16 December 2008

Elvis' Christmas Album

Reissue of Elvis’ Christmas Album Essential
By Kristin Battestella
Elvis' Christmas AlbumI grew up with four Christmas compact discs (we won’t mention the slew of records). One of them was, of course, Elvis’ Christmas Album. You’ve most likely not had a holiday season without it either, considering the 1957 release has sold an estimated nine million copies. Why then is this CD out of print? It’s just not Christmas without that red cover adored with Christmas Presents and Elvis’ face-for those folks who swear their mall’s Santa is The King.

Santa Claus Is Back In Town starts the set off in proper rock and roll fashion. This original composition has everything we love about Elvis and the way his music changed the medium forever. I don’t like a lot of secular tunes, but Elvis isn’t poking fun like I feel some of today’s bubble gum pop are doing. Great lyrics and delivery here. You know you’re going to have a good time listening just from this opener.

After the humorous chit chat to start the track, Elvis treats us to a bluesy rendition of White Christmas. More in the spirit of The Drifters than Bing Crosby, this tune has just as much singability and is equally familiar. The arrangement works for Elvis and his voice and style.

Here Comes Santa Claus continues the fun, upbeat vibe. Elvis adds more rock to this country tune. Even though the original LP was divided with the secular songs on side A and the religious material on the flipside, Elvis’ delivery give strength and Christmas meaning to each song. “Santa knows that we’re God’s children…” you can’t help but finish the whole verse!

I’ll Be Home For Christmas is the first slow tune from Elvis. His beloved Love Me Tender and Are You Lonesome Tonight vibes take on a new lonely feeling here. Perhaps there are better known renditions or superior vocalists that have taken on this track, but here Elvis’ slow blues and even a bit of cracking notes sell the holiday melancholy.

Elvis’ Blue Christmas is just that. It’s sad and tugging at your heartstrings along with that bluesy guitar, yet somehow makes this touch of melancholy fun. Who would have thought Blue Christmas would be the chance to let loose? Anyone can call themselves an Elvis impersonator just by saying ‘BlueBlueBlue Christmas.’

The single Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me is still great for a holiday dance party. Although it’s very short at under two minutes, it’s a catchy little tune in the spirit of Elvis’ rock repertoire.
After such hip tunes, Elvis’ Christmas Album presents several traditional carol and gospel tracks. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem slows things down, but Elvis is able to take his time. His singing range is spotlighted here with long, low notes and powerful lyrics.

Silent Night continues the Christmas lullaby feeling. It’s so slow and enchanting with Elvis’ usual backers The Jordanaires harmonizing sweetly beside him. One might think such soft sounds are meant for a meaningful finish, but Silent Night is placed nearer the middle of the album. The placement here, however, works, because we close out with a set of powerfully soft religious tunes. I imagine back in the day this was done for strategic reasons and market appeal, but this grouping allows for pause after all the hip rock and Christmas fun songs.

Today it’s a little surprising to conclude Elvis’ Christmas Album with four gospel tracks. There’s more traditional fair to be had, of course, and the total album is rather short at thirty minutes. Most singers today wouldn’t mix genres-not on the same album anyway-but in the fifties it seems it would have been more acceptable somehow, with other artists like Kate Smith and Frank Sinatra recording religious music as well as pop. These songs are, of course, now Christmas staples to me because of this album.

Peace In The Valley is a beautiful song itself lyrically, but Elvis’ low vibes and echoes again from The Jordanaires do make this a perfect song. It’s the dead of winter, nature’s darkest hour coupled with near a capella talk of lions laying with lambs, changes ‘from this creature that I am’, no sadness, and no sorrow. Truly lovely Christmas sentiments.

I Believe continues the Christian ideals and highlight of Elvis’ voice. As much fun as the pop tunes feel and sound, there’s something extra about Elvis’ gospel music. When he says I Believe, you believe him. Even when Elvis nearly cracks towards the end of the song, its okay. He didn’t mess up. On the contrary it makes each note more meaningful.

We’re treated to more of the same with Take My Hand Precious Lord. Normally I would find such seemingly redundant tunes annoying, but taken together, these final four tracks are quite the religious statement. Peace in Valley shows the joys promised, I Believe the faith it takes, Take My Hand the love of Christ, and finally It Is No Secret What God Can Do as the final witness.

It Is No Secret What God Can Do is a fitting place to conclude Elvis’ Christmas Album. It’s words are the perfect place of reflection at midnight on Christmas Eve, and Elvis’ range is perfect. During the chorus the King of Rock and Roll can awe us with his vocals. On the verses, however, it’s as if Elvis is speaking directly to you. Elvis, himself a spiritual person, makes quite a statement with these closing tunes. Sure we have all that about Santa Claus and presents, but Elvis’ Christmas Album keeps the reason for the season at heart.
After years of success and the keeping of holiday memories, I was surprised to see that Elvis’ Christmas Album is now out of print. These recordings are of course available on other sets-including Christmas Peace, Elvis Christmas, and I also love Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas- but the pull of this iconic album reeks with the distaste of special ultimate super duper edition re releases that are for the sake of sales, not holiday tradition. Hang on to those cassettes and LPs, folks!
Elvis’ Christmas Album is an essential listen in your household this holiday season. Even if your not a Presley fan, you can sing, dance, get spiritual, remember the old, and make new memories with this Christmas staple.

No comments: