Who Sang It Best? "Santa Baby"
"Santa Baby" Is a Sexy Christmas Classic
Clear the room, friends. The ol' gal in this Christmas ditty is trying to sexualize Santa. (The kids aren't listening, are they?) Although the song's narrator swears she's been an angel all year long, I get the impression that Santa's new best friend knows her way around the North Pole, if you know what I mean.
No wonder this tune was once banned in some areas in the South. The greedy girl describes how well-behaved she's been, then Santa's sassy gal pal slips him her holiday wish list, seeking to persuade the old fart to lavish her with a variety of over-the-top gifts. These include:
- a sable
- a light blue 1954 convertible
- a yacht
- the deed to a platinum mine
- a duplex
- Tiffany's decorations for her tree and
- a ring (diamond, no doubt).
The 1953 tune was co-written by Philip Springer and Joan Javits, the niece of liberal Republican Sen. Jacob K. Javits of New York. Although Eartha Kitt originally sang this sexy Christmas song and made it a classic, many artists have since released cover versions of "Santa Baby." Do you ever wonder, "Who sang it best?" Here's your chance to step up and compare.
"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works
With many artists singing the same Christmas tunes, the sleigh this year is overloaded. Let's rank them and cross some off the list.
In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original version of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.
Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:
- Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?
- Which of the cover versions do you prefer?
The Classic Song
"Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt (1953)
Many of us only recognize Eartha Kitt for singing "Santa Baby" and for her role as Catwoman in the 1960s "Batman" television show. We are oblivious to the fact that she was an accomplished Broadway performer who spoke four languages and sang in 11. The Emmy Award-winning actress was also both defamed and blacklisted by the CIA after embarrassing the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, at a White House function. Kitt uttered anti-Vietnam comments that made the First Lady cry, and as a result, the songstress/actress became virtually unemployable in the US for about a decade.
Ah, but the song. Most of us at least recognize her for that.
Eartha Kitt delivers a sexy rendition that is hard to match. Her voice is velvety–not too sweet and delicate, yet not too smoky and experienced. This is a tongue-in-cheek Christmas song, so in order to pull it off without sounding ridiculous a singer must dial up the sexuality without sounding raunchy. After all, it is Santa.
Eartha's voice projects a narrator who is a woman of class rather than the streets. The narrator feels entitled to the good things in life even if she cannot afford them herself. Thus uses her womanly assets to obtain what she wants.
Using her purrfect voice, Earth Kitt convincingly teases Santa then sends him home to Mrs. Claus, at least for tonight.
Which version would you rather listen to -- Eartha Kitt's original song or your favorite cover version?
Cover Versions in Ranked Order
1. "Santa Baby" by Daniela Andrade (2013)
Out of all the cover versions, this one by YouTube sensation Daniela Andrade has the best chance of ensuring that Santa complies with the narrator's wish list requests. Andrade is a young Canadian woman who has amassed a large following on YouTube since she first began posting in 2009. The singer-songwriter has since released several EPs.
Daniela Andrade's cover is slower than some others. It's sweet and not overdone. There are no unnecessary instrumentals and background sound effects to distract from her magical voice. She'll have you convinced that the narrator is sitting on Santa's lap, fully expecting the jolly old guy to deliver the goods on Christmas morning. And if you've never heard of Daniela Andrade, this song will leave you wanting to hear more from her.
2. "Santa Baby" by Ariana Grande (featuring Liz Gillies) (2013)
Perhaps it's because these women were so young at the time—oh, to be 20 again!—that their breathy duet comes across as alluring and playful without being tacky. In serenading Santa, the former Nickelodeon stars paint a narrator who seems to understand that one's appearance and voice can be effective persuasion tools.
This is certainly not the same Ariana Grande that we hear on "Dangerous Woman" :(2016) and "God Is a Woman" (2018). That Ariana can use her voice as well as her body as a high powered weapon.
Because Ariana Grande's talent has only grown with time, she should re-release this Christmas song as a solo performer. Forget the fake trombone sounds, channel Eartha from beyond, and lean into it a little more. Ariana has the vocal chops to easily top Eartha's classic.
3. "Santa Baby" by Gwen Stefani (2017)
It used to be said that the release of a Christmas album was a signal that a singer's career was on the downswing, but these days everyone is doing it. In 2017, Grammy Award-winning pop star Gwen Stefani released a Christmas album, "You Make It Feel Like Christmas."
In this version of "Santa Baby," I can hear the creative influence of Gwen Stefani's country superstar partner, Blake Shelton, and I like it. I hear the influence, for example, in the way she draws out some of her words (e.g., "good guuurl" and "all yeeear") and in the background instrumentals. Gwen Stefani's voice is filled with just enough sugar to make Santa fulfill the narrator's gift requests without overdoing the spice.
4. "Santa Baby" by Macy Gray (2003)
You probably didn't consider Macy Gray when it comes to "Santa Baby" covers, but this woman sings like no one else today. The Grammy Award winner's style is sometimes compared to that of jazz legend Billie Holliday.
