Darin’s Archive: The Christmas Song That Wasn’t A Christmas Song

This is the first of a series of posts wherein I will dredge up some old tracks from my sordid past doing TV and radio commercials and explain the strange and/or amusing story of how the track came to be. How long this series continues depends on the degree to which I’m willing to embarrass myself (which, judging from the past, is pretty far).

We kick off with a special holiday edition.

The Client: a major retail clothing chain

The Spot: 30-second TV ad featuring winter clothes for babies & toddlers (heavy on teh cute)

The Job: Client had edited the spot using Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” as a reference track. They loved it, until they found out how much it was going to cost to license it. So they hired me, hoping I could create something they would like as much as Ella Fitzgerald. How hard could that be? (gulp)

The initial conversation went pretty much like this:

CLIENT: So what we need is a jazz arrangement of a Christmas song.

ME: That should be no problem – there are lots of Christmas songs in the public domain.

CLIENT: Oh no, we don’t want you to use a traditional Christmas song. Those are all overdone. We need a new Christmas song.

ME: OK…do you have any lyrics you want to use? I know some folks we could call for help with that.

CLIENT: No no, we don’t need lyrics. If we can’t use the Ella Fitzgerald, we don’t want any vocals at all. This should be an instrumental only.

ME: No lyrics?

CLIENT: Right.

ME: So…how will anyone know it’s a Christmas song?

CLIENT: Well, it just needs to sound like a Christmas song.

ME: (beads of sweat forming on brow) OK…well…I know: we can put sleigh bells in the arrangement. That makes anything sound like Christmas.

CLIENT: No way, no sleigh bells. That always sounds so cheesy.

ME: I see. So let me see if I understand: you need an original track that has no lyrics and no sleigh bells, but which sounds like a Christmas song without actually being a Christmas song.

CLIENT: Exactly. Can you do that?

ME: (recalling current bank balance) Sure!

The End Result: Hoping to somehow get that Christmas feeling, I wrote a new melody to the chord changes of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. After the first few bars, I diverged slightly – enough, I thought, to fend off potential copyright infringement.

The final recording is below. Unfortunately, I don’t have the video – in the end, the pairing of this track with the images of cute kids in snow clothes actually kind of worked. On its own, I’m not sure it exactly says “Christmas”.

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2 comments

  1. Good job on an impossible brief!

  2. Thanks, Lev! “Impossible” was often the name of the game in this racket. :-/

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