According to the latest data and certifications of the Recording Industry of America, Elvis' Christmas Album, recorded by Elvis Presley (who else?) has shipped at least 13 million copies since its original release in 1957. That makes it the biggest-selling Christmas album of all time. The album has been re-issued and repackaged several times, and continues to be a perennial holiday best-seller.
It sold three million copies upon its original release in 1957 and has sold an additional ten million copies in the various forms it has been reissued in. It hit the number one spot on the Billboard charts in 1957 and remained there for four weeks. Released on October 15, 1957, it would be the first of two Christmas albums released by "The King." The second, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, wasn't released until the early 1970s.
Eight of the songs on the album were Christmas songs, both classic and new, and four were Gospel songs (Gospel, not rock 'n' roll, was always Elvis' favorite musical form).
Christmas was always Elvis' favorite holiday. The annual display of blue lights decorating Elvis' home Graceland was, and still is, a legendary Mecca for tourists and locals to behold. Nothing gave Elvis greater joy than giving out Christmas gifts to family and friends. So the Christmas album idea seemed a natural for "Elvis the Pelvis."
Interestingly, the biggest controversy regarding the album came from one of America's most beloved composers. On the album, Elvis did a cover version of Irving Berlin's classic "White Christmas." At the time, "White Christmas" was the biggest-selling record of all time.
After hearing Elvis sing his song, Berlin called for the song, and the entire album, to be banned from radio airplay. He considered Elvis' "White Christmas" to be a "profane parody of his cherished Yuletide standard." He ordered his staff in New York to telephone radio stations across the U.S. and demand the song be removed from airplay. Many U.S. stations ignored Berlin's threats, but at least one American disc jockey was, indeed, fired for daring to play a song from the album. Canadian stations refused to play the album.
Ironically, Elvis actually had based his "White Christmas" version on the song as recorded by African-American Clyde McPhatter and his group The Drifters. McPhatter and The Drifters had released their own version of "White Christmas" a few years earlier, but it had caused no controversy whatsoever. This was mainly because the record was only played on black radio stations. The Drifters' "White Christmas" was not to be heard on mainstream radio stations for a couple of decades, although it had been a hit on the R&B singles chart in 1954 and '55.
Controversy aside, one listens to this delightful album nowadays and wonders, "Why all the fuss?" Elvis is so obviously sincere in his Gospel renditions of "There'll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)," "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and "I Believe," one can only wonder about anyone questioning the album and the singer's religious sincerity. Elvis does his versions of two Christmas carols, "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night" in similarly fervent renditions.
Okay, there are two great early original Elvis Christmas "rockers" i.e. "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" and "Santa Claus is Back In Town," but give me a break, he was Elvis, for Pete's sake!
We look back now, and listen, to this 1957 version of Elvis Presley. Who could ever imagine the life he would lead in the next twenty years? This slim, fresh-looking, swivel-hipped maverick who delighted the kids and scared the pants off their parents was in the early stages of, quite possibly, the single most successful career in the history of music and all of show business.
Yes, we all know now, to our great sadness, the "The King" would eventually end up sad and alone, a victim of drugs, overeating, obesity, bad management, and, in spite of his unparalleled success, a vast feeling of un-achievement.
Elvis' Christmas Album is a reminder of that innocent kid who, just a few decades ago, stirred up all that wrath from all those grown-ups and ignited all that sexual passion from all those girls and made every youth in the world realize, perhaps for the very first time, "Hey! It's fun to be young! It's fun being a teenager!"
Good old Elvis. I always loved the guy. Wherever he is, I hope he has a Merry Christmas this year. It would be great if these people who bring so much pleasure to so many people derived as much pleasure from life themselves. But as we all know, that hardly ever happens.