So you want to be rich and famous but don’t want to do the work? It’s not really a problem. Just write a holiday song. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be one of the greatest of all time, it just needs to be good enough to be played every year. With programmers constantly scurrying around every holiday to match the music with the day, as long as it’s at least good, you’re in. No tour needed either. It’s the most apathetic way to succeed!
And don’t just set your sights on Christmas either. It definitely has the most competition, so shoot even lower with a decent Thanksgiving or Easter tune. Or, if you really want to stand out, grab one of those lesser thought of holidays that we all partake in, but never really think about. How about Presidents Day? Does Arbor Day still exist, or did that get enveloped into World Day? I can never tell. Just the same, if you can come up with a totally catchy, stylistically timeless song about trees, you’re set for life. Or Labor Day. That’d be ironic, right?
Don’t believe me? Even the greats have recorded holiday songs as a fallback. All four of The Beatles have done it — Paul with “Wonderful Christmastime,” John with “Happy Christmas,” Ringo with “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” and George, always the dark horse, taking on New Year’s instead with “Ding Dong, Ding Dong.” Smart man. Or look at the band Slade, who have been all but forgotten outside of glam and hard rock aficionados, but you still hear “Merry Xmas Everybody” every year, and they get paid. That’s intelligent security.
I suppose a case can be made for not writing your own as long as you give an unforgettable reading of it. For instance, countless artists have covered “Santa Claus Is Comin To Town,” but who do we turn to every winter? The Boss. He doesn’t get any royalties, but sales of his own albums spike every time. But remember, you’re just another drop in the bucket when you’re playing this game, and while the object here is complete laziness, let us remember that the other side of that goal is never having to do it again after the first time.
You can even cheat a little bit. Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” isn’t a straight up Thanksgiving song, but it gets its spins every time the turkey hits the table. Joni Mitchell’s “River” isn’t a Christmas song at its heart, but she begins it with a slight touch of “Jingle Bells” on the piano and mentions the word Christmas in the first line. Otherwise, that song could be played at any point in the year. But it’s played at Christmas. Every Christmas. And, while none of us really ever want to endure it, Lee Greenwood keeps the bucks a’rollin’ in every July when “God Bless The U.S.A.” makes its rounds. That dude doesn’t even have another famous song, nor does he ever need one again.
I should point out that days-of-the-week and start-of-the-month songs work, too. Wilco’s “Monday,” The Pogues “Tuesday Morning,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Wednesday Morning,” Morphine or Jim Croce’s “Thursday,” The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love,” Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night,” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” I bet, at least someone in the world, and probably lots of places, those songs get spun every week. And again, some folks are only known for a song like this — Ms. Rebecca Black.
So let go of the thought of spending all of that time sweating over your opus. Let the dreams of a masterpiece album slip away. Instead, put all of your concentration into 3:30 of holiday delight. A can’t-stop-humming-this-song melody, lyrics about coming home after being gone, some reference to rediscovering the joy of whenever you’re talking about, a hint of a tearjerker moment, ultimately a happy ending and a singalong chorus. Or, if you’re really feeling cocky, go ahead and make that full LP, each track a different holiday. Then sit back, wait for the money to roll in, and spend the rest of your life laughing at all of the other schmucks out there busting their ass trying to build a name by playing to a room of five people. You don’t need a persona, a brand, or any marketing beyond letting music players know to play your music when it’s time. Then it’s nine months on the beach listening to Donny Hathaway. •
Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Speed of Sound.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.