It’s Day #4 of “The Pop Culture Addict’s Advent Calendar”, and it also happens to be a Tuesday Timeline entry.
In keeping with the holiday tradition, I thought that I would take the opportunity to try and find a subject that has something to do with Christmas. It wasn’t easy to find a decent topic to talk about (of the Tuesday Timelines for this month, December 4 was a particularly hard date to find a Christmas topic on). Luckily, after consulting several websites (including the “Today in Oldies Music History” site), I believe that I found the perfect topic.
A topic that you now know involves some sort of oldies music.
Before we launch into that though, we have some unfinished business to attend to first, such as celebrity birthdays for December 4, as well as other events that took place throughout history on this date.
I think we’ll start with the famous faces chowing down on birthday cake today. Celebrating a December 4 birthday are Deanna Durbin, Dena Deitrich, Ronnie Corbett, Jim Hall, Alex Delvecchio, Wink Martindale, Max Baer Jr, Yvonne Minton, Freddy Cannon, Gemma Jones, Chris Hillman, Anna McGarrigle, Roberta Bondar, Terry Woods, Southside Johnny, Jeff Bridges, Gary Rossington, Patricia Wettig, Rick Middleton, Tony Todd, Dave Taylor, Cassandra Wilson, David Green, Frank Reich, Jonathan Goldstein, Chelsea Noble, Marisa Tomei, Fred Armisen, Masta Ace, Jay-Z, Kevin Sussman, John L. Adams, Tyra Banks, Keith Caputo, Kristina Groves, Lauren London, Joe Thomas, and Orlando Brown.
And here are some of the major happenings that occurred on the fourth day of December...
1259 – King Louis the IX of France and King Henry III of England agree to the “Treaty of Paris”
1563 – The final session of the Council of Trent is held
1619 – 38 colonists from Berkeley Parish in England disembark in Virginia and give thanks to God (in what many believe to be the first Thanksgiving in the Americas)
1674 – Father Jacques Marquette founds mission on the shore of Lake Michigan to minister the Illiniwek (which would eventually become the settlement known as Chicago, Illinois
1783 – George Washington bids his officers farewell at New York City’s Fraunces Tavern
1791 – The world’s first edition of the Sunday newspaper, The Observer is published
1864 – Sherman’s March to the Sea takes place during the American Civil War
1867 – Former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founds the Order of the Patrons of the Husbandry (or the Grange)
1872 – The crewless ship known as the Mary Celeste is discovered by British brig Dei Gratia
1875 – Boss Tweed, an infamous politician from New York City escapes from prison and flees to Spain via Cuba
1881 – The first issue of the Los Angeles Times is printed
1909 – The inaugural Grey Cup game is played between the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club, with the Varsity Blues winning
1921 – The first Virginia Rappe manslaughter trial against Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle ends in a hung jury
1937 – The Dandy Comic, one of the first comic strips to incorporate speech balloons is first printed
1939 – HMS Nelson is struck by a mine off the Scottish coast laid by U-31
1943 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt closes down the Works Progress Administration during World War II because of high levels of wartime unemployment within the United States
1945 – The U.S. Senate approves the motion for the United States to join the UN by a vote of 65 to 7
1954 – The first Burger King restaurant opens up in Miami, Florida
1956 – The “Million Dollar Quartet” of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley get together at Sun Studios for the first and last time
1967 – Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz dies in New York City at the age of 72
1969 – Two members of the Black Panther Party are shot and killed during a raid by fourteen Chicago police officers
1971 – Switzerland’s Montreux Casino is set ablaze following someone carelessly using a flare gun during a Frank Zappa concert – the event would later be referenced in the Deep Purple song “Smoke on the Water”
1975 – Suriname joins the United Nations
1978 – Following the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone, Dianne Feinstein becomes the city’s first female mayor
1980 – Led Zeppelin breaks up following the September 25 death of John Bonham
1991 – Pan Am airlines ceases operations following its bankruptcy
1993 – Frank Zappa dies in Los Angeles at the age of 52
1998 – The second unit of the International Space Station, the Unity Module, is launched
2005 – Thousands of people in Hong Kong protest for democracy and call on the government to allow equal and universal suffrage
2006 – Six black youths are assault a white teenager in Jena, Louisiana, which causes the subsequent court case to become a cause celebre.
Now, for today’s blog entry, we’re going to be going back in time fifty-five years to the following date.
December 4, 1957.
But, before we go ahead with what happened on THAT date, we should really talk about the events that led up to December 4, 1957.
1957 was a year in which several artists made it big in the world of music. Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Patsy Cline, and Harry Belafonte all released albums in 1957, amidst several others. 1957 was widely considered a year in which rock and roll began to overtake other genres of music in popularity. Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” was the #4 song of 1957 alone, while Danny & The Juniors’ hit “At The Hop” was #5.
Of course, nobody was bigger in 1957 than Elvis Presley himself. All the girls wanted to date him, and all the boys wanted to be him. And of the Top 5 songs of 1957, Elvis Presley had two of them...”Jailhouse Rock” and “All Shook Up”, which landed on the #1 and #3 positions respectively. From his quivering lips to his gyrating hips, his very presence on the stage was enough to cause huge outbursts of emotions from his many fans.
