Today marks the 81st birthday of The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. It also marks 352 days until Christmas in our countdown.
Elvis needs no introduction or even explanation. He was revolutionary. Today’s youth are now so far distant from classic Christmas artists such as Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Elvis that they may be dismissive of them all as merely crooners long dead. They simply don’t know what ground breaking pioneers they all were in their time and how the public wildly reacted to their work.
None of them created a stir more than Elvis. He was a badass of the first order.
And, thankfully, in his contributions to Christmas music, Elvis didn’t back down from what made him The King.
During his lifetime Elvis won three Grammys — all for gospel songs. Given his love of gospel music it is easy to assume Presley would take to Christmas easily. His first Christmas album, 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, was released right at the peak of his popularity and right in the middle of his shocking assault on traditional American sensibilities. His national television appearances on the Milton Berle Show and the Ed Sullivan Show caused a sensation, earning Elvis millions of new fans and critics who took to calling him “Elvis the Pelvis”.
By the time it became known that Elvis would put out a Christmas album many were nervous about what he would do to tradition holiday favorites.
Like Sinatra, who launched his own Christmas album just a month or two before, Elvis’ album divided Christmas secular from sacred music — with the new stuff on side one and the traditional music on side two of the album. It wasn’t Elvis’ renditions of Silent Night or O Little Town of Bethlehem that got motors going, kids. Christmas 1957 came when Elvis was just Elvis.
Elvis took on the secular anthem White Christmas on side one and immediately caused a fuss. He was clearly no Bing Crosby. Songwriter Irving Berlin was incensed, going so far as to call radio stations around the country begging them not to play it. Elvis reacted with a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?”
What fans wanted and what they got was Elvis singing an original — Santa Claus is Back in Town — a bluesy rock-and-roll standard that was risque and wildly suggestive. The song is now consider one of the top 20 essential holiday rock-n-roll songs of all time by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me and Blue Christmas were both additional singles from that 1957 album that have gone on to enjoy constant replay even today. In fact, the original release and the occasional re-releases of Elvis’ Christmas Album have made it the top selling Christmas album of all time, certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America, the only Christmas album ever to achieve that status.
Elvis released a second Christmas album in 1971 titled Elvis sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, which has done well over the years too, certified triple Platinum some 20 years ago. Though not as popular as his first and far more traditional for Christmas music the album continues to sell well just because it is Elvis.
So it is hard to pass by the birthday of The King and not give him a nod in our countdown to Christmas.