I read this thing about Elvis a few months ago – around the time of the Baz Luhrmann biopic coming out, as it happened – that suggested that the market for Elvis memorabilia had crashed to the point of irrelevence; the collectors, it pointed out, were all dying off and the younger generations just didn’t identify with Elvis in the same way.
The King of Rock ‘n Roll? From a Gen Zeder’s perspective, that’s a sad (as in embarrassing) label to tag anyone with. Get hip, daddy-o, Elvis is dead, in every sense of the word. He rocks in his box and in his box only. Unlike the timeless appeal of say, The Beatles or Queen – young kids love Queen – or AC/DC or Fleetwood Mac, artists whose music soundtracks films, appears on catch-all streaming playlists, is referenced by the pop stars of today and therefore is still culturally relevant, to young folk, Elvis is just a tragic fat guy in a white suit who died on the toilet. His records, antiquated artefacts of a sepia-tinted bygone world at best, middle of the road karaoke fodder at worst, will never be streamed, let alone spun, by anyone under 40. The King is dead, man. The King is dead…
But, but, but…let me tell you, you in the Balenciaga and you in the Yeezy Boost, Elvis could sing…he could swing…and for a while, he mattered.
The purists might point to the Vegas years; if you can, see past the bloated excess of an Elvis deep in all sorts of personal trouble, you’ll revel in his sensitive treatment of the standards. And there are definitely gems to be found amidst his army ‘n movie years of the ’60s. But to these ears, his ’50s output is easily his most exciting period. If you’re a doubter, a naysayer, a cloth-eared fool, then his version of Santa Claus Is Back In Town won’t go any way to swaying your opinion, but as far as rough ‘n ready Christmas rockers go, it’s right up at the top of the tree.
Elvis Presley – Santa Claus Is Back In Town
Beginning with a mesh of close-harmonied vocals from The Jordanaires – “Christttmass, Christtmas!” – and some searching, tentative piano, the track kicks into gear immediately once Elvis takes an Olympic athlete’s run-up to that first, ‘Weeeeeell‘, his arm windmilling in time to his seesawing pelvis as he uncurls his bee-stung lips and finally lets his vocal go. “Well, it’s Christmas time pwitty bay-bee, and the snow is fallin’ h’on the ground...”
His singing, almost a parody of an actual Elvis impersonator, is full-on fun. He sings from the creped soles of his shoes in the low parts, straight off the toppa the ducktail in the high sections, the voice lightly sandpapered and soulful enough to convince the uninitiated that it belongs to a black bluesman from the Mississippi delta. There are parts where the band drops out and it’s just Elvis and his air of dangerous mystery filling the spaces. He rhymes ‘sack on my back‘ with ‘big black Cadillac‘. He breaks into a guttural laugh in the instrumental breakdown. He sings the title as one word. ‘San’aclawzizbagintaah‘. Elvis’s whole vocal schtick, in fact, can be heard in just this one tune.
There are bits on the record where everyone and the kitchen sink is getting in on the hot seasonal action. The drums, swinging like ol’ Bing Crosby on the 14th tee at Palm Springs, bash and crash like Benny and Choo-Choo’s trash cans tumbling down Top Cat’s alley. The piano plays its own unique, slurred honky tonk, soaked in Christmas spirit and half an egg nog too many. Low rasping sax fleshes out the bottom end as a swing-time jazz double-bass walks its way carefully between the notes, a drunk man on an icy pavement trying to look sober on the return home. The whole thing is over and out in less than two and a half rockin’ (yes!) and rollin’ (yes!!) minutes. It’s a daft record, but totally essentially at this time of year.