Forget the Beatles and Justin Bieber. Elvis Presley was the main heartthrob back in those days.
And in 1957, what better way to cement your status as one of the biggest names in music than by recording a Christmas album?
As is the case with most holiday themed albums, most of the songs were recorded during the summer months...in the case of Elvis’ Christmas album the majority of the songs were recorded between September 5 and September 7, 1957. I would imagine that it would be kind of difficult to be singing about how one is dreaming of a White Christmas and how they were waiting for Santa Claus to come when the outside temperatures were scorching hot. But, I suppose it couldn’t be helped. After all, Christmas albums are usually released in late October/early November.
In the case of Elvis’ Christmas album, it saw an original release date of October 1957. The album was entitled...wait for it...”Elvis’ Christmas Album”.
The album contained eight Christmas songs, as well as four gospel songs that were previously included in his 1957 release “Peace in the Valley”. The way the album was arranged, the first side of the record contained secular Christmas songs, while the second contained the gospel and more traditional songs. On one side, you could hear songs like this one.
And, on the other side, you could hear songs like this one.
I think on a personal level it was a genius move for Elvis to do this. The young people could jam along with the secular songs, while the parents could appreciate the more traditional and gospel tunes.
And certainly the album was a successful effort. The album has been re-released several times since its original pressing in 1957, and it ranked #1 for four weeks on the Billboard Top Pop Albums Chart. It is estimated that “Elvis’ Christmas Album” has shipped out thirteen million copies of the album within the United States alone, and was the first of Elvis’ albums to reach Diamond certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In fact, “Elvis’ Christmas Album” is widely considered to be the biggest selling Christmas album of all time in the United States.
An amazing feat, given the controversy that surrounded the album upon its release.
I guess I should explain. Of the eight songs that were Christmas themed, this was the one that caused Elvis the most trouble.
I know what you’re thinking. How could a Christmas classic such as “White Christmas” cause so much drama? After all, Bing Crosby helped cement its status as a legendary Christmas carol in the 1940s.
Well, according to the songwriter who wrote “White Christmas”, Irving Berlin, he was none too impressed by Elvis covering his creation. As you can hear from Elvis’ version, he put his own spin on the song which sounded incredibly different to Bing Crosby’s original version. And when Irving Berlin first heard Elvis Presley’s version, he described it as “a profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard”.
And that wasn’t all either. Apparently, Irving Berlin was so offended by Elvis’ version that he actively launched a campaign to get radio stations in North America to stop playing Elvis’ version of the song, and actively sought to ban the entire album from being played on air!
Can you say, overkill?
The irony of the whole controversy was that three years prior to Elvis’ version being released, a similar sounding version of the classic hit was released by The Drifters, which hit the Top 10 on the R & B charts in both 1954 and 1955. Apparently, Irving Berlin had no problem with the Drifters’ version, but heaven forbid Elvis Presley release his own version of the song!
Now, when Irving Berlin launched his campaign of banning the album from radio, he reportedly called several radio stations all across the country, demanding they stop playing the song. Quite a few American stations ignored Berlin’s request, although there were reports that some radio DJ’s were terminated from their contracts after playing the album. What I found shocking was that while his campaign in the United States was hit or miss, Berlin did succeed in getting almost every Canadian radio station to ignore Elvis’ Christmas Album.
That is until December 4, 1957, when one Kingston, Ontario based radio station decided to take a stand and do what they thought was right.
The radio station known as CKWS was well aware of the controversy surrounding Elvis’ Christmas album. The staff knew all about the bizarre plot by Irving Berlin to have the entire album banned from airplay, simply because of the fact that he did not appreciate Elvis Presley making a mockery of his song.
And yet on December 4, 1957, the staff of CKWS radio decided to rebel, and played Elvis’ Christmas Album in its entirety. It was a rather daring move for the small radio station, given that most Canadian stations seemed afraid to play it. But the staff of CKWS felt that the best way for the public to decide for themselves if the album was worth playing was to...well, play it. The DJ’s even opened up the telephone lines for people to call into the station to voice their opinions.
And what did the public decide? The majority of them seemed to approve of the album. Many even wondered why the album was considered to be taboo.
And looking back on it, I myself wonder that. I mean, yes, Irving Berlin was not happy with Elvis covering “White Christmas”, but not even he could stop Elvis’ Christmas Album from topping the charts. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the controversy generated by “White Christmas” was a key factor in the album’s rise to the top!
As for CKWS, I have to applaud them for not being followers, but leaders. Admittedly, they took a big chance in playing the whole album, but in the end, it seemed to pay off. It not only introduced Canadian audiences to Elvis’ holiday favourites, but it also showcased a perfect example of standing up for what you believe in. I’m actually quite proud of CKWS for making that call fifty-five years earlier, especially since it took place just a few miles away from where I grew up!
And that’s what happened on December 4, 1957.
The Advent Calendar continues tomorrow with DAY #5. On that day, I talk about the Christmas that I ended up receiving my first actual working computer...though it’s not what you think...