The Story Behind Blue Christmas And How It Became A Hit Song

"Blue Christmas" is a certified classic that evokes a more melancholy feeling about the holiday season. Though the song initially made a mark in 1948, it became more known to the general public after Elvis Presley swooped in to do his version in 1957. However, quite a time evolved between when the song was first written and when it was recorded by Presley.

Per The Bulletin, "Blue Christmas" was written by Jay Johnson, who had previously written for popular radio shows of the era and additionally had his own program. One day, during his commute from Stamford to New York, he was inspired by the hit "White Christmas" to come up with the idea of feeling "blue" throughout the holiday season. He shared the lyrics with his friend Billy Hayes, who finished the song by adding the melody we know today. Music company Choice Music Co. published the song, which was first recorded by Doye O'Dell in 1948. Three new versions were released over the next few years, including the 1949 version by Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra, which reached No. 9 on the charts.

The song was recorded by a country star before Elvis Presley

In 1950, country singer Ernest Tubb recorded "Blue Christmas." Per The Bulletin, Elvis Presley was a massive fan of Tubb, and he actually met him in 1954 (via Holler). Supposedly upset about not being able to sing the type of music he wanted to, Presley was feeling down when he encountered Tubb, who encouraged Presley to go along with what he was being told to do and then create his own music later on when he was making money.

Of course, Presley would soon become one of the most famous performers of the 20th century. However, it seems Tubb's advice stuck with him. When he recorded "Blue Christmas" in 1957, by all accounts he didn't want to do so. Millie Kirkham, a backing singer who was in the studio with Presley, spoke about how the recording session went. "He [Presley] didn't wanna do it," she shared. "He said, 'I don't wanna do this song.' And they said, 'Well, you've got to because it's already been scheduled,' and so he said, 'Well okay,' and he turned round to us, the musicians and the singers, and said, 'Let's just get this over with.'" 

The song still has staying power decades after its release

Millie Kirkham went on to say that Elvis Presley told the musicians in the studio, "'Just do anything, have fun, have a good time, do something silly.' So I started going 'woo' and he motioned for me to keepdoing it and grinned ... I did it all the way through the whole song and when we got through we all laughed and said 'Well, that's one record that the record company will never release. But they did.'" Still, Presley seemingly changed his mind about the song over the years. In his 1968 comeback concert, he introduced a medley that included "Blue Christmas" favorably, saying, "I'd like to do my favorite Christmas song of all the ones I've recorded."

Despite it being released in 1957, Elvis Presley's version of "Blue Christmas" charted once more in 2019. The Presley Christmas hit entered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 40, having been streamed in the United States over 21.3 million times during the six days from December 21 to December 27. This was Presley's first time back on the Hot 100 since 1977 when he reached No. 18 with "Way Down."