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Elvis' Christmas Album

Elvis' Christmas Album is the fourth album by Elvis Presley on RCA Victor Records, LPM 1951, released in October 1957, and recorded at Radio Recorders in Hollywood. It has been reissued in numerous different formats since its first release, issued initially in a deluxe limited edition, catalogue LOC 1035. It spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and was the first of two Christmas-themed albums Presley would record, the other being Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas, released in the early 1970s. As of 2007, Elvis' Christmas Album is the top-selling holiday release of all time with 9 million in sales, according to the RIAA.

Content

The original 1957 LP consisted of eight Christmas songs, and four gospel songs which had been previously released on the EP Peace in the Valley, catalogue EPA 4054, issued March 1957, peaking at #3 on the Pop albums chart and at #39 on the singles chart. The two album sides divided into a program of secular Christmas songs on side one, with two traditional Christmas carols and the gospel numbers on side two. Those included two spirituals by innovator Thomas A. Dorsey, "Peace in the Valley" and "Take My Hand, Precious Lord." Coincidentally, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra released the previous month by that other 1950s singing icon, also divided into a secular and a traditional side.

While most of the songs selected were traditional Christmas fare, such as "White Christmas" and "Silent Night," two new songs by regular suppliers of material for Presley were commissioned. One selected by Elvis to open the album, a blues-based rock and roll number "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. This writer/producer team was responsible for some of 1950s rhythm and blues and rock and roll's most finely-honed satire in their work with The Coasters, as well as penning "Hound Dog" for Willie Mae Thornton and providing Elvis with some of his biggest hits, including "Jailhouse Rock" and "Don't."

Elvis had asked the pair to come up with another Christmas song during sessions for the album; within a few minutes, they had the song written and ready for recording. Originally titled "Christmas Blues", this slyly risqué number is given a full-throated treatment by Elvis who, aided by the gritty ensemble playing from his band, was determined to ensure that this Christmas album would not be easily ignored. Much of the remaining program was performed in a more traditional manner appropriate to the solemnity of Christmas, although Elvis' innate sense of occasion shone through on his left-of-centre reading of Ernest Tubb's 1949 hit, "Blue Christmas."

Controversy

The Bing Crosby holiday perennial "White Christmas," which appeared every year on the Billboard charts from 1942 to 1962, became the center of controversy upon the album's release, with calls by the song's composer Irving Berlin to have the song, and the entire album, banned from radio airplay. After hearing Presley's version of his song, which Berlin saw as a "profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard", he ordered his staff in New York to telephone radio stations across the US, demanding the song be discontinued from radio play. While most US radio stations ignored Berlin's request, at least one disc jockey was fired for playing a song from the album, and most Canadian stations refused to play the album.

The controversy was, ironically, fuelled by Elvis' performance of the song in a style mirroring the version by Clyde McPhatter's group, The Drifters, which had been a Top 10 hit on the R&B singles chart in 1954 and 1955. Unlike Elvis' recording, however, their version attracted virtually no adverse reaction, and certainly no reported opposition from Irving Berlin. Part of the reason that The Drifters' version of White Christmas was less controversial was because that version was played only on black radio stations. Most mainstream stations did not take interest in The Drifters' version back then, and would not until the 1980s.

45 RPM releases

The other new composition on the album, "Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me)" was paired with "Santa Claus Is Back In Town", and issued as a UK single concurrently with the album's release. The single reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart in November 1957.

No US singles were issued from the album until 1964, when "Blue Christmas" was paired with "Wooden Heart," and failed to chart; however, a pairing of "Blue Christmas" b/w "White Christmas" became a Top 20 UK hit in late 1964. "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"/"Blue Christmas" was a 1965 single release for the US market, but also failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100.

Two different EPs, Elvis Sings Christmas Songs, EPA 4108 in December 1957, and Christmas With Elvis, EPA 4340 in December 1958, divided the eight Christmas numbers between them. The former topped the newly established Billboard EP Chart, while the latter failed to chart.

Reissues

Elvis' Christmas Album was reissued a year after its first release, replacing the iconic cover of the original with a close-up of Elvis' face as he posed against an outdoor, snowy backdrop. The album continued to reach the album charts each year until 1962, eventually selling more than three million units worldwide.

The original Elvis' Christmas Album was out of print by the late 1960s. Interest in the album prompted RCA to re-release it in an altered version on its budget label RCA Camden in 1970. This version eliminated the four gospel tracks from Peace in the Valley, and added the 1966 holiday single "If Every Day Was Like Christmas," along with the 1970 non-seasonal b-side "Mama Liked The Roses," issued as the flip to Elvis' top ten single "The Wonder of You." With ten tracks and a shorter running time, it fit the standard for the budget label issues. The religious and secular Christmas songs were also mixed together. The initial cover of this revised version echoed that of the 1958 reissue, except a more recent mid-60s vintage photograph of Presley was used.

