Various Artists

A Very Special Christmas, Vols. 1-2

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Recorded to benefit the Special Olympics, these first two installations in the long-running Very Special Christmas series have some of the biggest names in contemporary music, most covering seasonal favorites with mixed success. Outstanding tracks include the Pretenders' "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with Chrissie Hynde giving a touching performance. Run-D.M.C.'s topical "Christmas in Hollis" relies heavily on sampling "Back Door Santa," and may lead you toward the dancefloor. Alison Moyet's stately version of "The Coventry Carol" is beautifully haunting. Only the Material Girl, Madonna, embarrasses herself with an overly campy "Santa Baby." The second volume contains some great songs, most notably Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "Christmas All Over Again" -- this is jingle-jangle pop at its best. Boyz II Men wrap their a cappella voices around "The Birth of Christ," and the two Wall of Sound standouts, Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector, bring their powerful voices together for the first time on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Bonnie Raitt duets with Charles Brown on his sexy "Merry Christmas Baby," while Aretha Franklin shows why she's called the Queen of Soul on "O Christmas Tree."

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