From the first time I heard it, I've always loved the rhythm provided by bass player Norbert Putnam and drummer Jerry Carrigan, David Briggs strumming on the piano and the bluesy harmonica, courtesy of Charlie McCoy. And above it all, Elvis altogether at home with the song, delivering an impassioned performance, urging his fellow musicians along. This is how Ernst Jorgensen describes the recording in his book A Life In Music:
Pushing everyone else to eke as much emotion out of the song as he was ("Dig in, James," he cajoled; "Wake up, Putt"), he cruised through more than six minutes on the first take. There was ease and menace and delight in Elvis's after-hours performance, and the result has led more than one observer to lament that it wasn't a blues album rather than a Christmas album that had brought them together that night.In fact, the take lasted about eight minutes, and listening to the complete studio performance as released on Memories Of Christmas (1982) it's evident that Elvis doesn't want to let go of the song, repeating the lyrics over and over. "Well, I'm feeling mighty fine," he sings, and it's obvious that he does.
When originally released on the album Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas in October 1971, "Merry Christmas Baby" was edited down to 5 minutes and 45 seconds and featured an overdubbed guitar solo by Eddie Hinton. The single release a month later (coupled with "O Come, All Ye Faithful") was a minute and a half shorter than on the album.
An edited version with strings overdubbed (2:49) was used in the movie This Is Elvis from 1981 and can be found on the soundtrack (not yet released on CD). Four years later, in 1985, "Merry Christmas Baby" closed the excellent blues compilation Reconsider Baby (1985), this time a long edit without guitar overdub running for about 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Interestingly enough, this edit was included instead of the original one when Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas was released on CD.
Later this month will see the release of the FTD version of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas. According to the track list the second CD will include "Merry Christmas Baby" - take 1 (unedited version) with a running time of 8 minutes and 29 seconds. My guess is that those extra 30 seconds will turn out to be the studio banter described by Ernst Jorgensen in A Life In Music: "Just run through it a couple of times, Elvis told the rhythm section; "I'll come in somewhere."
Read about two other Christmas favorites with Elvis:
- "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" (posted August 26, 2011)
- "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day" (posted December 24, 2008)
- Wake Up, Putt! (posted March 20, 2010)