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While 'Blue Christmas' might be it for most people when it comes to Elvis Christmas songs it is worth noting that the King’s Chrismas album 'Elvis' Christmas Album' is now the unchallenged bestselling holiday album of all time. Released in November 1957 it was primarily blues in direction though the first moments of opening track ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ might have you thinking that an album of barbershop awaits. As seems to be the way things were done back then the album was neatly split into one side of secular numbers and a flipside that was religious in nature. So the bar room grit of Santa Claus Is Back In Town is a complete counterpoint to Elvis’ ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ which appears just 6 tracks later!
‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ featured 2 original songs, the aforementioned ‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ and the swinging ‘Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)’ which had the swagger of a true Elvis original. Elsewhere Presley turned out seminal renditions of old chestnuts like ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)’ and ‘White Christmas’. The latter sparked something inside the song’s composer Irving Berlin to such an extent that he sought for the radio stations around the States to blacklist Elvis’ version in favour of Bing Crosby’s original. Quite how he could have thought that Elvis has desecrated the standard is hard to understand now but Berlin was truly vehement in his opposition. Thankfully he lost that particular battle, though Elvis’ ‘White Christmas’ does not get as much attention each December as his big Christmas number ‘Blue Christmas’. Elvis was by no means the first artist to record the Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson song (Ernst Tubb and Doye O'Dell got in almost a decade before him) but it is his delightfully lumbering rock and roll version that remains the most popular version.
Two thirds of the 6 tracks that made up side two (vinyl speak) of ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ had been released earlier in 1957 on an Elvis EP called ‘Peace In The Valley’. Although overtly religious, so not out of place on a Christmas album, songs such as ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ and ‘(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me) could have fitted onto any Elvis album and not necessarily a Christmas one. Doesn’t make them any less enjoyable but for the time of year that’s in it his ‘Silent Night’ does sound particularly inspiring as the snow gently falls outside.
‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ would get re-released on several occasions throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, the most significant of which came in the early 1970’s when the ‘Peace In The Valley’ EP tracks were removed and replaced with new song ‘If Every Day Was Like Christmas’ and a song from the same recording session called ‘Mama Like The Roses’ (which in itself was not a Christmas song). ‘If Every Day Was Like Christmas’ was a homily to the season sung by an Elvis at his most melancholy. The tenet of his argument was that if every day was like Christmas all the ills of the world could be wiped out instantly. Hard to argue with isn’t it but pity the poor domestic fowl who would have to suffer an all year round sense of dread.
Released 14 years after his eponymous Christmas album 'Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas' was the second and only other dedicated Christmas album that Elvis recorded. Although it never reached the heights of ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ there is much to savor on this record. It opened with 2 carols ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘The First Noel’ which were slightly more laidback that one might have expected from Elvis. If anything they were a tad flat and slightly devoid of his usual charisma. Luckily things do pick up considerably on the 9 secular tracks that followed in their wake. Although restrained there is an easy charm to ‘On A Snowy Christmas Night’, ‘The Wonderful World of Christmas’ is a perfect family affair, ‘Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees’ is the album’s heartbreaker and ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ is Elvis at the peak of his rhythm and blues incarnation. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ may have also appeared on the original Elvis Christmas album but his cover of Bing Crosby’s song is hard to resist no matter how many times you hear it.
~ Side One ~
- 1. Santa Claus Is Back In Town
- 2. White Christmas
- 3. Here Comes Santa Claus
- 4. I'll Be Home For Christmas
- 5. Blue Christmas
- 6. Santa, Bring My Baby Back (To Me)
~ Side Two ~
- 1. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem
- 2. Silent Night
- 3. (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley
- 4. I Believe
- 5. Take My Hand, Precious Lord
- 6. It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)
~ Side One ~
- 1. O Come, All Ye Faithful
- 2. The First Noel
- 3. On a Snowy Christmas Night
- 4. Winter Wonderland
- 5. The Wonderful World of Christmas
- 6. It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)
~ Side Two ~
- 1. I'll Be Home on Christmas Day
- 2. If I Get Home On Christmas Day
- 3. Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees
- 4. Merry Christmas Baby
- 5. Silver Bells
Essential Elvis Christmas Albums - Track Listings
For those who wish to have every Christmas recording by Elvis in one place then the 1994 compilation 'If Every Day Was Like Christmas' should prove a one-stop shop. Over a massive 24 tracks, including 4 previously unreleased recordings – one of which was a Christmas message from Elvis himself, the King ushers in the classic Christmas sound in his own flamboyant style. Not only that but the recordings were digitally remastered for the release which added a crispness that the original recordings lacked. Whether this increased or diminished your enjoyment of Elvis’ festive recordings (vinyl hiss is an acquired yet virulent taste) there is no mistaking that this famous man was truly one of the Christmas’ most prestigious artists.
It really is the best season of the year. The Christmas carols, trees and lights just grab you. There’s something about Christmas and being home that I just can't explain...
Elvis Presley, 1966