Tommie Connor, a songwriter from Bloomsbury, in London, received a strange commission in the early 50s: to write a song promoting the annual Christmas card of the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue department store in New York. The song-sheet holiday card, which included Connor’s lyrics to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” featured a cartoon showing a young woman kissing Father Christmas next to a decorated tree, with bags of presents strewn across the floor. This image would remain forever imprinted in the public’s mind after Jackson 5 released their version of the song, in 1970.
Banned on radio
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was first recorded in July 1952 by Jimmy Boyd and it aroused controversy. Objections were raised by church groups, who took exception to the saucy lyrics, while radio stations in Boston, influenced by local Catholic Church officials, even banned the song when it came out. Boyd, a skinny, red-headed kid of 12, helped persuade stations to lift the ban, and his version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” became a big hit, which led to a successful career in movies and on television variety shows for the Mississippi-born child star.
Though there have been hundreds of versions of the song since 1952 – including those by The Beverley Sisters, The Ronettes, Andy Williams, Reba McEntire, John Mellencamp, Jessica Simpson, Amy Winehouse, and John Prine – the most popular is by Jackson 5, who recorded it for Motown.
The Jackson 5 version
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” was one of the tracks on Jackson 5 Christmas Album, which was released on October 15, 1970. The album was recorded when child prodigy Michael Jackson was on the cusp of his 12th birthday. Jackson takes the lead on the part-sung, part-spoken track, which opens with his exclamation, “Wow! Mommy’s kissing Santa Claus.” The joke of the song, of course, is that the man kissing the woman under the mistletoe is in fact the boy protagonist’s father, who is wearing a Santa costume.
Jackson 5’s track, which also featured Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, and Tito Jackson, was produced by Hal David. Jackson 5 Christmas Album also features a sparkling version of Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song.” The group’s version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” gave the Jacksons a hit single in New Zealand, and they would regularly perform the song live and on television shows, sometimes doing an a cappella version.
Tommie Connor earned serious money from his hit, more than he’d earned from co-writing the 1937 festive song “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” which was recorded by Nat King Cole. He went on to write lyrics for some of the music in the 1966 Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. But it is his cheeky festive hit, so associated with that exuberant Motown version, that keeps his name alive.
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