Nat King Who?
Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Christmas Album (RCA, 1957)
The King laid claim to the sales throne of Christmas albums with this effort in part because — simply put — he was The King. Yet another reason is because he covered all of his bases. Side one, featuring the iconic sway of “Blue Christmas,” and a handful of standards (including a take on “White Christmas” composer Irving Berllin found to be too black) gave kids a fresh set of classics they could claim for themselves in opposition to Bing Crosby and their uncool Bing-Crosby-approving parents. The Leiber and Stoller penned “Santa Claus is Back in Town” rattles and howls as well as “Houndog” ever did, and the sentimental calm of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” belongs on the same compilation with Crosby and Nat Cole. Side two is a product of the times and economics. Comprised of four hymns from his Peace in the Valley EP released earlier in the year, and two Christ-centric Christmas songs (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”) this is a mesh of the commercialism and conservatism which permeated much of Eisenhower America. And while the holiday tunes are peppy and fun thanks to Presley’s vocal hiccups, I keep coming back to those hymns, which benefit from the Mississippian’s sincere take on classics even older than the ones which mention Saint Nick. GRADE: A
Key Tracks: “(There’ll Be) Peace In the Valley (For Me)” / “Blue Christmas” / “Silent Night”
The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (Capitol, 1965)
This follows the same template as Elvis’ album; jingles up front, carols in the back. But where Elvis’ gospel songs were the gems, its vice versa for Brian Wilson and company, who relish in their own vocal arrangements on the Wilson-penned originals “Little Saint Nick,” and “The Man With All the Toys.” Those looking for a complete surf rock Christmas will be disappointed, as virtually the entire back end of the album is dripping with syrupy strings and lavish production that’s almost too Gershwin-esque for its own good. The big band arrangement of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” is more suited for Sinatra, while the sappiness of “White Christmas” makes its 2:30 run time seem like an eternity. However, they find a nice compromise between pop and their cornball ways on “Frosty the Snowman,” where one can almost hear Randy Newman picking up a few good ideas. GRADE: B+
Key Tracks: “Little Saint Nick” / “Frosty the Snowman” / “The Man With All the Toys”