Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely baby daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
Forty-two years ago today, Elvis Presley made TV history. On December 3, 1968, NBC-TV aired a one-hour special simply entitled, “ELVIS.”
Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker envisioned the project in the vein of traditional Christmas specials done by the likes of Perry Como. Elvis would perform some safe, warm Christmas carols on some holiday-themed sets.
Thank goodness the people involved in the special’s production didn’t let the Colonel have his way.
The producers plotted a special that would let Elvis be Elvis, and break out of the Hollywood B-movie mold he had become trapped in the entire decade of the 60’s.
Elvis performed elaborately staged production numbers. He sang in the round with his old band mates. Elvis was in the round. Elvis was the first entertainer to go unplugged.
Remember, this was 40 years ago.
The special was the highest rated show of that television season and is now referred to as the Comeback Special.
Elvis did his top material, but he also sang some Christmas songs.
One of them, of course, was “Blue Christmas.”
Originally a country song recorded by Ernest Tubb in 1948, Elvis iput his rock and roll style on the song in 1957, and it became a classic.
He also sang the bluesy, “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” during filimg of the TV special, but it didn’t make the final cut.
Both songs were from his mega-selling 1957 Christmas album.
Author Peter Guralnick who has written extensively about Elvis, contributed to the liner notes of one of Elvis’ box collections about “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”
Guralnick wrote that Elvis had asked songwriting duo Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller, who wrote many hits for Elvis including, Jailhouse Rock,” to come up with a Christmas song during sessions for the 1957 Christmas album; within a few minutes, they had the song written and ready for recording. It was originally titled "Christmas Blues", and features a slightly risqué treatment and lyrics.
Elvis’ backup singers, the Jordanaires were interviewed a few years after Elvis’ death and said they warned Elvis he couldn’t do Christmas songs this way and would face heavy criticism. Elvis politely told the Jordanaires to let him worry about that.
Here’s Elvis, resplendent in famous leather outfit, from the ’68 special doing "Blue Christmas."
In an interview done not too long after Elvis’ death, members of his backup vocalists, the Jordanaires said they warned Elvis back in the late 50’s that he couldn’t sing Christmas songs that way, that he’d never get away with that kind of style. Indeed, the great Irving Berlin expressed great indignation for Elvis’ rendition of the immortal “White Christmas.”
Elvis offered some reassurance to his backup singers telling them not to worry, to let him handle whatever happened. His Christmas album was one of his most popular projects, a gigantic seller. No one performs Christmas songs like Elvis did in “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”