CIRCA 1965: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses with Colonel Tom Parker (dressed as Santa Claus)in this Christmas card circa 1965.
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'Blue Christmas': The Story Behind Elvis Presley's Holiday Standard

Elvis Presley forever changed the listening habits of a wide range of consumers in 1957 with his version of "Blue Christmas." Though the beloved tune is now most frequently associated with the King, it was originally recorded by western music pioneer Doye O'Dell in 1948.

According to Classic Country Music Stories, Jay W. Johnson wrote the song lyrics on his commuter train from his home in Connecticut to New York City. He had been writing jingles for the radio and was inspired by some of the seasonal hits at the time like "White Christmas" which blew up thanks to Bing Crosby. He took the idea to his composer friend Billy Hayes and together they put the finishing touches on the song. But initially, no one was interested in recording it when it got shopped around Nashville.

Ernest Tubb took a stab at making it the quintessential sad country Christmas song after O'Dell's version reached No. 1 in January 1950. Throughout the '50s, Tubb helped popularize the song and generated interest among other country artists to cover it.

When it came time for Elvis' Christmas Album to be recorded in Sept. 1957, Presley created what's become the song's definitive interpretation— complete with those apropos blue notes. Presley took ownership of the song to the extent that he started decorating Graceland with blue Christmas lights. Father Vernon Presley banned the use of the lights after his son's death because seeing them too soon was "just too sad." Blue Christmases returned to the King's former home in 1982.

(Original Caption) 12/20/1957-Memphis, TN: Rock 'n' roll crooner Elvis Presley reads an unexpected "greeting" — a notice to report to military induction on January 20th. The idol of the teenagers is scheduled to begin making a film on the same day, however, so a studio official says that he will ask for a temporary postponement of Presley's induction. If Presley is not available for the movie, the studio and the producer will possibly lose between $300,000 and $350,000.

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What's interesting is Presley reportedly didn't even want to record it at the time. According to backup singer Millie Kirkham, when they first entered the studio to record the song, Presley said "Let's just get this over with." Kirkham added in an interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum that everyone in the recording, including backup singers The Jordanaires and guitarist Scotty Moore, felt the same way and didn't believe the studio would even release the song.

Of course, we all know they were proven wrong in a grandiose way. The album, which featured recordings of "Santa Claus is Back in Town," "Silent Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," went to No. 1 while resetting the bar for countrified Christmas music. The song itself was a Top 15 pop hit in its time and now gets about as much annual play around Christmas time as Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby," Wham's "Last Christmas" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You."

Ever since Presley made it iconic, "Blue Christmas" has been covered by the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Lady A.

READ MORE: The Story Behind a Timeless Musical Statement of Faith, 'O Holy Night'

This story was previously published on Dec. 4, 2021.

"Blue Christmas" Lyrics

I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue thinking about you
Decorations of red
On a green Christmas tree
Won't be the same
If you're not here with me

And when those blue snow flakes start fallin'
And when those blue memories start fallin'
You'll be doing all right with your Christmas of white
But I'll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas

Decorations of red
On a green Christmas tree
Oh, won't be the same
If you're not here with me

I'll have a blue Christmas, that's certain
And when that blue heartache starts hurtin'
You'll be doing all right
With your Christmas of white
But I'll have a blue, blue Christmas