Elvis Presley and Carrie Underwood – “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | December 20th, 2008

Elvis Presley and Carrie Underwood - Ill 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.

Thumbs Up

  1. Chris N.
    December 20, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    “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?”

    I love Elvis, but I think you’re overestimating his pickiness a little bit. He’s also the guy who recorded “Do the Clam” and “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car.”

  2. Highwayman
    December 21, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Why do we need edited-in duets with inferior artists? Just buy Elvis: Christmas Peace and enjoy the album as it was originally recorded.

  3. northtexas
    December 21, 2008 at 10:52 am

    “Why do we need edited-in duets with inferior artists?”

    What a nasty thing to say about Elvis! LOL!

  4. Gaby
    December 21, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I like it. Her understated voice on this song is actually one of the more “organic” sounding duets on this album. Was the whole thing necessary? Probobly not, but the whole idea is definetly not as bad as it could be.

  5. Davey
    December 21, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    The duet is not bad. But I though the whole concept was mostly pretentious.
    Also appears that the screeching diva syndrome that plagues most of the “inferior artists” on the album is (mostly) in remission for the album.
    But, is there a cure?

  6. Dan Milliken
    December 21, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    It’s miles more listenable than the duet with Martina, but I wish Carrie would have matched a few more of Elvis’ vowels in the end when they sing together. That’s like my #1 duets pet peeve.

  7. Baron Lane
    December 22, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Underwood singing with a posthumous King is like a fried peanut butter and crap sandwich.

  8. Chris N.
    December 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Definitely start with ‘Christmas Peace’ or ‘If Every Day Were Like Christmas.’

  9. Rick
    December 22, 2008 at 10:55 am

    As money making marketing gimmicks I find these types of albums to be deplorable in concept if not execution. To maximize sales of course the geniuses that think up these projects tap currently popular Top 40 mainstream country artists hoping their dedicated fanboys and girls will buy in. While someone who adores current airhead country, like say Alison Bonaguro, would probably love this album I’d much rather get a piece of coal (Kathy Mattea style) than this contrived fluff in my Christma stocking.

  10. Bryan Garten
    December 23, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    An Elvis Presley Duet,
    Who would have known? It actually seems to be a good album with some real talented artists. Many top notch entertainers share the stage with Elvis and ring in the Christmas Spirit. Of course I am a bit biased, I love this gal. I absolutely adore her rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”.
    She adds an ultra-sweet sound to an old classic.
    Great job Carrie. Another fine example of talented singing. It breaks my heart.

  11. Mariah
    December 29, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Carrie sounds amazing, great review! I disagree thgat she is allegedly sometimes over the top and overbearing, as you called her.. That is simply not true! Otherwise, I love your review. Carrie is incredible in this song, and always.

    Why is there so much Carrie hate by some of the commentators here? She is amazing, and the best vocalist to come to Nashville in a long, long time.

  12. Mariah
    December 29, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Baron Lane: Carrie singing with Elvis is like peanut butter and jelly: perfect, satisfying, and it goes down easy.

    They are both incredible artists, and there is no need to trash Carrie every chance you get.

  13. Bryan Garten
    January 21, 2011 at 1:39 am

    OMG, Carrie you are absolutely awesome! Actually
    way beyond awesome! I love your version of this song! It is the best version ever! Muah! Guzzi Bella Care Bear! Absolutely spectacular. <3

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