DECEMBER 22, 2020

Step Into Christmas

Traditionally, this time of year finds a great many people making plans for the buying and giving of gifts, determining which delicacies are best suited for the holiday menu, and perhaps sorting out travel itineraries.

For Elton fans, there is an additional perennial event without which the holiday season just would not be the same: listening to Step Into Christmas.

By John F. Higgins

“It was written and recorded on Sunday and will be in the shops this week.”

Elton to Chris Welch, Melody Maker, 24 November 1973

Originally released in November 1973 as Elton’s first song of that decade recorded especially as a single (it pre-dates Lucy And The Sky With Diamonds and Philadelphia Freedom by a year or more), the rousing number reached No. 1 on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart in the US and peaked at #No. 4 during its seven-week run on the UK Singles Chart.

Like many other Yuletide classics, Step Into Christmas has returned to become a seasonal favourite. In the UK, it was 2009’s ninth most played Christmas song and has charted each December since 2011. Last year, the single obtained its highest position to date when it reached #8, three years after receiving the British Phonographic Industry’s Silver certificate (200,000 copies sold).

Total weeks on UK Singles Chart:
   ★   Top 100 = 43
   ★   Top 40 = 19
   ★   Top 20 = 10
   ★   Top 10 = 3

Both Step Into Christmas and its far lesser-known B-side Ho, Ho, Ho (Who'd Be A Turkey At Christmas) were written and recorded on Sunday, November 11, 1973, at Trident Studios, London, where Elton and producer Gus Dudgeon had done their first three albums (and one film soundtrack) together.

   ★   Elton: Piano and vocals
   ★   Davey Johnstone: Guitars and backing vocals
   ★   Dee Murray: Bass guitar and backing vocals
   ★   Nigel Olsson: Drums and backing vocals
   ★   Ray Cooper: Percussion
   ★   Kiki Dee: Backing vocals (uncredited)
   ★   Jo Partridge: Backing vocals (uncredited)
   ★   Roger Pope: Tambourine (uncredited)
   ★   David Hentschel: ARP 2500 synthesizer (uncredited)

Guitarist Davey Johnstone later recalled, “I came up with this pretty cool acoustic/electric guitar riff and we were off to the races! Roger Pope played tambourine on the song and other members of Kiki Dee's band were around [in the studio], so Kiki and Jo Partridge joined us for background vocals on both tracks. Gus and [engineer] David Hentschel came up with the ‘reindeer’ sound after the first ‘the admission’s free’ bit. We did both tracks, and the following week did a very loony video!”

Note: the official video for Step Into Christmas was recorded early in the morning, which is why Elton can be seen at the beginning mock-yawning and looking at his watch.

To keep with the hurried delivery schedule, both tracks were mixed on the same day as they were recorded. Dudgeon’s production honoured the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” from the classic 1963 album featuring Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and others: A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector.

Before the month of November 1973 was finished, Elton and the band, with Bernie stepping in for percussionist Ray Cooper, as he had on the original video, taped a performance for Step Into Christmas during his guest spot on Gilbert O'Sullivan: Welcome To My Show at South Bank Television Centre in London. The audio heard on this broadcast was a different mix than what appeared on the 45 and Elton’s vocal being a mixture of the original with a new take recorded specifically for the television show.

Interestingly, Elton performed Step Into Christmas not only at some of his “Christmas Party” concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in late December 1973, but also on his February 1974 tour of Japan!

This year, the song reached new fans of TikTok with the #StepIntoChristmas challenge amassing more than 100 million views! If you missed the Furnish-John family's take on the challenge, what are you waiting for?! Watch the hilarious video on TikTok now.

As Step Into Christmas was a stand-alone single, there were no lyrics printed upon its release, as they normally would be had the song appeared on an LP. The song was not released on an Elton album until 1990’s box set, To Be Continued… (it can most recently be found on the Deluxe version of Diamonds). But, as of 1976, devoted fans who owned Bernie Taupin’s book, The One Who Writes The Words For Elton John, could sing along with confidence. And now, you can too!