There are many things in boomer cultural history that have lasted well beyond our Wonder Years to become classics in their own right, but perhaps none more prevalent this time of year than Christmas music from Elvis; more specifically, music from Elvis’ Christmas Album, originally released in 1957. No matter to which part of the Boomer Generation you belong, you probably have favorites and know the words to several of these songs, played annually on radio stations — and therefore our transistor radios and car radios — ever since the album first arrived.
The album was quintessential Elvis: a mix of blues, gospel and rock, with a flair that only the King could covey. The two sides of the record were divided between traditional and secular, with some standard classics and some written specifically for the record. Elvis could exercise his gospel chops on one side, and rock and blues his way through the other. It was reissued several times, including while Elvis was in the Army and was stationed in Germany.
Mister Boomer heard the songs annually on the radio, like most every other boomer. But his mother acquired the reissue of the album in 1970. When she wasn’t playing Andy Williams singing Ave Maria on the family “Victrola,” as she called the stereo (she called the refrigerator the “ice box,” so there you go), then her Christmas music of choice was the Elvis album.
Mister B was partial to the secular side. Three songs from that side were released as singles at various points in Elvis’ career, and they happen to be Mister B’s favorites from the album:
Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)
Santa Claus is Back in Town
Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) was commissioned for Elvis. The writers of the song, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, were also responsible for songs that became hits for Elvis and other people before him. The team wrote both Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock! And get this, the duo also was responsible for Santa Claus is Back In Town on the same album, written especially for Elvis!
The song, Blue Christmas, was around nearly a decade before Elvis recorded it. Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, it was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. That same year, Ernest Tubb released his version and had a hit with it. Subsequent releases, including orchestral instrumentals of this country-tinged classic, made it a staple on country stations at Christmastime. Elvis took it to the next level with his 1957 release. At this point, it’s Elvis who comes to mind when someone says, Blue Christmas. It is a cross-generational classic.
The traditional side had religious and pop Christmas standards, but was the side of the album that garnered the most controversy. Elvis patterned his arrangement of White Christmas after the doo wop version released by The Drifters in 1954. Their version of the song charted at R&B stations, but did not gain widespread radio airplay. Then Elvis’ version hit the airwaves. When Irving Berlin — yes, THAT Irving Berlin — heard his song performed by Elvis, he went ballistic. Bing Crosby had made White Christmas famous in 1942, and by the 1950s, it had attained classic status. So, Berlin thought Elvis was destroying his music. He called radio stations and tried to have the Elvis record banned from airplay. For the most part, stations ignored him, though some Canadian station chose not to play it.
OK, boomers! What is your favorite Elvis Christmas song? Did you have the 45 RPM singles or the album?