Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Songs For You From Elvis

Front cover of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas.

Elvis' Christmas songs always play an important role in getting into the Christmas spirit for me. This is especially helpful when living in Gothenburg, Sweden, where rain is more common than snow in the winter. So, since the beginning of December, I have been busy playing the undubbed Christmas tracks on the recently released Elvis Back In Nashville 4-CD set featuring his 1971 Nashville recordings.

Listening to them for the first time, I was reminded of my review of the FTD's treatment of Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, released ten years ago. I looked it up, and, among other things, this is what I had to say:

With the help of outtakes not being overdubbed in any way, it reveals a more intimate and sensitive side of the Christmas recordings that took place in Nashville during two nights in May, 1971. 

The same holds true for the Christmas masters, that without overdubs, form a softer and gentler version of the 1971 seasonal album, as my brother wisely points out in his recent review of the Elvis Back In Nashville set (the track order is the same as on Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas). One such an example is "On A Snowy Christmas Night," where an organ and some beautiful acoustic guitar playing that was buried in overdubs on the original release, lends the song a more delicate feel. 

In the same way, "It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You)" and "Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees" both work extremely well undubbed, sounding more sorrowful than before. Even the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" offers a more sincere listening experience without the strings, horns and backing vocals producer Felton Jarvis used when making the overdubs 50 years ago. 

Elvis as santa on the cover of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One of the highlights on the original album is the blues classic "Merry Christmas Baby," and finally we get the complete unedited and undubbed version. For some inexplicable reason, the unedited version released on FTD's Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas switches to the original album master mix (with a guitar overdub) approximately four and a half minutes into the song, and then back again to the undubbed mix about one minute and ten seconds later. 

The rehearsal part found on the FTD version is also included on Elvis Back In Nashville, and this is what I wrote about it in my original review in 2011: 

Listening to Elvis saying "Yeah, just run it a couple of times and I'll come in there, you know, somewhere. Let's set the rhythm first," it's easy to imagine him in the middle of the studio with a mike in his hand, his musicians in a semi-circle around him.

Another favorite from Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, and one that I rank among the best Christmas songs Elvis ever recorded, is Michael Jarrett's "I'll Be Home On Christmas Day." I have always had a soft spot for the bluesier June remake version, and that one is included on the Elvis Back In Nashville set as well.

This is what the songwriter Michael Jarrett had to say about Elvis approach to his song, in an interview I did with him in the beginning of 2012:

I believe he approached my song in his own special way, that is to say; he related to what the lyrics were saying and the overall sentiment the song conveyed to him during this time of his life. I believe he chose the song to record because it had personal meaning to him.

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" was the B-side of the single "Merry Christmas Baby."

One song that I actually think benefits from the overdubs Felton Jarvis did is "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Granted, the organ that is now more prominent lends the song a more sacred feel. But I miss the choir as well as the original voices that sang the song with Elvis (unidentified, but most likely Charlie Hodge and Red West). Together with the strings and horns they make the song so much more mightier and powerful.

I still remember buying Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas on cassette in the early eighties, then playing it in my room on my new cassette recorder. I shared my memories of that in a post published in Deecember, 2010:

Listening to the cassette, I was mesmerized by Elvis' singing, hearing for the first time the title track as well as the bombastic "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" and the incredible "Merry Christmas Baby."

Some 40 years have passed since I first heard Elvis singing about the wonderful world of Christmas, and every year I return to it so that Elvis can help me get into the Holiday mood. This year was no exception, but a little different, listening to it in another format without all the overdubs. It worked just as well, though, and with that I'd like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas.  

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