Macy Gray's distinctively raspy voice takes center stage in her version of "Santa Baby." Whereas other singers may portray the narrator as girlish and less assertive, Macy Gray chooses to represent her as confident. At one point Gray's narrator seems to tell Santa what to bring her rather than ask him (e.g., "Santa honey, one little thing I really need: the deed to a platinum mine"). If you're a fan of old-school jazz, then do yourself a favor and listen to Macy Gray's version of "Santa Baby."
5. "Santa Baby" by Kylie Minogue (2010)
In her cover version of "Santa Baby," Australian-British singer and actress Kylie Minogue has a voice which drips with sexuality. I wanted to remind them both that Santa is still married.
As Big Band sounds play prominently, Kylie Minogue's voice oozes with the charm of a pinup girl who is trying too hard to reassure Santa that she's been a good girl all year. (If he was thinking with his noggin, then he wouldn't buy it!) Throughout the song, Marilyn Monroe-like giggles, umms, and oohs punctuate the narrator's requests.
If sex appeal is what you're looking for, then Kylie Minogue cranks it way up. However, I'd prefer to hear the nuances of her actual voice (which is quite good) rather than hearing the results of her acting talent.
6. "Santa Baby" by Cynthia Basinet (1997)
You might know this version as the one sung by 1950s blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe. Problem is,the iconic actress never recorded "Santa Baby." Wait, what?
Here's how it happened. Cynthia Basinet is an actress, singer, and former lover of Jack Nicholson. She recorded a cover version of "Santa Baby" for him as a gift in 1997. Thanks to the internet, her work was miscredited to Marilyn Monroe. Thereafter, the whole world became confused. Cynthia Basinet released an EP in 2001 under the name "C. Basinet," but unfortunately, that did little to correct the error. Her cover version will probably always be known as Marilyn's.
As solid as Basinet's voice is, I can't see how anyone confused her vocals for those of the 1950s film star who famously sang "Happy Birthday" to JFK in front of an audience of thousands. Those vocals were sultry and intimate, as if Marilyn was going to lick him on the spot whereas Basinet's cover doesn't ooze with this brand of sex appeal.
In the Christmas song, Cynthia Basinet's voice is appropriately forefront. While her version merits the prominent place it has in our culture, one must wonder whether its popularity is partially due to its misattribution to Marilyn. I hate to say it, but Basinet's version leaves room for other contenders to bypass it.
7. "Santa Baby" by Shakira (2009)
Columbian-born Shakira has one some of the most viewed videos on YouTube, but she produces an unusual vocal delivery of "Santa Baby" in this public performance at Rockefeller Center. We'll handicap her some major bonus points because this was a recording of a live tv broadcast.
While not an altogether unpleasant production, Shakira allows her voice to play second to the instrumentals. Further, her voice jumps around, as if the Grammy Award-winning musician cannot decide on how to portray the narrator—soft and sexy or instead, full, throaty, and with gusto? Someone needs to step up and tell her that she's effing Shakira and can do better than this.
8. "Santa Baby (Buddy)" by Michael Bublé (2011)
Canadian singer Michael Bublé is a man of another era, and in this jazz-infused rendering of "Santa Baby," he seems to summon the spirit of Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, maybe both.
Bublé does a noticeable gender twist in this holiday song cover by making the narrator requesting a long list of expensive gifts a guy rather than a young woman. The Grammy Award-winning singer swaps out several lyrics. For example, "Santa baby" is replaced with a variety of casual friend-related terms: "buddy," "dude," "pally," and "poppy."
Additionally, the male narrator modifies some of his requests to include:
- a Rolex
- Canucks (hockey) tickets on the first line and
- money ("cha-ching")
No one could find fault with this singer's gorgeous voice, and if you're very adaptable, you'll get used to a man singing "Santa Baby." However, I found this point distracting (e.g, what did he just call Santa?). No offense, but I don't need to think too deeply about a song's Christmas lyrics as I'm baking cookies, trimming the tree, and fa-la-la-la-la-ing through the season.
9. "Santa Baby" by Madonna (1987)
Call her the Material Girl, the Queen of Pop, a living legend. Rolling Stone magazine called Madonna one of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time" as well as one of "The 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time."
The iconic, ever-evolving pop star recorded this 1987 version of "Santa Baby" early in her career. In it, Madonna exploits her voice to play the role of dumb blonde to the point of caricature. She depicts the "Santa Baby" narrator as a pouty, bubblegum-smacking gal who "ba doop-ee-doos" her way through her wish list. While this cover is just a hair shy of silly, there are two positive points that can be made:
- at least one can play this version in front of the kids
- Madonna's recording of this song benefitted the Special Olympics.
