Let’s just cut right to the chase.
Anyone who knows even just a little about me can probably guess what my all-time favorite Christmas song is.
As a hint, the song just happens to also be sung by my favorite musical artist.
You guessed it – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town by Bruce Sprinsgteen and the E-Street Band.
Here’s a link to the audio of the version many of you are probably most familiar with (you can scroll down to see a live video performance of the song). The audio version starts with a little dialogue from Bruce, and features Clarence Clemons on the sax and laughing like Santa, and just pure joy from the entire band. This performance was recorded live at C. W. Post College (now Long Island University – Post) in Brookville, New York on December 12, 1975.
Live performances of the song often saw the band encouraging the audience to sing some of the lyrics with—or in place of—the band’s vocalists (usually the line “you’d better be good for goodness sake”, and occasionally the key line “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” as well). Sometimes, concert crowds would sing along with the entire song, and the band would do nothing to dissuade those audiences from doing so. This version remains a Springsteen concert favorite during the months of November and December (often concluding the show), and the band is among the few that keep it in their roster of songs during the holidays. (Wikipedia)
Here’s a little background on that 1975 performance from David J. Criblez at Newsday.com.
The day of the show a massive snowstorm hit Long Island with the temperature dropping to 12 degrees, causing the show to be delayed for an hour.
People waited on line starting at 1 p.m. for an 8 p.m. show, drinking peppermint schnapps just to keep warm.
The performance of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” came as the second song of the encore and took the crowd by surprise.
The song features one of Springsteen’s storytelling raps at the beginning as sleigh bells jingle in the background mixed with seasonal sounds of singular piano notes.
“It’s everything you want from The E Street Band — it’s got playfulness, a killer sax solo and the arrangement totally rocks,” says Steve Prisco, 65, of East Northport, who was at the Post show.. “Bruce always had a comedy element to his shows making jokes with saxophonist Clarence Clemons and the rest of the band. You can see he was excited to pull the song off.”
Concert attendee Wayne Belfer, 63, adds, “They began by laughing then everyone started to get into it by singing along. Bruce and Clarence were hamming it up on stage. It was a joyous moment.”
Springsteen’s rendition was based on the arrangement producer Phil Spector had the Crystals record on his 1963 holiday album, “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.”
“Bruce completely reworked that song. He made it swing and rock,” says Darren Gallagher, 55, of West Islip, who runs a Springsteen tribute band called Badlands that plays the song live and even recorded it. “Sometimes when you hear a remake it sounds just like every other version of the song. This particular one sounds undeniably like Bruce Springsteen.”
When former Newsday pop music critic Wayne Robins reviewed the show, he wrote that the song “caused pandemonium” and described Springsteen as “more mensch than macho.”
“It was the time of the macho rock star — Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith,” says Robins, who will be inducted in the Long Island Music Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021. “Bruce came on like he was your neighbor.”
Here is a more recent live video version of the song that includes Paul McCartney and the cast of a Saturday Night Live Christmas Special from 2015. Still as great as ever.
And here is a little behind the scenes interview with Tina Fey on the Howard Stern Show where she talks about what it was like to be singing with Bruce.
So Merry Christmas to all, and be sure to keep Bruce’s words in mind, “You better be good for goodness sake.”