Behind the Song Lyrics: “Santa Baby”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Often thought of as a more sexy or even sexualized song, in all its cheekiness, “Santa Baby,” originally written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, and performed by Earth Kitt and the Henri René and His Orchestra in 1953, is the tale of a woman who simply wants the finer things in life—checks, a convertible, and a few little things from Tiffany’s.

Santa baby, just slip a Sable under the tree for me
Been an awful good girl
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby, a ’54 convertible too, light blue
I’ll wait up for you, dear
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight

At first, Springer didn’t think much of the holiday tune, which he was commissioned to write with Javits for Kitt, even apologizing to his co-writer when he submitted his first draft of the song.

“When we first wrote it, I never had any idea that it’d have this kind of popularity,” said Springer in a 2018 interview. “I said it wasn’t one of my greatest melodies, but it was the best I could do. The publisher said, ‘Phil, it’s great.’ I had no idea. Only time has proven to me they were right.”

Kitt’s sultry growl and pounce brought a natural sexiness to the song, making it an instant holiday hit. The song reached No. 1 in the U.S. in 1953, and peaked on international charts but didn’t escape controversy in its time, particularly in the southern region of the U.S. where the song was banned and called too suggestive as a holiday-themed song.

Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex and checks
Sign your “X” on the line
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany’s
I really do believe in you
Let’s see if you believe in me

In 1954 RCA Victor Records, looking to capitalize on the success of the song, released different versions of the “Santa Baby” with different lyrics. By 1987, the song saw a revival in its original true Earth Kitt form when Madonna approached A & M records to record the classic to help benefit the Special Olympics. Her rendition of “Santa Baby” brought it to an entirely new generation. 

“That was about the best news you can have,” said Springer, now 95, who went on to write hits for Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin long after his “Santa Baby” days. “It began the revival of ‘Santa Baby’ to where it is now.”

Still one of the most recognizable and non-traditional yuletide songs, “Santa Baby” is a classic that keeps returning to modern times, entering the charts again in the 2000s and 2010s, even reaching No. 18 on the Billboard 100 chart again in 2013 and No. 11 and No. 6, respectively, on the 2018 Billboard Holiday Digital and Holiday Streaming charts.

In the nearly 70 years since the debut of “Santa Baby,” the song has also been covered by everyone from Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande (with Liz Gillies), Kylie Minogie, Gwen Stefani, Trisha Yearwood, RuPaul, and most recently Kelly Clarkson. Michael Bublé also covered the song on his 2011 album Christmas, and Miss Piggy took a crack at it in 2006 on The Muppets A Green and Red Christmas album.

For Kitt, who died on Christmas day in 2008, the song was always perfection since its inception.

“Every time I sing ‘Santa Baby,’ I laugh more at myself when I’m singing that song because I know what I’ve gone through and the song says Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree,” said Kitt in an interview a year before her death. “Well, all the men who have done that with me had never stayed with me, so I realized everything that I want in life I have to pay for myself, and I really love that because then nobody owns me, but me, and my public of course.”

Photo: Eartha Kitt / YouTube

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