I am convinced that the cool calm of January February is the proper time to assess Christmas music—my story, I'm sticking to it. Released originally in 1957 as A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, I came to know this on vinyl with the cover pictured above, the rerelease in the early '60s. I pulled it out of a cutout bin in the late '70s. I think it's now considered a classic of the seasonal fare. I don't normally go for Sinatra much—a great voice and a singer with superb technical chops, but I've never been able to get far past the general soullessness. But I've really become attached to this over the years. I was surprised the first time I heard it by the goofy, swingin', hepcat "J-I-N-G-L-E / B-E-double-L-S" treatment that "Jingle Bells" endures here (never one of the great Xmas songs anyway, of course, but kids like it because it's easy to play and sing, or anyway I did), and I'm surprised still that the second side, from "The First Noel" to "Silent Night," is all devoted to religious fare. Different times, different times. I became infatuated with it when I was working nightshifts in a nursing home. The dayroom for the nursing station I tended was decked out for the holidays in the kind of sad and shabby fashion that's not hard to imagine. The album was part of the little collection of records gathered there and in the darkest deeps of the night that December, along about the two o'clock or three o'clock hours, I used to wander down to the dayroom and turn on the colored lights and play it on the crappy thrift store record player someone had brought in. I sat there in one of the rickety rocking chairs, playing it soft and rocking and thinking about things like my future and my past and where everything was headed. It was deliciously sad start to finish under the circumstances, notably the woeful "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "The Christmas Waltz," with Sinatra's sad little "Merry Christmas!" right at the end of it. If I was in the mood sometimes I flipped it over and played the church songs. More often I just played the first side once or twice, or three times. All those associations are buried in it for me still, even sitting in front of my computer all this time later playing it on iTunes. Sometimes, with everything, it's so complex and so beautiful all at once that it's almost too much. I think that's the kind of thing Christmas does to you.