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.