24 December 2011

More Elvis Christmas Music!

Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas and His Christmas Album, Again!
By Kristin Battestella

Originally released in 1957, Elvis’ Christmas Album was so good; they just had to keep reissuing it!  I’ve chatted about the original proper previously, but as we can’t ever really get enough of Elvis at Christmas; here are a few thoughts on the 1971 LP Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas and those pesky Elvis’ Christmas Album reissues, too.

O Come All Ye Faithful and The First Noel open Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas in unique but reverent fashion. Though Elvis seems to be struggling just a bit, both deliveries are soul felt. Faithful’s unusual rock opera type arrangement and the country church tone for Noel are a touch of seventies, but also old school good.  After such a heavy religious aspect on his previous Christmas album, I must say it is a bit odd that these are the only two carols here.  I wonder why? On a Snowy Christmas Night allows more time for Elvis to take it easy and still have a seasonal spiritual message. The flow here is much more suited to his style, and thus this track sounds a lot less dated even though it carries the same power and choir of the opening two sessions.

 Winter Wonderland also gets to have some fun with a little hillbilly rock guitar jazzing up this staple along with Elvis’ bluesy voice. The titular The Wonderful World of Christmas has the most traditional sounding style here, recalling more old school winters of yore. Ironically, it’s not how the rest of the album sounds at all. It Won’t Seem Like Christmas carries more of a Kentucky Rain light feeling with lots of mellow soul and Christmas romance.  It is a ballad that seems solely meant just for Elvis in many ways. Though not all original compositions, most of the tracks here aren’t very well known or at the very least, feel Elvis exclusive and that is not a bad thing.

Side B continues with the similarly titled I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day and If I Get Home on Christmas Day. You would think they would have placed them further apart in the listing, but I digress. I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day puts the back up singers aside and let’s Elvis get singer/songwriter seventies country gospel as only he can.  It’s only fault is it doesn’t sound that much like a Christmas song and some of the lyrics are tough to understand. Oh, this is a love lost and coming home tale that just happens to be on 12/25? If I Get Home On Christmas Day is a little easier, breezy, and able to understand or sing along to, but it also doesn’t feel as timeless as the essentials from Elvis’ Christmas Album. Both are certainly likeable listens for Elvis fans, but they are too of the moment in seventies soul arrangement. Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees suffers much of the same.  Elvis sound good and mentions the titular seasonal obligations, but it’s more of that same Kentucky Rain power. 

Thankfully, Merry Christmas Baby rocks it up a bit.  Elvis gets down and naughty here in true guitar bluesy fashion. Though it is odd, I must say, for one who often kept his hip jiving rock and gospel music separate, to have this combination of sexy Yule, but it works. This is the Elvis we expect, and Merry Christmas Baby stands out wonderfully unlike the rest of Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas’ same same. Silver Bells slows the seasonal down for the finale, and Elvis has room to hold the notes above the choir for a solid traditional finish.  Perhaps because I didn’t grow up with this record as much as Elvis’ Christmas Album, it isn’t as classic to me.  Outside of a few staples, one might not even notice this was a Christmas album- which is perfect for more causal fans who don’t want his earlier gospel Christmas sound. Actually, if you pick and choose your favorite individual downloads, fans can listen to the essence of Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas anytime of year. Yes, some may find this slightly tired Elvis pseudo Christmas sound a bad thing- and if it were anyone else, I’d agree. Fortunately, these tunes are still soft seasonal sweetness for a rotating holiday dinner playlist.  Elvis die-hards, fans of his later sound, seventies soul lovers, and those in need of secular delights can take up Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas again and again.  Those who like their carols traditional should stick with the 1957 album, but at least Elvis offers the best of both worlds!

Of course, unlike the entirely unique Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, the 1958 reissue of Elvis’ Christmas Album is just that, a re-release with an identical line up to the original record.  This RCA issue is the one with the snowy blue cover sleeve, which is probably more iconic for some than the original red presents edition that subsequently returned for the brief CD release. I have a picture of my parents from the Christmas before they were married, and you can clearly see this album in the background, no lie!  The 1970 Pickwick redo record, however, shakes things up a bit- and not just with its jazzy red ribbons on the album cover.  While Blue Christmas, Silent Night, and White Christmas are retained among others from the original 1957 Elvis’ Christmas Album, they sound somewhat different here.  There’s no information of a rerecording or use of alternate takes- understandable on an obscure record, but not for Elvis- so maybe it’s just me being used to the CD versions.  That and this record might just be really flat!  After all, one shouldn’t actually play Elvis records anymore- just display them.  

Unfortunately, the four B-side gospel tracks are gone from this 10 tune, paired down Pickwick set, having been replaced with If Everyday Was Just Like Christmas and Mama Liked the Roses.  While If Everyday Was Just Like Christmas pays for the affordable price of admission on the reissue with its heartfelt sentimentality, Mama Liked the Roses is an odd selection for a Christmas album.  It’s a nice memorial ditty indeed, but it’s just a bit out of place.  Then again, I suppose some might have found the gospel inclusions on Elvis’ Christmas Album in 1957 unusual, but are they not quintessential holiday listens now? 

Collectors of the record editions can find Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas or the Pickwick do over if you search long enough, but fortunately, you don’t have to keep on such valuable vinyl Yule after Yule. The Christmas Peace and Elvis Christmas CDs combine all Elvis’ holiday music in one convenient place, and digital options and MP3 downloads make it much easier to keep your seasonal Presley favorites handy.  Though dated with some unique sounds and track choices, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas is perfect for fans of a soulful secular season, and seriously, there is no reason to not have any version of Elvis’ Christmas Album handy every December


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