Boomers Loved Elvis Christmas Music

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)
Blue Christmas
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?

Boomers Continue to Live in “Interesting Times”

As this year inches toward its inevitable calendar end, it has certainly been one for the history books. This is nothing new to boomers; the old sentiment of May you live in interesting times appears tailor-made for our generation. Boomers have been eyewitness to history since the first boomers appeared in 1946. Our current historical happenings continue the trajectory.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about what happened 50 years ago. It blows Mister B’s mind to contemplate that the year 1970 was 50 years ago! Here are a few interesting tidbits of history from 1970 –– and especially from November of 1970 — 50 years ago this month. See if you remember:

• The population of the country, according to the 1970 U.S. Census, was 204,765,770.

• The median price of a home was between $22,000 and $25,700.

• Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company) was chartered by Congress.

Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.

• The final episode of I Dream of Jeannie aired, after a five-year run on TV.

• The first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in the U.S. was unveiled at a bank in Buffalo, New York.

... and in November of 1970 …

• Tom Dempsey set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in a game against the Detroit Lions (November 8). Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and had a special shoe created, which enabled his record-breaking kicking career.

Layla by Derek & the Dominoes (featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman) was released (November 9). Written by Eric Clapton, it was featured on the double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

• Charles de Gaulle died (November 9). He was a general who led the French forces against the Nazis during WWII, and became part of the provisional government of France after the war. Mister B’s only connection was that his family was on vacation, visiting Expo 67 in Montreal when Charles de Gaulle appeared there and said, “Vive le Quebec libre!” (“Long live free Quebec!”) to the assembled crowd outside Montreal City Hall. It caused a great deal of consternation because there was a separatist movement in French-speaking Quebec at the time.

• The Soviet Union successfully launched, landed and deployed a robotic rover on the moon, Lunokhod 1 (Moonwalker 1; November 17). Just one year after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, it was the first such device employed on the moon. Nicknamed “the bathtub” for its shape and size, its mission lasted ten months. Powered by solar energy, the rover took the nights off, using a thermal energy heater to keep from freezing. The rover was controlled by operators in the Soviet Union, paving the way for future non-manned missions by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon and beyond.

• The court martial of Lieutenant William Calley began (November 17). He was the U.S. Army commander during the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam in March of 1968, when Calley and soldiers under his command were accused of killing 300 unarmed civilian men, women and children in the village of My Lai. Calley had asserted his orders to destroy the village came from his superior company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, who was nearby. Calley was the only person put on trial for murder. In all, thirteen officers and enlisted men were tried for war crimes, and another twelve officers were charged in the coverup that followed. After being convicted in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison, his sentence was reduced to twenty years, then again to ten years, following appeals. Calley was released in 1974.

What events stick in your mind from 50 years ago, boomers?