Sex and a duplex
Santa Baby was written by New York writing team Philip Springer and Joan Javits, who had been commissioned by Kitt. She wanted a Christmas song to cap her highly successful 1953, a year in which she’d scored a huge hit with one of her signature pieces, C’est Si Bon. Springer claimed it took him ten minutes to write the music, but Javits, the lyricist, required some persuasion to accept the commission, saying she was too busy.
Springer was not happy with the resulting song, admitting to his publishing company: “This isn’t really the kind of music I like to write.” However, Javits had craftily included references to furs and luxury cars, which Kitt had previously purred about in C’est Si Bon. The vocal seductress loved it, and her provocative interpretation, credited to Eartha Kitt And The Henri René Orchestra, made No.4 in the US chart, its sales driven by Kitt’s declaration that she had been an “awful good girl” in a voice that suggested anything but. Santa Baby was witty, sexy and knowing – a distinctly grown-up depiction of seasonal rituals for mid-century America. Which girl didn’t want a sable, a yacht and a duplex back in ’53? But this parody of Christmas greed was built to last.
It took some time for Santa Baby to return to prominence, but as society became more acquisitive and openly sexualised in the 80s, the song inevitably came to the attention of one of the decade’s biggest stars: Madonna. It was little wonder that pop’s self-declared Material Girl found that Santa Baby suited her in 1987. Though there had been several covers
before she adopted it for a charity album, A Very Special Christmas, Madonna’s version cemented the song’s status as one of the world’s best Christmas songs. She delivered it in a voice like a pushy Brooklyn showgirl over a silky yet automatic-sounding orchestral swing backing. Santa would have needed a to summon up a certain amount of bravery to shimmy down this man-eater’s flue, but the recording was right for the time and has sold strongly ever since.