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Why Eartha Kitt's 'Santa Baby' is the greatest Christmas song of all time

Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ has got to be one of the most divisive Christmas songs out there. British people are especially opposed to it, ranking Kitt’s festive offering as one of the most annoying Christmas songs of all time in 2019. The fact that it’s been covered so many times doesn’t help either: Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Taylor ruddy Swift, it seems like everyone’s had a pop at ‘Santa Baby’ at some point or another. The thing is, however, none of those renditions really captures the heart and soul of the original — the thing that makes it, in my eyes, one of the best Christmas songs out there. Because, where most of the Christmas songs from the 1950s are steeped in conformity, Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ is wild, erotic, and thoroughly subversive.

‘Santa Baby’ was written back in 1953 by composer Phillip Springer, who completed the music and lyrics in a swift ten minutes with the help of his musical partner Joan Javits. Neither believed the song would be much of a hit – how wrong they were. The decision to give the song to Eartha Kitt, who was at that time trying to wrangle her music career onto a set path, turned out to be a masterstroke. Coupled, with the swing-jazz arrangements – performed by Henri René and his orchestra – Kitt’s pitch-perfect vocals are at once restrained and incredibly sensual, disguising a strident eroticism that seems to bubble just beneath the surface. Let’s not forget that Orson Welles once described Eartha Kitt as the most “exciting woman on earth”.

And yet, if it weren’t for the suggestive lyrics, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘Santa Baby’ the height of ’50s crooner cheese. That, of course, is the brilliance of ‘Santa Baby’: it is a Trojan Horse, a sexually-charged affront on sexual post-war sexual repression wrapped in inoffensive packaging. While it might on the surface sound like a little ditty about wanting presents, ‘Santa Baby’ also plays around with the sexual politics of the age.

In ‘Santa Baby’, the titular Santa seems to represent the family patriarch, the man at the head of the table, the breadwinner. In this sense, like many other Christmas songs of the era, ‘Santa Baby’ seems entrenched in ideas surrounding the nuclear family. The song’s speaker, however, as well as squeezing this patriarch for every penny he’s got, refuses to play the housewife, hinting at her sexual desires for other men in lines like “Think of all the fun I’ve missed/ Think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed”. What’s more, the man in question isn’t given the opportunity to speak for himself. Instead, he becomes the plaything of Kitt’s character, in what can be regarded as a powerful subversion of ’50s gender stereotypes. No wonder ‘Santas Baby’ was banned in certain southern American states on release; it’s red hot and takes absolutely no prisoners.

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