Bruce Springsteen – “My Hometown” / “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” [Columbia 38-05728, 7″ single, 45 rpm, 1985.]
There really was no method in my madness when I started this “audio Advent calendar” – as one friend has described it – back on December 1. If I had planned ahead better, I would’ve written a few things before that time in order to post them in a more timely manner each day, but that didn’t happen. I’ve been kind of winging it every day, sometimes gathering inspiration from the previous day’s post and other times just choosing what felt right for the moment. Or I just stumbled across something serendipitously, as I did for today’s post.
While looking through my little stack of Christmas 7″ singles yesterday, I picked up the record that has the famous version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen on it. It has a nice picture sleeve as you can see above. I flipped it over to see what info it had about the recording, and lo and behold, I found this brief note that I had written on the back of it 29 years ago today: “Purchased at Leopold Records (Isla Vista, CA) December 12 1985.” Wow! That brought back some memories. I worked at Leopold Records during the one year that I lived in Santa Barbara. (Isla Vista is the little sub-community of Santa Barbara where U.C.S.B. is located; it’s populated mostly by college students.) It was a great little store with a small but knowledgeable and passionate staff. I had worked for the Record Factory regional chain in Monterey, and they had purchased the few, or maybe only two, Leopold stores that existed. The original Leopold’s opened in Berkeley in 1968. The Record Factory chain bought the Leopold stores in the mid 80s but still ran them under the Leopold name. Later in the 80s, one of the West coast’s largest music retailers, Wherehouse Entertainment, gobbled up all the Record Factory stores including Leopold’s. By the mid 90s, the behemoth corporation that Wherehouse had become started having trouble and they shut Leopold’s doors in 1996.
Springsteen’s version of this well-known Christmas song was originally recorded live in concert at C.W. Post College in Greenvale, New York on December 12, 1975. (Oh, maybe that’s why I was compelled to make that note: I saw the recording date on there and noticed I was buying it on the same date 10 years later! Serendipity, once again.) It had only been released to rock radio stations for airplay and I looked forward to the chance of catching it every Christmas season. It was released commercially for the first time in 1981, when it was included on the compilation album In Harmony 2 which was aimed at the burgeoning children’s music market. Its existence on there probably went very much unnoticed; I sure didn’t remember that! It finally received a proper coming out party on November 21, 1985, when it was included as the B-Side to “My Hometown,” the record-tying seventh single released from Springsteen’s blockbuster Born in the U.S.A album, which has been certified Platinum 15-times over by the RIAA – that’s 15 million albums sold, in the U.S alone. I remember being quite excited that they were finally putting this great rockin’ Christmas song out there for the public to buy.
I’ve always really loved this version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” It seems pretty clear to me that Springsteen’s interpretation here was based on the very original Jack Nitzsche arrangement performed by the Crystals on the classic 1963 R&B compilation album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, produced by Phil Spector. (Hint, hint…) Many of the versions that have been recorded since that time also seem to be strongly influenced by that arrangement. But you can also clearly hear how Bruce puts his own unique stamp on it in this version as well. I mean, it’s the Boss and the boys in the E Street Band. They blow the song wide open.
It starts off wonderfully as Springsteen sets up the wintry scene along the New Jersey shore, with jingle bells and bright piano accompanying his spoken intro. And then he banters with the band and the audience, asking if they’ve been good this year; their noncommittal reply seems to leave him a bit worried about the prospects of them getting any Christmas morning bounty. He breaks into the first lines of the song in his unmistakably powerful voice and it doesn’t take long for the band to kick into the high gear they’re so well-known for and they’re off and running with it. It’s just good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a little break near the end of the song where the band quiets down a bit and Clarence Clemons adds his deep-throated “Ho Ho Ho” into the mix a few times. It’s funny to hear how Springsteen chuckles bemusedly at this, sort of revealing how much fun he’s having. It’s a fun song to listen to and it’s one Christmas record that I never tire of hearing.
You can listen to it through this Spotify player here (It’s something new I’m trying. It appears you need a Spotify account, which is free, to listen to it through this player. It will open your Spotify player. If you get an error message, refresh the web page. If you can, leave a comment below to let me know how it worked for you. Thanks.)
If that doesn’t work, here it is on YouTube: “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Ho! Ho! Ho!