Elvis Presley and Carrie Underwood – “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
Songwriters: Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram.
There are many adjectives to describe pop-country juggernaut Carrie Underwood’s vocal ability. Powerful and technically proficient? Sure. Overbearing and over the top? Sometimes.
But understated? Not so much.
That’s why it’s refreshing to hear Underwood complement The King of Rock and Roll (who first recorded the pensive, eight-line holiday song more than a decade after Bing Crosby’s version hit close to home in a nation surrounded by the uncertainty of World War II) without overpowering him on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” a posthumous duet courtesy of the fancy-schmancy modern technology behind Elvis Presley Christmas Duets.
It takes a charismatic vocalist to pull off a song consisting of only two stanzas and which is sparsely backed by piano and snare drum. Elvis pulled it off in 1957 on his Christmas Album, and Underwood helps make it work here as well.
The inflated duet is almost twice as long as the original Presley recording, supplemented by a tinkling instrumental interlude before Elvis and Underwood repeat the second stanza together; Underwood’s voice takes on a velvety quality, drawing out and bending around Elvis’ unique style. That style, reeking of sexuality despite this song’s Christmas theme, shines through particularly on the “oh-oh-oh yes” ad-lib in the final stanza, which find Elvis emoting as only he can.
Despite the interesting vocal performances by both singers, it’s still impossible to listen all the way through without thinking, at some point: “But isn’t this guy dead?” The key to a good duet is chemistry, and it’s impossible to have a spark with a singer who is no longer alive. It also doesn’t help that the song wasn’t written to be, or originally recorded as, a duet.
Of course, the “duet with a dead person” stunt isn’t new, especially for the Elvis estate. Both Lisa Marie Presley and Celine Dion paired up posthumously with The King, as have Natalie Cole, Shooter Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. with their parents.
In fact, anyone can now duet with Presley. A promotional Web site for the Elvis Presley Christmas Duets allows anyone to record “Blue Christmas” with The King and share it via email. (Full disclosure: Yes I tried it—in the name of research, of course. Let’s just say The 9513 would have to institute a Multiple Thumbs Down rating system for the resulting atrocity.)
It’s a marketing gimmick, sure. But modern technology notwithstanding, if any Joe Schmoe can duet with one of music’s most legendary vocalists and performers, it goes without saying that a little bit of the mystique has been chipped away.
There’s also something to be said about the plausibility of these two singers pairing in “real” life. If Elvis actually had a say in this album, would a poised, glossy American Idol winner be a realistic collaborative candidate for a musical trailblazer whose in-your-face rock and roll rebellion was every parent’s worse nightmare?
Maybe. Maybe not. And perhaps it’s a moot point considering the question can never be answered.
Regardless, Underwood’s performance here harkens back to the bygone era of Elvis’ history-making, chart-topping prime—and the holiday season is nothing if not nostalgic.
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