And here is Elvis Presley’s positively dirty Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, which includes a reference to a “big black Cadillac” and taking off your “stockings” in preparation for his arrival, and how he’s “coming” in “your chimney” and you better get yourself ready for it, and it’s one of the dirtiest things I’ve ever heard in my life. Elvis recorded this song in 1957 at the ripe old age of 22, which just makes his confidently nasty performance here that much more remarkable. It was the first track on his Christmas album, which is filled to the gills with beautiful and traditional renderings of Christmas classics like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”, a couple of gospel favorites like “There Will Be Peace in the Valley”, and the now-classic “Blue Christmas”, with the loopy soprano going apeshit in the background (great interview with said soprano Millie Kirkham here). But the whole album leads off with this, a gambit that I love for its daring: The first track is a song that is so sheerly sexual it borders on public indecency.
If you want to hear why Elvis Presley was controversial, don’t listen to “I Got a Woman” (although listen to that, too). Listen to “Santa Claus is Back in Town” and listen, in particular, to what he does with his voice on “You be a real good little girl …”
Tom Petty says it better, so I’ll let him take over:
“Santa Claus is coming down your chimney tonight” sounds absolutely filthy when Elvis sings it. It might be his best blues vocal ever, with those beautiful stops that nobody could do but him.
The fact that the song starts with The Jordannaires gentle traditional quartet, singing “Christmaaaaaas….” in a churchy way makes what happens afterwards even more nuts.
And then compare with images like this one (Elvis loved Christmas), and you can see how destabilizing he really was.
Because (and this is key): BOTH are sincere. The boy who loves Jesus and loves Christmas, and the boy who cackles with a demonic sex drive during the bridge of that song. Neither was an act, both are true. Can the culture embrace such emotional diversity, such inclusion? Shouldn’t ONE side be truer than the other?
Elvis says, Nope. Sorry. Both are true. Can you handle it?
We still can’t.