Monday, 7 December 2015

Christmas with Elvis in 1970

When Elvis released his first Christmas Album in November 1957, he probably didn't expect it to be reissued and repackaged as much as it was during his lifetime - and still is to this day. The original album featured eight Christmas songs recorded at Hollywood's Radio Recorders in September 1957, and the four gospel songs that were first released on the Peace in the Valley EP at Easter that same year. In the U.S, the album had a book style cover that opened up to reveal a 10-page album of full colour promotional photos from Elvis's third movie Jailhouse Rock, and had a gold gift sticker attached to the front of the shrink wrapping. The two sides of the album were divided into a selection of secular Christmas songs on side one, with two traditional Christmas carols and the four spirituals on side two. It was first reissued two years after its first release, replacing the iconic cover of the original with a close-up of Elvis posed against an outdoor, snowy backdrop. 

The first time it appeared as a budget album was fourteen years after it was first released, and apparently came about when Harry Jenkins, then RCA's vice president in charge of Elvis, began talking about a new Christmas album, to which Elvis asked what was wrong with once again repackaging the original one from 1957. By now, Elvis was ensconced in Memphis, had received his special U.S narcotics badge from Richard Nixon, was basking in a new film documentary about his August 1970 Summer Festival in Vegas, and was about to go back out on the road, so the idea of a new Christmas album held little interest for him, so instead, RCA did what he suggested and repackaged the original LP, but with some changes that upgraded the set. After all, fourteen years in the music business is a long time, which in this case, had encompassed everything from the Beatles to the Vietnam war. 

The album, this time, was repackaged in a completely new look front and back sleeve with an altered track listing and was put out on RCA's budget label, RCA Camden in November 1970, which retailed in the UK on Camden's International imprint for just under one pound. But of course, it was actually a different album than the original LP even though it used the same title and some, but not all, of the original songs. I first came across it when I was browsing through the Elvis section at HMV in Brighton. By this time, the original album had been long out of print, and widely unavailable, unless you could find a copy in a second-hand record store. Although the new cover echoed that of the 1959 reissue, we now had a more recent 60s photo of Elvis taken on the set of his 1967 movie Speedway, wearing a blue racing jacket with two white stripes down the left-hand side, which once again, was set against a wintry scenic background. The back sleeve art, which differed to the U.S version, had also been given a make over. Now, all in black-and-white, it featured a cropped close-up of Elvis from his comeback special, an advert for his previous two Camden albums, and the new altered track listing.

 US and UK label variations

The four gospel songs from Peace in the Valley had now been eliminated and replaced with two newer tracks. One was Elvis's festive single from 1966, If Every Day Was Like Christmas, and the other, was Mama Liked The Roses, a 1970 non-seasonal B-side that had been out earlier in the year as the flip to his #1 UK hit, The Wonder of You, which the front cover announced had been added "By Request!" The other noticeable change when comparing this version to the original was the number of tracks. It had now been reduced to ten songs instead of the original thirteen, due to the industry requirements for shorter running times on budget albums. The running order of the Christmas songs were also changed. All the same, it was a fine release, with a good selection of tracks, a great looking sleeve, and released in the original mono sound of the original. In the year after its release, it peaked at #7 in the UK top ten album chart, and over the following years, would go on to sell seven million more copies than the original album, although according to EPE (Elvis Presley Enterprises), it sold nine million. Not surprisingly, it also became Elvis's biggest selling album of all time, and his first to attain a Diamond disc award from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Camden re-released the album the following year in a modified cover that now had a cropped version of the Elvis Speedway picture in a circle in the middle of a white sleeve, with the title and song selections in red, plus a sleeve note on the back underneath the album title and track listing. Even when it was reissued in 1975 by Pickwick, the sleeve again was updated, which this time, echoed the second Camden version, but now with a more elaborate royal blue background decorated with red ribbons around the picture of Elvis in a circle. Although the 1970 RCA Camden release remained in print until the late 1980s, with the same track listing, and has since appeared in various different official and bootleg combinations, not once in all that time, has it ever appeared in its original 1970 cover art despite the sleeve being one of the most popular and a firm favourite among fans. It's certainly one of mine!

With thanks to Tony King for the sleeve and label restoration and scanning.

1 comment:

  1. I love this LP...great memories for me. Thanks Nigel for a great read.