In the mid-1970s, RCA leased the rights to some of its Camden catalog to the budget label Pickwick Records, which reissued the record in 1975 with yet another cover design, Elvis' face from the RCA Camden version surrounded by ribbons. During the Holiday season after Presley's death in 1977 The Pickwick LP was advertised and sold on television via mail order to enormous sales. RCA soon reclaimed the reissue rights to its Camden line. The revised album, with its Pickwick cover art continued to be in print until the late 1980s, re-released again in 1985 as It's Christmas Time, after which time RCA reissued the original 1957 version with its original cover art on LP and compact disc. The original 1957 version on CD has recently gone out of print, but all of the tracks are available on other compilations of Presley's Christmas recordings, Christmas Peace from 2003, and Elvis Christmas from 2006. All the album's songs are also included in the 1992 boxed set The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50s Masters. In late 2007, Speaker's Corner Records from Germany reissued the album on a high quality heavy vinyl pressing; this reissue also featured the original album cover from 1957.

Personnel

Track listing

Chart positions for LPs and EPs from Billboard Top Pop Albums chart; positions for singles from Billboard Pop Singles chart.

Side One

Track Recorded Song Title Writer(s) Time
1. 9/7/57 Santa Claus Is Back In Town Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller 2:22
2. 9/6/57 White Christmas Irving Berlin 2:23
3. 9/6/57 Here Comes Santa Claus Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman 1:54
4. 9/7/57 I'll Be Home for Christmas Buck Ram, Kim Gannon, Walter Kent 1:53
5. 9/5/57 Blue Christmas Bill Hayes and Jay Johnson 2:07
6. 9/7/57 Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) Aaron Schroeder and Claude DeMetruis 1:54

Side Two

Track Recorded Original EP Issue Catalogue Release Date Chart Peak Song Title Writer(s) Time
1. 9/7/57 O Little Town of Bethlehem Phillips Brooks and Lewis H. Redner 2:35
2. 9/6/57 Silent Night Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber 2:23
3. 1/13/57 Peace in the Valley EPA 4054 3/57 #3 (There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me) Thomas A. Dorsey 3:22
4. 1/12/57 Peace in the Valley EPA 4054 3/57 #3 I Believe Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman 2:05
5. 1/13/57 Peace in the Valley EPA 4054 3/57 #3 Take My Hand, Precious Lord Thomas A. Dorsey 3:16
6. 1/19/57 Peace in the Valley EPA 4054 3/57 #3 It Is No Secret (What God Can Do) Stuart Hamblen 3:53

Camden/Pickwick Reissue

Side One

Track Recorded Original LP Issue Catalogue Release Date Chart Peak Song Title Writer(s) Time
1. 9/5/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 Blue Christmas Bill Hayes and Jay Johnson 2:07
2. 9/6/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 Here Comes Santa Claus Gene Autry and Oakley Haldeman 1:54
3. 9/6/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 White Christmas Irving Berlin 2:23
4. 9/7/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 Santa Claus Is Back In Town Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller 2:22
5. 9/7/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 I'll Be Home for Christmas Buck Ram, Kim Gannon, Walter Kent 1:53

Side Two

Track Recorded Original LP Issue Catalogue Release Date Chart Peak Song Title Writer(s) Time
1. 6/10/66 47-9056 11/15/66 If Every Day Was Like Christmas Red West 2:42
2. 9/6/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 Silent Night Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber 2:23
3. 9/7/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 O Little Town of Bethlehem Phillips Brooks and Lewis H. Redner 2:35
4. 9/7/57 Elvis' Christmas Album LPM 1951 10/15/57 #1 Santa Bring My Baby Back (to Me) Aaron Schroeder and Claude DeMetruis 1:54
5. 1/15/69 47-9835b 4/20/70 Mama Liked the Roses John Christopher 2:47
"If Every Day Was Like Christmas" recorded at RCA Studio B in Nashville, and "Mama Liked The Roses" at American Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

Notes

References

  • Guralnick, Peter. The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50s Masters, insert booklet. RCA 66050-2, 1992.
  • Guralnick, Peter. From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential 60s Masters, insert booklet. RCA 66160-2, 1993.
  • Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1994; ISBN 0-316-91020-1
  • Hopkins, Jerry. Elvis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1971; ISBN 0-671-20973-6
  • Jorgenson, Ernst. Elvis Presley: A Life In Music — The Complete Recording Sessions. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998; ISBN 0-312-18572-3
  • Wolfe, Charles. Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas, liner notes. BMG Australia Limited, 7863664822, 1994.
  • White Christmas by Irving Berlin

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