For this installment of The People’s Albums, I thought I’d take a little detour and dive into America’s best selling Christmas/Holiday album. And in that regard, I must thank God that this album exists. Otherwise, the best-selling Christmas album would be Miracles: The Christmas Album by that rat bastard Kenny G.
Album: Elvis’ Christmas Album
Artist: Elvis Presley
Release Date: October 15, 1957
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 10 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Loves Being Reminded Of A Jolly Fat Man On Christmas
It’s a little strange that Elvis Presley hasn’t and won’t be showing up anywhere on the official countdown of The People’s Albums. Especially considering that apart from The Beatles, he’s the best-selling artist in the history of recorded music. But this becomes less surprising when you take into account that Elvis was more of a quantity-over-quality guy in terms of albums, which has led to him being regarded as more of a “singles artist”, even though he still put out a handful of classic albums. But when we’re talking about Christmas, that most American of holidays, it should come as no surprise that Americans would turn to an album by one of the towering figures in our country’s music.
Yet despite Elvis’ status as one of the iconic figures in American music, even more than say a Frank Sinatra or Louis Armstrong, he’s always seemed like a man of the people. Like the kind of guy that you could spend a fun Christmas with — unwrapping lavish presents while getting sloppy with the eggnog, right before curling up by the fire with an oversized sandwich. Also, I think he’s one of those few artists that everyone in any given family can admit to liking (or at least not hating) when picking out what Christmas tunes to put on the stereo. And what better way to spend a holiday that’s all about warmth and family than with the guy who’s more or less the goofy uncle of American popular music?
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
The remarkable thing about Elvis’ Christmas Album is that despite the inherent kitsch-iness of being a Christmas album, it manages to capture an artist in the most fruitful and exciting part of his career. This isn’t some kind of half-assed cash grab Holiday album that you’d expect from Rod Stewart or Donny Osmond. No, this is Elvis when he was just learning how to harness the raw power of rock n’ roll through his signature hillbilly croon – but you know, with the spirit of Christmas.
Obviously the sound here isn’t quite as lively as say, The Sun Sessions, but there’s still a pretty bare bones approach to the songs that keeps them from reaching into the kind of schmaltziness that’d soon start to seep in to Elvis’ music. I think you could even argue that with the album’s opening track “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”, Elvis managed to lay down the blueprint for all future rock musicians on how to record a Christmas song without compromising your sound. And then of course there’s “Blue Christmas”, which is one of the all-time great sad-sack Christmas songs.
The thing that now feels a little weird about this album is that its two sides are split into two categories: secular Christmas songs on side one, and religious Christmas songs on side two. And I think I’d be fine with Elvis mixing in a few of the more religious-based Christmas songs with your typical Christmas cheer. It’s just that songs like “I Believe” and “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” are straight-up about God, while Christmas doesn’t even seem like part of the equation. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that these religious songs make me uncomfortable or anything, since to this day Christmas Eve is the one day a year I end up going to church — so I’m willing to accept Christianity’s role in the holiday. But it’s still a little jarring to hear the album take such a sharp turn, especially when the different sides of albums being treated as their own separate entities isn’t really a thing anymore.
Would I Pay Money For This?
You betcha, mama.
Good Christmas albums are hard enough to find, but ones that are recorded while an artist is in the middle of literally re-writing music history is unheard of. And yeah, the fact that this album gets all Christ-y towards the end is a little weird. But to hear that unmistakable voice belt out standards like “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” in addition to Elvis’ now-classic Christmas rockers is well worth the price of admission.