All I Want for Christmas (original song)

I’ve written and recorded a Christmas song for three years in a row – I feel like I’m on a roll. This year, I didn’t have an idea for a new song until I fired up Spotify one day and saw their new Holiday playlists. Front and centre was the 1994 Mariah Carey hit, All I Want for Christmas is You. I had an instant gag reflex to seeing this, as I really despise the saccharine lyrics. Yes, there are some really cool musical motifs and chord changes, but that’s really re-purposing from classic holiday songs written decades ago.

Lyrics and chord ideas

At first, I wanted to write a poetic treatise about how sugary and sweet Christmas and the holiday season seems to appear on its surface, but bubbling underneath are things like growing financial debt, family feuds, and an uptick in depression.

I made a short list of keywords: saccharine, sweet, sugar on the one hand, and darkness, depression, and debt on the other. But the poetry wasn’t happening. As I started writing the lyrics, things came out more subversive and almost like a parody of Mariah Carey’s hit. So I just went with it, including borrowing her title.

I introduced a deliberately subversive chord sequence, alternating between C-major and C-minor in the intro and verse. I borrowed this from Ramin Djawadi’s theme for Game of Thrones, which he explained on an episode of Song Exploder. It’s supposed to symbolize the two-faced holiday season, like I mentioned above.

Like all my songs, I developed the chords and melody through both singing and playing the piano. I worked out the chorus lyrics first, then the verses, along with chords and melody, and added the bridge the next day.

Arrangement, recording and mixing

After the song was finalized, I worked out a heavier arrangement with electric guitar, bass, drums, and a vintage organ (all through software instruments). I wanted more of a hard rock / punk attitude. I worked on adding a little more grit to my vocal performance.

The mixing was fairly straight forward; I wanted punchy drums and an in-your-face crunch to the whole song. I used compression and saturation to get a dynamic yet loud mix.

Hope you enjoy it and happy holidays!

See the streets light up
So obscenely bright they blind your way
See the stores fill up
Stuff you won’t keep past Groundhog Day

And all I want for Christmas
Something more nutritious
Sick of all the saccharine
And never play that song…again!

Cram your bellies, filled up
Office parties, stapled smiles
Expectations build up
All the presents piled high

And all I want for Christmas
Something more nutritious
Sick of all the saccharine
And never play that song…again!

Darkness creeps in
As the lights all come down
Bills they rack up
As you put on the pounds

And all I want for Christmas
Something more nutritious
Sick of all the saccharine
And never play that song…again!

And all I want for Christmas
Something more nutritious
All the sugar makes me numb
And all I want for Christmas is dumb!

Holiday Shopping Spree

Through co-hosting the Songwriter’s Meetup and Song Talk Radio, I get to meet many singer-songwriters in and around Toronto. Some of them have written original Christmas songs, including Carmen Toth’s This Christmas I’m Giving You Love and Melanie Peterson’s Santa’s Sleigh. Themes of peace and love tend to come up, as is typical of many holiday songs.

Of course, I try to be different. So, I wrote a song embracing consumerism and throwing playful jabs at the status quo of creative types. This is not to say I find typical holiday themes trite or tedious, but I do commend singer-songwriters who put their own special twist on these themes. In fact, it’s a tricky business writing a good original holiday song instead of playing cover versions of well established songs. Carmen and Melanie have done a great job with songs and performances that are sweet, thoughtful, and festive. It’s clear to me that I was inspired by these singer-songwriters to write this song.

Writing and recording the song

I wrote the lyrics over my lunch break one day, and the piano part after work. I did a quick demo recording and presented the song at the December Songwriter’s Meetup. A main critique of my song was that the holiday aspect wasn’t clear until the end of the chorus. I took the suggestions and revised the first verse lyrics, and wrote a new holiday-esque musical introduction with glockenspiel section. I also took a more deliberate approach to my melody, thanks to some suggestions from my singer-songwriter friend Melanie Peterson.

I recorded a final version, and then set to work creating a video. I spent about two hours at the Toronto Eaton Centre, listening to my recording on repeat and shooting footage of shoppers, interesting sale signage, and the latest big-screen TV’s at Best Buy.

During a Beige Shelter rehearsal, I asked our bassist Tom Kuczynski to record me playing the keyboard and singing the song. Tom’s also a talented photographer and videographer. I then edited together a quick video.

All in all, this was a quick and fun writing and recording process, with a push to get it done before Christmas. It’s amazing what you can pull off when you have a hard deadline to meet.

Lyrics

Your new greeting card
Peace and love for the holidays
I say good fortune for all
And dollars to spend on sales

You wrote that song
The evils of materialism
Give away half your guitars
To the needy and poor musicians

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Always preaching moderation
Credit cards gotta stay at home
Support your local economy
Don’t be a consumer drone

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Get what you want
Not what you need
You’d better like
What you got!

I only wanna spend
Christmas with you
Binge watching on Netflix
On my brand new
75-inch, L.E.D., 4K HD, and 3D
Smart TV with 1000 watt, 5.1 surround sound

You know what
I like my stuff
Makes my life easy
You know what
It’s never enough
Holiday shopping spree

Blissless Christmas

As hosts for Song Talk Radio’s 2015 Holiday Show, we were challenged to write a 60-second Christmas song in the days leading up to the show.  I decided that in order to get a song done quickly, it would have to be rap/spoken word and I’d need to come up with lyrics first.  I started with the internally rhyming title Blissless Christmas, and wrote 4 verses with an AABB rhyme structure.  I recorded a quick demo on my phone.

A couple of days later, I started on the music. The first thing was to develop the two beats, knowing the structure would be 3 verses of half-time beats, and the final verse at full speed (150 bpm in this case).  This would be reflected in the lyrical shift from cynicism to optimism.  I kept the instrumentation simple with piano, strings, horns, and bass, and used many 9th and 7th chords to give the music bed a more R&B or soul flavour.

I also did a quick video for the final track.   Enjoy!

Blissless Christmas
Why all the sadness?
Don’t have a reason
For blingin’ the season

Blissless Christmas
Yuletide forgiveness
Feed all the children
Canadian and Syrian

Blissless Christmas
Consumerism hits us
After Hallow’s Eve
The pockets, they bleed

Christmas Blissness
Hugs and kisses
Under the mistletoe
Reindeer sleigh go!