NOVEMBER 24, 2023

‘Step Into Christmas’ Turns 50

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 to visit family or friends.

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
(This is an updated version of an article that appeared on in 2020.)

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the song with a new special collection on streaming services. It consists of:

  • Step Into Christmas (Remastered 2017) [In Dolby Atmos where available]
  • Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas)
  • All Quiet On The Western Front (Remastered 2003)
  • Cold As Christmas (In The Middle Of The Year) [Remastered 2016]
  • Calling It Christmas (Radio Edit) [Elton John & Joss Stone]
  • Step Into Christmas (1973 Gilbert O’Sullivan Show Version)
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (Live at Hammersmith Odeon/1973)

This last track is a true gem from Elton’s “Christmas Party” concert at the Hammersmith Odeon on December 22, 1973. During the introduction to I’ve Seen That Movie Too, halfway through the set, a playful Elton led his band into an instrumental version of the holiday classic, to the delight of those in attendance.

"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 on November 23, 1973, as Elton’s first 1970’s song 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 peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart in the US and No. 24 during its initial seven-week run on the UK Singles Chart.

Like many other Yuletide classics, Step Into Christmas has returned over the past decade or so to become a seasonal favourite. It has spent a total of 44 weeks to date on the Billboard Holiday Airplay chart and, in the UK, has charted each December since 2011. In the 2020-21 winter season, the single obtained its highest position to date when it reached No. 8, three years after receiving the British Phonographic Industry’s Silver certificate (200,000 copies sold).

Total weeks on UK Singles Chart (as of 20 November, 2023):
★   Top 100 = 57
★   Top 40 = 30
★   Top 20 = 17
★   Top 10 = 5

Both Step Into Christmas and its B-side Ho, Ho, Ho (Who’d Be A Turkey At Christmas) were written and recorded at Trident Studios in London on Sunday, November 11, 1973, with overdubs added on the following day. To keep up with the hurried delivery schedule, producer Gus Dudgeon and engineer David Hentschel mixed it on the 13th. 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 Philles Records

★   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 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.)

Elton featured the just-out-of-the-oven track during his “EJ the DJ” set on Capital Radio on the evening of November 15. Before the month was finished, Elton and the band taped a performance of 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 is a different mix than what appeared on the 45 and Elton’s vocal is a blend of the original with a new take recorded specifically for the television show. In the Gilbert O’Sullivan video, Bernie can be seen stepping in for percussionist Ray Cooper, as he had on the original video,

Interestingly, Elton performed the song 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.

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 also 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!

Welcome to my Christmas song,
I’d like to thank you for the year.
So I’m a-sending you this Christmas card
To say it’s nice to have you here.

I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see,
So hop aboard the turntable
Oh, step into Christmas with me, yeah.

Step into Christmas, let’s join together,
We can watch the snow fall for ever and ever,
Eat, drink and be merry, come along with me,
Step into Christmas, the admission’s free.

Take care in all you do next year
And keep smiling through the days.
If we can help to entertain you,
Oh, we will find the ways.

So merry Christmas, one and all,
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than asking you if you’ll oblige
Stepping into Christmas with me.

Step into Christmas, let’s join together,
We can watch the snow fall for ever and ever,
Eat, drink and be merry, come along with me,
Step into Christmas, the admission’s free.