In those first white-hot years after “Heartbreak Hotel,” guardians of American virtue passionately hated Elvis Presley for corrupting the youth of America and threatening All We Hold Dear. In 1957, Elvis committed the greatest blasphemy of all.
In October, Elvis released a holiday album titled Elvis’ Christmas Album to a predictable storm of outrage.
According to Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave’s Anti Rock: the Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll, one Los Angeles disc jockey refused to play any of the songs on it, claiming it would be like having a stripper deliver Christmas presents to his kids. In Portland, Oregon, a radio station forbid its DJs to play the album because it was in “extremely bad taste.” When the overnight jock played a track anyway, he got fired. A station in Canada called the album “one of the most degrading things we have heard in some time.”
Songwriter Irving Berlin is said to have hated Presley’s version of “White Christmas,” and had his staff call radio stations across the country demanding they not play it.
The album is split between secular and sacred numbers — and it was the sacred songs that made the haters especially crazy. The album contains two traditional carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night,” as well as three gospel numbers. Elvis performed them respectfully, but the mere fact that he went near them caused controversy. (One station claimed that he “panted” while singing the carols, but we don’t hear it.)
Despite the controversy, history has rendered its verdict: Elvis’ Christmas Album is the best-selling holiday album of all time with something like 13 million copies sold. Here’s the first track, Leiber and Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.”