FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Santa in Black-and-White

by PETER LEE

With the “white Santa vs. black Santa” faux controversy roiling the Internet this year, it is interesting to recall that Elvis Presley pledged allegiance to the dark side of Santa in one of his greatest performances.

One of the early pinnacles of Elvis’ achievement is, rather surprisingly, the Christmas album he released in 1957.  It is divided into secular and sacred sides. On the second side, Elvis beautifully sings some religiously-tinged Christmas songs and delivers magnificent and memorable renditions of “Peace in the Valley” and other gospel standards.  It’s clear that Elvis loves his gospel, and his renditions are full of the power and dignity that characterize these noblest of popular songs.

The pop/rock/R&B action is on the first side, and Elvis gets right down to business with the opener, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”, a blues carol written by ace songwriters Leiber and Stoller in the studio on a dare in fifteen minutes.  It is capped by the memorable couplet, sung in an ecstatic shout by Elvis:

Hang up your pretty stockings, turn out the light

Cause’ Santa Claus is comin’ down your chimney tonight!

In their joint autobiography, Leiber and Stoller recalled:

The Colonel doesn’t laugh and the Colonel doesn’t smile when we run down the song for Elvis. I know the Colonel thinks it’s too bluesy and too black, but just before he can say anything, the King speaks out.

‘Now that’s what I call a goddamn great Christmas song!’ he tells the Colonel, ‘I told you these guys would come through’. And with that, Elvis proceeds to sing the [expletive] out of it. 

He does it in just a couple of takes. …

For me, ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ lives on as one of Elvis’ great blues performances. It took him back to his Beale Street roots, a place where he was always comfortable. 

Elvis was all of 22 at the time.

I had the honor of communicating with Mike Stoller’s management team (Jerry Leiber has passed on) and was assured that the innuendo was completely intentional.

Given this context, it is rather remarkable that the lyric apparently provoked no conspicuous ruckus.

Maybe Irving Berlin had more than an inkling; he called for a boycott of the album, ostensibly because Elvis took some vocal liberties in his cover of White Christmas, which was sequenced right after Leiber & Stoller’s racy cut.   Berlin’s objections did not stop the RCA from selling a mind-boggling 3 million units of Elvis’ Christmas Album in its original release, making it that decade’s biggest seller and a holiday soundtrack for generations of Americans (another 10 million sold as a budget-priced edition in the 1970s; indeed Elvis’ Christmas Album is his top-selling album, period, and No. 142 on Billboard’s all time list).

Sneaking Santa Claus double entendres into pop songs seems to have been quite the vogue around this time.  In 1960 Ella Fitzgerald sang about “fat and round” Santa Claus who “got stuck in my chimney.”

About the same time, Sonny Boy Williamson II recorded Santa Claus Blues for Chess Records about the same time.  Williamson’s double entendre of choice involves “drawers”:

“Lookin all in my baby’s dresser drawers.

Tryin to find out,

What did she bought me for Santa Claus.

When I pulled out the bottom dresser drawer,

The landlady got mad and called the law..”

In fact, in the R&B world in which Leiber and Stoller and Elvis were steeped at the time, “Santa Claus” had been invoked as the good thing, male principle division, since the pre-war era, as Gerry Bowler relates in his Santa Claus: A Biography.  Blues scholar Paul Oliver has a chapter on Santa Claus in Screening the Blues and quotes a melancholy lyric from the great Texas country bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson:

Just the day before Christmas let me bring you your present tonight,

I wanna be your Santa Clause even if my whiskers ain’t white.

So Santa is black and white.  Get used to it!  Happy holidays, everybody.

Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking investigation into the NSA, The NSA and Its Enablers, appears in the October issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.

 

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 30, 2017
Clancy Sigal
Even Grammar Bleeds
May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail