(With Christmas upon us, here is a review I wrote five years ago of Elvis Presley’s best Christmas moment, including “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back”… Merry Christmas from Elvis and rock nyc)
It is October 1957 and Elvis Presley’s career has become what it was. Following hard on a movie soundtrack, Colonel Parker and RCA hatchet nab Steven Stoles provide a genre exercise for album number four, to pick up whatever is missing. Twelve songs, which seems generous enough, but four of the songs, the Gospel ones, had been previously released as the Peace in the Valley EP, so we are really looking at eight fresh tracks.
The album is split in two, Side One is secular Christmas songs, Side two is Christian carols and Gospel songs. That it survives as one of the greatest Christmas albums ever, as well a grab bag of musical styles, all of them things that Presley is imminently capable of, is simply another nod to his God like infallibility here.
Side one opens up with Lieber-Stoller in dirty blues mode on “Santa Clause Is Back In Town”, yes, you read right, “It’s Christmas time pretty baby…” is Presley all hard on and come on, he slinks through the song like the snake in garden of Eden. “White Christmas” is generic enough except for one thing, he updates Da Bings signature pleading warble by giving it a swagger and a suggestiveness -it is both religious and irreverent and though, at 22 years of age, he misses the longing of da Bing, it is a vocal plaything for him, as he works on echo and jazz inflections in the break and winks often enough for it to be a modernization that remains true and a sop to your parents.
But it is the full blooded pure pop of “Blue Christmas” that is a pure shot of Presley’s skills in 1957. If it wasn’t a great song, it would be a great song anyway, this is what Presley does: he lives in entirely to the moment. Listening to it now, it sounds as filled with loss and beauty as it did nearly 60 years ago. The song is just devastating in its beauty and it is again Presley’s greatest gift: it is so completely sincere.
The best song ends the first side, “Santa Bring My Baby (Back To Me)” deserves to be discussed in the same breath as “Christmas (Baby Please come Home)”. Put it right next to “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, or even “Paralyzed”. Pop masterpieces of the highest order, one part novelty, two part pop ballad. So charming, they jump off the stereo and wrap you in warmth. It is the definition of good vibes.
If the first side is an “A+” the second side is an “A-“. The two carols that kick it off are fine but too well known, the four Gospel songs are beyond gorgeous and yet their innocence is a little off putting, he seems to caress them without letting the perplexities of faith weigh them down enough.
Altogether, a must own album that sounds as good today as it will 60 years from now. A timeless Christmas album.
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