Top 100 top-selling Christmas albums based on sales.
1. Elvis Presley — "Elvis Christmas Album," 1957: 9 million in sales.
2. Kenny G — "Miracles: The Holiday Album," 1994: 8 million in sales.
3. Various Artists — "Now That's What I Call Christmas," 2001: 6 million in sales.
4. Mannheim Steamroller — "A Fresh Aire Christmas," 1988: 6 million in sales.
5. Mannheim Steamroller — "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas," 1984: 6 million in sales.
6. Barbra Streisand — "A Christmas Album," 1967: 5 million in sales.
7. Mariah Carey — "Merry Christmas," 1994: 5 million in sales.
8. Johnny Mathis — "Merry Christmas," 1958: 5 million in sales.
Released in 1957, "Elvis' Christmas Album" is the top-selling holiday release of all time with 9 million in sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The single "Blue Christmas" is a Christmas classic, even parodied by Porky Pig.
Other Christmas blockbusters are Kenny G's "Miracles: The Holiday Album" (8 million) and Barbara Streisand's "A Christmas Album" (5 million), according to the RIAA. But the Christmas kings, at least in terms of sales, have to be Mannheim Steamroller with two albums topping the 6 million mark: "A Fresh Aire Christmas" and "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas."
Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Toby Keith have a couple apiece. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton did one together. The ever-prolific Willie Nelson has at least four of them. Most country stars, and many of their pop counterparts, have a Christmas album or two in their catalogs, and for good reason: The records are relatively easy to make and have the potential for big payoff.
"If it's really good, it can go for 20 years," said Bill Kennedy, vice president of sales for Capitol Records Nashville. Or longer.
Holiday records are unique in the way they're promoted and marketed.
"It is a very short window that begins in late October, hits its peak the first two weeks of December, and then falls off the cliff right after the holiday," explained Ben Kline, executive vice president of sales, marketing and new media for Universal Music Group Nashville.
Though the window is tight, successful releases will do well for at least a few seasons before trailing off, said Peter Strickland, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Warner Brothers Nashville.
This year's hot holiday release is Josh Groban's "Noel," a traditional collection that has already scanned more than 2 million.
But for many, the star at the top of the tree remains "Elvis' Christmas Album." Released at the height of Presley's fame, it's a must-have for the serious Christmas music fan.
Ironically, the album's biggest hit, "Blue Christmas," was the one track Elvis didn't want to record. As Gordon Stoker, a member of the Jordanaires, the vocal group that backed Presley on that song and many others, recalls, Elvis at first refused to do "Blue Christmas" out of respect for Ernest Tubb, who had had a No. 1 hit with it earlier.
When the producers said he had to cut it, he told folks at the session to come up with something so bad that it would never see the light of day as a single, Stoker told The Associated Press recently from his Nashville home.
"We thought that 'oo-ooo-oooo' was bad enough that they wouldn't release it," Stoker said of the signature backing vocals. To this day, he said, "It still sounds bad to me when I hear it."
Note: The author of this article goofed by mixing up the 1970 release and the original 1957 version of Elvis' Christmas Album. The first sold 9 million copies, the latter only 3 million.