10. "Santa Baby" by Kellie Pickler (2007)
After catching the eye of the public as an American Idol contestant, country singer Kellie Pickler released several albums before fading from the national music spotlight in 2013-14. By 2017, however, she found success as a daytime talk show host.
In this offering of "Santa Baby," Pickler's vocals are pleasant but not outstanding, and they have a nasal twinge. What really stands out, however, is a believability factor. This is not simply a country cover of the holiday classic. It has a very downhome feel.
I felt challenged to believe that Pickler's countrified narrator would be asking for a duplex, a '54 convertible, and decorations from Tiffany's. If you've grown up in the South, then you know that she would more likely include wishes for a doublewide mobile home, a pickup truck, and a shopping spree to the local Walmart. Unfortunately, Kellie Pickler's voice and this song's lyrics didn't mesh.
11. "Santa Baby" by Taylor Swift (2007)
Taylor Swift is a phenomenon in country and pop music. One of the best-selling music artists of all time, she's racked up Grammys, an Emmy, and a whole host of other awards. And at only 21 years of age, she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010.
However, for all the things that Taylor Swift does well, this 2007 cover of "Santa Baby" is not her best work. She's given the song a country spin, but as she cheerfully belts out the lyrics, Swift not only struggles to adequately hit the high notes but she also fails to persuade both Santa and her audience that she deserves all the expensive bling.
Based on this performance, Santa will be doing a flyby over the narrator's house this year.
12. "Santa Baby" by The Pussycat Dolls (2006)
Now defunct, The Pussycat Dolls is one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. Were they in a rush to go somewhere when they recorded this song? Between the unusually fast pace and hurried ending, their sloppy cover version doesn't do justice to Eartha Kitt's 1953 classic.
Add to that the laughing, missed high notes, and blaring instrumentals. You'd swear that the background music was the intended focal point of the song, rather than the vocals.
This cover version is towards the bottom of the rankings for good reasons. Do you sense that the wheels are starting to coming off the bus?
13. "Santa Baby" by Colbie Caillat (2012)
The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter recorded her EP, Christmas in the Sand with a nod to all the warm weather places that celebrate the holidays. Although I wanted to like this perky version of "Santa Baby" from the EP, Colbie Caillat's performance of it seemed simply off, lackluster.
As she "boo doo bee doos" her way through the song, there's little flirtiness in the way Caillat presents her version of the song's narrator, almost as if the narrator is a girl-next-door who is relying instead on Santa's goodwill or good judgment to determine her gift-worthiness. Caillat seems to have missed the point of Eartha Kitt's classic tune: the narrator is a greedy, spoiled woman who will do what she needs to do to receive the bounty of costly gifts on her wish list, even if that something as naughty as flirting with Santa.
14. "Santa Baby" by Britney Spears (2012)
Someone told Britney Spears that this recording was the real thing, right? Her flat, tone-deaf rendition drags and sounds like the pop princess is singing into a brush in front of her bathroom mirror. In the morning.
Readers Weigh In
So which CONTENDER do YOU think sang it best?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Do you think a competition during the Christmas Season for the best version of Santa Baby is in the spirit of the holiday?
To me, it's not that deep. You may be overthinking it. However, if you want to analyze the morality of this, I guess we can.
These artists are not singing Christmas songs exclusively for the good of humankind, as much as we'd like to believe that. They are in fact:
1) professional singers who
2) try to separate us listeners/consumers from our hard-earned money using
3) a marketed product (i.e., a recording) made with tools (i.e., vocals/instrumentals) of variable quality.
Certainly, the musicians get pleasure from doing something they love and from spreading holiday cheer. However, we need to remember that these are professionals we’re ranking here, not kids in the Christmas pageant at the local church. I do not fault the singers for making money from their talents. In fact, I applaud their skills and entrepreneurial spirit. We must all feed our families with whatever talents we have. However, as potential consumers, we should be able to compare the efforts of one singer versus another before parting with our money.
One surely wouldn't expect these singers to forego their profits during the Christmas season because making money from such joyful yuletide songs is not in keeping with the spirit of the holidays. One certainly wouldn't buy ALL the different versions of a song just because it's Christmastime and one wants to forego hurt feelings among the singers. These professional musicians are good at what they do, have put themselves in the public eye, and are accustomed to feedback.
Sadly, not everyone gets a trophy. Not everyone comes in first. Not everyone even delivers their personal best. This is true even in December. We shouldn't be expected to suspend competition or criticism of a person’s professional efforts, especially when you and I might invest (or waste) precious money purchasing a song, an entire EP of an artist, or a ticket to a Christmas concert.
We don't set aside competition, capitalism, or any other genuine ranking principle in life just because it's Christmastime. But if it makes you feel better, on other “Who Sang It Best?” articles I have avoided listing cover versions by young, nonprofessional singers, even if they have over 1 million YouTube views for a song.
I also realize, of course, that everyone has different opinions. THANK YOU for letting yours be known.Helpful 1
© 2018 FlourishAnyway