This week on the music beat -- The appeal of holiday albums, including Bing Crosby's ''Merry Christmas'' and Barbara Streisand's ''A Christmas Album''

With perennial holiday albums like Bing Crosby’s Merry Christmas and Barbra Streisand’s A Christmas Album back in record-store racks (not to mention freshly minted seasonal discs from the superstar likes of ‘N Sync, Babyface, and Celine Dion), there seems to be more Christmas music available than anyone could listen to between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. For Lew Garrett, vice president of buying for the retail chain Camelot, that’s a jolly thing; he maintains that consumer desire for such albums is ”practically insatiable.” (The U.S. market for Christmas albums was about $500 million last year, based on partial data from the Recording Industry Association of America.) To keep up with the demand, Garrett estimates that Camelot is stocking approximately 1,500 holiday titles this season. Joe Pagano, VP of merchandising for music and movies at Best Buy, agrees the Christmas market is ”as strong as ever,” although his chain stocks a more modest 300-600 titles. Says Garrett: ”If they have any sense, next year’s hot artists will put out Christmas albums.”

Yet some artists are lukewarm about jumping into the holy waters. Both soul man Teddy Pendergrass and Grammy-winning folkie Shawn Colvin — who have just released their first holiday records, This Christmas (I’d Rather Have Love) and Holiday Songs and Lullabies, respectively — admit they were hesitant to record seasonal albums. ”When [my label] approached me, I was initially turned off by it, but when I was allowed to expand on the theme and make it a lullaby record for kids as well, I got interested,” says Colvin. Pendergrass also found a way to record a holiday album that wouldn’t make him gag: ”At this time in my life, it’s all about making sure everything I do counts. That’s why I wrote a song called ‘Happy Kwanzaa.”’ Pendergrass concedes that his CD will be facing stiff competition. Still, the gods are good: Puff Daddy hasn’t released A Bad Boy Christmas (yet).