This is Part 2 of an ongoing series reviewing Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection. Read Part 1.
We haven’t finished the summer yet, folks, but why not take a break from the heatwave to enjoy a Christmas-themed review?
CD Vol. 4: Christmas With Elvis
This volume of The Franklin Mint‘s 36-disc Elvis: The Complete Masters Collection (mastered by Vic Anesini) presents nearly all of the Christmas songs that Elvis released during his lifetime (a live version of “Blue Christmas” appears on a later disc).
Christmas With Elvis contains each of the Christmas songs featured on Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957), his 1966 Christmas single, and Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas (1971).
01. Blue Christmas: I think of “Blue Christmas” as the “Hound Dog” of Elvis Christmas songs. It’s the one the general public most associates with him. It is an okay recording and certainly appropriate to kick off this CD. I wish it had less or no backing vocals, though. I much prefer his live versions from 1968. (Recorded: 1957)
02. White Christmas: “Blue Christmas” does not transition very well into “White Christmas,” but the compiler has once again taken the easy way out and confined the song sequencing of this disc to recording order. I’m actually not a huge fan of “White Christmas” by Elvis. For this one, my go-to versions tend to be those by The Drifters (whose 1954 recording inspired the Elvis one) or Burl Ives (1965). Incidentally, this track differs from the one released during Elvis’ lifetime in that a finger-snap near the beginning of the song has been omitted (5). I must admit, I would never have noticed such a small detail on my own. That’s the wonder of the For Elvis CD Collectors Forum. (1957)
03. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane): You’ll be happy to know that no finger-snapping has been omitted from this terrific version of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” I love how Elvis swings some of the lyrics. (1957)
04. Silent Night: I probably would have saved “Silent Night” for the closer, but what a beautiful recording. For the gentle voice of a 22-year-old to convey this kind of passion and conviction speaks volumes about the faith of Elvis Presley. (1957)
05. O Little Town Of Bethlehem: On the other hand, Elvis’ version of “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” tends to wear on me a bit. Like “White Christmas,” it is an okay performance, but nothing special. Nat King Cole’s 1960 recording tends to be my go-to version of this one. (1957)
06. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me): It’s more finger-snapping fun on “Santa Bring My Baby Back.” What’s not to love? (1957)
07. Santa Claus Is Back In Town: Here it is, not only Elvis’ best Christmas song, but also one of his best blues numbers – right up there with 1960’s “Reconsider Baby.” When it comes to Elvis performances, they do not get much better than “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.” Incredible. (1957)
08. I’ll Be Home For Christmas: Elvis delivers yet another stunning performance on his classic version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” This also would have worked as a great album closer. Sound quality is noticeably cleaner here than it was on 1994’s If Every Day Was Like Christmas CD, my previous source. (1957)
09. If Every Day Was Like Christmas: Recorded just a couple of weeks after the session that produced the How Great Thou Art album, the unique “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” makes me wish Elvis had recorded a few more Christmas tunes at this time. This one seems to have slightly more reverb than my previous source on the same 1994 CD. As I’ve not seen any experts make note of this, I assume this reflects the original release. (1966)
10. It Won’t Seem Like Christmas: Flash forward five years now to May 1971 and the sessions that produced Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas, my favorite of his Christmas albums. I used to write off “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas” as too depressing for a Christmas song, but it has definitely grown on me over the years. (1971)
11. If I Get Home On Christmas Day: Though it covers much the same theme as “It Won’t Seem Like Christmas,” “If I Get Home On Christmas Day” sounds much more hopeful. A very enjoyable performance. (1971)
12. Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees: Written by Elvis’ longtime friend Red West, “Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees” takes its place among the best of Elvis’ Christmas recordings. (1971)
13. Merry Christmas Baby [Album Master]: While it does not quite meet the stature of “Santa Claus Is Back In Town,” “Merry Christmas Baby” is another solid blues take on the holiday season by Elvis. This studio jam ran for well over eight minutes, about 5:45 of which appeared on the Elvis Sings The Wonderful World Of Christmas album. The single version, edited to 3:15, does not appear in The Complete Masters Collection. (1971)
14. Silver Bells: Elvis delivers a fine rendition of “Silver Bells,” a Christmas classic. (1971)
15. I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day: Written by Michael Jarrett (“I’m Leavin'”), “I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day” is a perfect Christmas song for Elvis. I put this one just below “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” as his best Christmas recording ever. Really, one of his best-ever songs, period. It is always a highlight of any album on which it appears. (1971)
16. On A Snowy Christmas Night: Though it does not often get mentioned, I love “On A Snowy Christmas Night,” especially the reminder to “Give thanks for all that you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight.” (1971)
17. Winter Wonderland: For some reason, many Elvis fans criticize this performance of “Winter Wonderland.” Even Thomas over at Elvis Today Blog, with whom I almost always agree, called it “spiritless.” I don’t hear it that way at all. Perhaps some feel this song should remain in the territory of a performer like Johnny Mathis, whose 1958 version is horrible. For me, Elvis owns “Winter Wonderland” – particularly by adding on his signature ending style. This sounds exactly like “Winter Wonderland” as interpreted by Elvis should: Perfect. (1971)
18. O Come All Ye Faithful: “O Come All Ye Faithful” is the “Silent Night” of the second Christmas album and is just as effective. This is a great arrangement, too. I love the percussion leading into “Sing choirs of angels…” (1971)
19. The First Noel: While I would not call it “spiritless,” Elvis does begin to sound a bit tired on “The First Noel.” To continue the comparison, “The First Noel” is the “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” of the 1971 album. Good, but not great. (1971)
20. The Wonderful World Of Christmas: It is strange that “The Wonderful World Of Christmas,” the weakest song of the 1971 Christmas album session, became the title track. It also does not serve very well as the closing track here. (1971)
As I stated last time, since The Franklin Mint has chosen to theme their CDs anyway, I would have preferred the compiler put more thought into the sequencing. It is much easier to intermingle Elvis’ Christmas music from different decades than many of his other recordings (also true of his gospel music), so this is a missed opportunity on this CD.
However, Christmas With Elvis at least gathers his Christmas masters in one place. It’s really hard to go wrong with an Elvis Christmas CD and this one is no exception. With upgraded audio, I’m all set for the Christmas season in a few months.
* * *
In Part 1 of this review, I mentioned that I was planning to frame the reproduction of the 1954 SUN 45 “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” that came with this set. Here are the results, and it looks beautiful.
I’ve just obtained an RCA vintage-1977 edition of “Way Down” b/w “Pledging My Love” to hang beneath it. Just waiting for the frame to arrive.
Well, that’s four CDs down and … wow … thirty-two to go. Continue to look for future installments here on The Mystery Train Blog. I hope to finish within the next eight or nine years.
(5) “Re: Complete Masters compared/contrasted with Franklin Mint” by Claus, For Elvis CD Collectors Forum, 2010.
Read Part 3.