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Music Review: Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas Album

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Elvis’ Christmas Album was released in October of 1957 and spent four weeks at number one. As of a couple of years ago it remained the best selling holiday album of all time. Even my grandfather liked this album, which was rare since he did not like Elvis, Christmas or any music released after 1949. He was one of the 9 million people who purchased the LP. I dust it off every December as it remains one of my two or three favorite Christmas albums.

Elvis’ Christmas Album can be divided into three parts. The first side of the original LP contained six secular Christmas songs. Two traditional carols began side two, and were followed by four gospel songs which were taken from a previously released EP. The EP or extra play single was a 45 rpm size record that contained 4-6 songs. It also came in a cardboard jacket that was similar to an LP. This form never really caught on in the United States although Elvis did reach the top ten with a number of these releases. This format was very popular in Great Britain and Europe as they cost less than a complete album.  

This was a very controversial album at the time of its release. The thought of Elvis swiveling his hips to Christmas songs was more than many people could stand. Even Irvin Berlin requested that radio stations not play this album and particularly his song “White Christmas.” 

All of this uproar was unnecessary as Elvis was always respectful to gospel and religious music. These two types of music would eventually form an important part of the Elvis legacy. Even in the latter part of his life when he was just going through the motions many times, he would always mean it and be sincere when it came to his sacred music releases.

“Santa Claus Is Back In Town” was written especially for this album by the great songwriting team of Leiber and Stroller. It was just about a perfect song for Elvis who takes it in a somewhat blues direction. The song remains a secular Christmas classic.

Elvis gives “White Christmas” a rhythm & blues treatment rather than a pop presentation which Irving Berlin may have preferred. “Here Comes Santa Claus” was an old country song by Gene Autry that Elvis modernized in an uptempo pop direction. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is stripped down to its basics with just piano, bass and drums. This is a song that proves just what a marvelous voice Elvis Presley possessed. Elvis reaches into his country roots again for the Ernest Tubb song, “Blue Christmas.”  While this song has been covered hundreds of times, this Elvis version is definitive.  

The two Christmas carols are presented in a traditional style. I prefer “Silent Night” over “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” and while both are fine, they pale a little against the rest of the album.

The gospel songs that conclude the original album are top notch. I have not heard many better gospel presentations than “Peace In The Valley” than this one by Elvis Presley. The vocal, the timing, and the overall presentation retain the song’s spiritual nature. “Take My Hand Precious Lord” is another song that fits Elvis’ vocal style. His rich vocal and sincerity shine through. Another country song, “It’s No Secret (What God Can Do),” originally recorded by Stuart Hamblen, is updated in a pop direction yet retains its original intent.  

Elvis’ Christmas Album was a different direction for Elvis and ultimately a smart career choice. He attracted millions of new fans, with many being outside his teen base. It was also an excellent release that helped cement the Presley legacy, and remains listenable over fifty years later.

 

 

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About David Bowling

  • Jim Burrows

    Dear David,

    I loved your review of Elvis Christmas Album, the 1957 version, which none other than Phil Spector called the greatest Christmas rock album of all time. However I must correct you on one tiny fact. This was not the album that sold 9 million copies and which remains, to this day, the highest selling Christmas album in history.

    That record goes to Elvis’ Christmas album, the 1970 version, which has two songs that were dufferent and therefore, forced the RIAA, according to its rules, to have a separate sales count for it.

    So, the one your dad bought is certified 3X Platinum by the RIAA, which probably would make it land inside the list of the top twenty Christmas albums of all time but, as I said, the top seller of all time is still Elvis’ 1970 version, which is certified 9X Platinum by the RIAA.

    Here’s its tracklist

    BLUE CHRISTMAS
    SILENT NIGHT
    WHITE CHRISTMAS
    SANTA CLAUS IS BACK IN TOWN
    I’ll BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
    If everyday was like Chrsitmas
    HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS
    OH LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
    SANTA BRING MY BABY BACK (TO ME)
    Mama likes the roses.

    *Songs included in the original 1957 version are capitalized.

  • Jim Burrows

    Sorry, I meant your grand dad

  • http://irelandtoo.blogspot.com Maurice Colgan

    Many thanks David. A fine account of the 1957 “Elvis’ Christmas Album”. It was the first Vinyl I ever purchased back then. Very expensive at the time on these shores. The picture of Elvis on the UK and Ireland sleeve was different to the American version.

    The controversy at the time was a little over the top considering like you said, Elvis genuinely loved the Gospel music.

    Yes our parents bought that album……. a little later :-)

    Thanks Jim for the accuracy of your posts.

  • Fraser Penney

    That was a beautiful review of Elvis’ Christmas album.
    As a child growing up in the 70’s it was the only Elvis album I had, the later version, & so I knew just how precious Elvis’ voice was. Here was the King Of Rock’n’Roll but it was this gentler, and spiritual side to him I heard.
    More than anything it was Elvis that taught me the true meaning of Christmas thru the songs on the album.

  • Brian Quinn

    David,

    Thanks for the review of Elvis’Christmas Album. I still have the original release and it remains a perennial favourite.

    As a piece of constructive criticism I would just mention that the album cover shown in your article is not the Cristmas Album but ‘Elvis Live At Madison Square Garden’ recorded in 1972.

  • Jim Burrows

    I remember vividly listening to it, for the first time, at a friend’s house aa a group of three or four families got together on December 24th, 1961, when I was 11 years old, and hearing something about the controversy, from the parents as the night wore on, but what stuck in my mind ever since was the joy all of us kids felt as someone raised the volume the moment “Santa bring my baby back” began.

    Incredibly, I have no recollection of hearing “Santa Claus is back in town”, which remains, to this date, my all time Christmas favourite, and in my top ten list of Elvis songs, ever…

  • Carole

    “Santa Claus is Back in Town” is so HOT it is a wonder it doesn’t melt all the snow every winter!

    Love Elvis’ Christmas music and I think most everyone does. Elvis’ Christmas music has become an annual tradition of the season and a beautiful tradition it is!

  • Jim Burrows

    Presley had the ability to sing the blues, or songs that had similar elements painted all over it, like “Santa Claus is black in town” or, many years later “Steamroller Blues”, with a voice that sounded different every time.

    When another non-african american male singer, say, Eric Clapton, sings straight blues, you immediately notive he, or whoever else is singing, forces his registry to sound like an African american blues singer. nothing wrong with that, as long as it is a sincere delivery, a demostration of the person’s love for the blues.

    But, when Elvis sang the blues, he just presses the buttom, and out pops something that was stored in his mind since a very early age (in most cases, anyways), and then proceeds to deliver it with whatever voice he happens to have, at that precise moment.

    That’s why ” That’s all right”, “Good Rocking tonight”, “Milk Cow Blues”, “Baby, let’s play house”, Mystery train”, “My babe left me”. “So glad you’re mine”, “I need you so”, “Santa Claus is back in town”, “Reconsider Baby”, “Stranger in my own home town”, “Steamroller Blues” and “Merry Christmas, Baby”, to give but thirteen examples, all sound as if sang by a different singer.

    That’s why Elvis is Elvis…

  • Jim Burrows

    Then, there’s the Bob Dylan way of singing the blues, or songs that have the blues feeling. Like Elvis, he does not force the registry. He sings it his way. Unlike Elvis, he always ends up sounding the same, especially when singing the blues.

    And that’s another reason why Elvis is Elvis…(LOL)