There is one big reason record companies like Christmas albums: Free music!
We learned this on Tuesday when we attended a glorious concert Tuesday, with MercyMe teaming up with the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Resurrection Life choir.
The show was a wonderful way to kick off the Christmas season, and each day we’ll post something cool about the holiday season.
MercyMe has two great Christmas albums, and lead singer Bart Millard explained that record companies really, really like it when artists pick songs from the public domain because they are, well, free to use.
When it became time to record “It’s Christmas,” Millard said the record company presented the band with a list of songs in the public domain.
The band picked “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and came up with a new arrangement of the classic.
Then, when the band was getting ready to distribute the CD, someone discovered that “Do You Hear What I Hear” is actually not in the public domain. And when you record someone’s song and dramatically rearrange it, you have to seek permission from the people who hold the rights in addition to sending a check.
Millard said the band send a recording of the song to the New York family who owns the rights and nervously waited to hear back to see if permission was granted.
Luckily, the family loved the MercyMe’s rendition, he said. It’s pretty cool, evoking a “Kasmir”-like Middle Eastern sound. And it sounded spectacular with the symphony joining in.
There’s a cool story behind the song.
It’s actually fairly new, at least compared to a lot of Christmas standards. “Do You Hear What I Hear” was written in October 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker.
That was around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the world was a scary place. The couple added the line, “Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see? Pray for peace, people everywhere.”
The line, “A star, a star dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite” is intended to evoke a nuclear missile. So it’s sort of an apocalyptic Christmas song.
The song was quickly recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale – which also has the classic version of “Little Drummer Boy” -- and was a big hit.
But check out the MercyMe version because it’s awesome.