Have Yourself a Skeevy Little Christmas

This post was in the can over at Popdose, but before it could run, the song it discusses was part of Popblerd’s Jukebox From Hell feature. Then Jeff and Jason took it apart for Mellowmas. So I yanked it from there and I’m putting it here. And screw all you guys.

Certain songs are so identified with the people who first recorded them that they should never be touched by anyone else. The original performance is so unique, or the style is so personal, that in the hands of any other artist, the song becomes a dumpster fire. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is one and “Stairway to Heaven” is another. You can probably think of more, but here’s one you may never have thought of before: “Santa Baby.”

“Santa Baby” was released at Christmas 1953 by Eartha Kitt, known mainly as a film and television actress in the 50s and 60s. You might know her as the actress who took over the part of Catwoman in the Batman TV series after Julie Newmar left the role. She is best known, however, for “Santa Baby,” in which she croons her Christmas list, stuffed with luxury items. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an indelible performance.

The next-most-famous version of “Santa Baby” is the one by Madonna, released 25 years ago this Christmas on the first volume of A Very Special Christmas. Where Kitt comes across as a woman of substantial sexual power whose demands will not be ignored, Madonna’s more uptempo take sounds like the whine of a spoiled gold-digger, a woman who will perpetually want something, and after she gets it will start in asking for something else. It runs about 2:40 and couldn’t have taken much longer than that to record.

The first page of a “Santa Baby” search at YouTube uncovers versions by Taylor Swift, Kylie Minogue, Shakira, Kellie Pickler, and the cast of Glee. But there’s one in particular that needs to be singled out, because it is not merely a cover version of a song that should never be covered, but it’s a gender-switching version. Although Michael Bublé doesn’t change the title, he sings the song as “Santa buddy,” and there’s no mistaking it as one of the World’s Worst Songs.

Bublé changes up the list, asking among other things for a Rolex instead of a sable, decorations bought at Mercedes instead of Tiffany’s, and in the most painful substitution, “Canucks tix for kicks” instead of “a duplex and checks.” And instead of referring to Santa as “cutie” and “honey,” as female singers do, he calls him “pallie” and “poppy” in addition to “buddy.” Never mind that nobody talks like that, there’s something remarkably skeevy about it. It puts the “obscene” in “obsequious.”

The original “Santa Baby,” co-written by a woman, Joan Javits, is a clever holiday play on the cost of maintaining arm candy; putting that sensibility into the mouth of a male singer turns it into something I can’t find a word to describe except “ewwwww.”

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3 responses

  1. Anybody can lure Santa down the chimney, *if* they’re using the right bait:

    “Santy baby, I need a milkin’ pail for my cow
    and how…”

    -Homer & Jethro, “Santy Baby,” 1954.

  2. Agreed, though I haven’t heard Buble’s take (and won’t, after reading your surely accurate skewering). If you’re a male singer and you do a song as clearly written for a woman as “Santa Baby,” have the nerve to own it and really gender-bend. Sing the lyrics exactly as written, and if someone doesn’t like it, too bad. But switching out the lyrics seems like a completely wimpy way to go.

  3. […] again in the summer of 1973, so I decided to find out. I wondered why any radio station would play the relentlessly awful Michael Buble cover of “Santa Baby.” I also investigated the history of a little-known supergroup starring Eric Clapton and Steve […]

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