CCM Classic Blog

The King of Rock & Roll Leads us Into Christmas:by Philip Mayaab

It is the final week of the "official" Christmas season, and with it comes our final Christmas edition of Vinyl Revival.  I have to confess, I do not own enough Christmas albums on vinyl...most of what I have are on compact discs.  When trying to lay out a battle plan for Vinyl Revival this Christmas season, I was hoping to have enough Christmas vinyl to share with you during the five weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  The final week's LP is one that is not a "Christian" Christmas recording, but it is the best selling holiday album in music history, and is considered by many music pundits (myself included) to be a Christmas "must have" recording, regardless of which format you own.  I wish I owned one of the original prints of it from 1957...it is worth a LOT of money, but my copy was printed in 1964.  In case you're wondering, our final vinyl of the 2018 Christmas season is "Elvis' Christmas Album".

This will be the third time we have featured Elvis on Vinyl Revival this year.  Even though he will forevermore be "The King Of Rock And Roll", Elvis Presley had an extensive spiritual background, that was quite prevalent in his music.  His three gospel albums all won Grammy awards, mainly because  the quality was head and shoulders above any other Christian album at the time.  His Christmas album is no exception - according to Billboard Magazine "Elvis' Christmas Album" is the biggest selling Christmas long play album of all time, and it is the only holiday album in history to be certified as a diamond platinum album, meaning it has sold over 10,000,000 copies. Truth be told, there are probably many contributing factors to those staggering sales numbers.  The album has been reissued by RCA Records no telling how many times, there have been mono versions, stereo versions, colored vinyl versions (those are worth some pretty big bucks too), and well, you get the picture.

But no matter how you break the numbers down, no other Christmas album in history has sold more units than Presley's.  In comparison, Billboard lists Kenny G's 1994 juggernaut "Miracles A Holiday Album" (which we have also played on CCM Classic) as the second biggest Christmas recording of all time, selling just under 7,500,000 copies, so it's not even close.  Even with all of the different versions of Elvis' Christmas Album available, the biggest reason for the phenomenal sales numbers is that the album is just plain good. When it was recorded, Presley was the biggest entertainer in the world, and he certainly had proven that he had the Midas touch.  Despite the backlash in America against his stage performances, which had earned him the nickname "Elvis The Pelvis" (sad, isn't it?), Elvis continued to sell records at a pace that no one else in the newly emerging rock and roll genre could match, which made the timing of this album's release all the more amazing.

It has been said that part of the purpose of releasing this Christmas LP was a public relations move aimed at toning down Elvis' public persona, and trying to break him free from the opinion that he was a wild individual.  What better way to do that than to release an album of Christmas music, and as a special bonus add four gospel songs?  I cannot say whether or not this album changed the public's view of Elvis, I was not  born until 10 years after this album was released.  What I can tell you is that few, if any, other Christmas albums are regarded as highly as Presley's, if you don't believe me, Google it, and see for yourself.  This album has a sense of "cool" to it that no other Christmas album of its day possessed, and even now, that coolness still shines through in many of the songs and arrangements presented on the album.  Side one of the album consisted of mainly contemporary Christmas songs...White Christmas was the oldest song on that side, and it had been written 16 years earlier.  Three of the tracks, Santa Claus Is Back In Town, Blue Christmas, and Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me), were originals written specifically for Elvis, so the record company and its executives went out of their way to make sure that even though it was a Christmas album, it still maintained Presley's image as the King Of Rock in a major way.   Side two was where things started to get very interesting, with two traditional Christmas carols, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem and Silent Night opening the side, and then the four gospel songs finishing out the disc.

 The gospel performances drew mixed reviews at the time, some radio stations in North America went so far as to ban the Christmas album entirely from the airwaves, as a response to Elvis recording them. Thomas A. Dorsey's classic "(There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)" is one of the fans' favorite gospel recordings in Presley's catalog, and Elvis was so happy with the recording that he butted heads with the producers of The Ed Sullivan Show in order to perform the song on television.   "I Believe" was a statement of Elvis' personal faith in God, and the performance is stone cold good, even by modern standards.  Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" is the third gospel song on the album, and was actually used as the centerpiece of an episode of "Touched By An Angel" many years ago, in fact every time I hear Elvis' recording of this song,  I instantly think of that particular show.  Closing out the set of gospel music was legendary writer Stuart Hamblen's classic "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)", which is, in my opinion at least, one the finest covers of the song I have ever heard. Of course, there is a HUGE contrast in the music on side one of this album, and the contents of side two. Where side one is the rocking portion of the collection (Santa Claus Is Back In Town is just straight up 50s rock, only with Christmas lyrics), side two is more subdued and reflective, especially the gospel portion.  The side two arrangements are minimal...Elvis, accompanied by only The Jordanaires, a piano, guitar, and bass (no drums), but they still present the hipness that Presley exuded like nobody else.  

There was a day and age when no Christian media outlet would even dare consider playing this entire album. Maybe the two carols on side two might have made it onto the airwaves of a Christian station during the Christmas season, but probably nothing else.  Over the years however, many people's views of albums like this have evolved to the place where they have no trouble listening to Christmas albums and songs recorded by mainstream artists like Elvis.  Let's face it, "Blue Christmas" is still one of the coolest Christmas songs around, and the arrangement on "White Christmas" on this album still sounds great, plus there is a really neat recording of Elvis and Amy Grant doing the song from a Elvis Christmas CD that was released a few years ago, if you ever get a chance, check it out sometime.  Anyway, I hope you will enjoy Christmas' all time bestselling album this week on Vinyl Revival, and just have some fun with it. You know, with all the stress we seem to deal with at Christmas time, something like Elvis' Christmas Album may be just what you need to put a smile on your face, and help put the Christmas spirit back in to your heart. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!!

TRACKLIST

Side One - 

1. Santa Claus Is Back In Town

2. White Christmas

3. Here Comes Santa Clause (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)

4. I'll Be Home For Christmas

5. Blue Christmas

6. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)

Side Two - 

1. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem

2. Silent Night

3. (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley (For Me)

4. I Believe

5. Take My Hand, Precious Lord

6. It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)

One final side note...there is a hilarious cover of Porky Pig doing "Blue Christmas" on the internet...if you want a gigantic laugh, look it up online, and if you can get through it without laughing, your sense of humor needs an overhaul! 



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