Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters Podcast


Ep. 78 - 7 Holiday Classics

Christmas Time Is Here: Conversations with the Writers of Your Holiday Favorites

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Paul and Scott catch up with Jose Feliciano to find out why "Feliz Navidad" was written in July; chat with "Santa Baby" composer Phil Springer to hear the reason he was hesitant to write the world's first "sexy Christmas song;" get the scoop from Mike Stoller about Elvis recording "Santa Claus is Back in Town" when the song was less than an hour old; find out from former Ray Charles backup singer Mable John what the movie "Christmas Vacation" did for Ray's recording of her song "That Spirit of Christmas;" talk to Mark Lowry about how "Mary Did You Know?" went from a recitation in a local church play to a contemporary Christmas standard; listen to former Motown staff writer Bryan Wells explain why his "Someday at Christmas" is as relevant today as it was when Stevie Wonder first released it more than 50 years ago; and find out how TV producer Lee Mendelson became an accidental songwriter when it was time to add lyrics to "Christmas Time is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."  

Jose Feliciano – “Feliz Navidad” (1970)

A true international superstar, virtuoso guitarist and celebrated vocalist Jose Feliciano found fame in the US with his hugely successful Feliciano album in 1968. He earned a Top 5 hit with his interpretation of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” that same year and has gone on to win seven Grammy awards. “Feliz Navidad” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was named by ASCAP as one of the most performed holiday songs of all time.

Philip Springer – “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt (1953)

At 91 years old, Phil Springer is one of the last living composers from the pre-rock “Brill Building” era of professional songwriters. In addition to writing the music for “Santa Baby,” Springer penned Frankie Laine’s Top 5 hit “Moonlight Gambler,” Frank Sinatra’s “How Little it Matters, How Little We Know,” and Cliff Richard’s “The Next Time,” which hit #1 in the UK in 1963. Additionally, he wrote songs that have been recorded by Judy Garland, Dusty Springfield, and Elvis Presley.

Mike Stoller – “Santa Claus is Back in Town” by Elvis Presley (1957)

One of the key architects of rock and R&B songwriting, Mike Stoller is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. His long list of writing credits with partner Jerry Leiber includes “Kansas City,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me,” “Poison Ivy,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and more than 20 titles recorded by Elvis, including “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and the perennial “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”

Mable John – “That Spirit of Christmas” by Ray Charles (1985)

Best remembered from the sentimental attic scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “That Spirit of Christmas” was co-written by Mable John. She is Little Willie John’s younger sister and was the first female solo artist signed to Motown’s Tamla label in the 1950s. She would go on to score a Top 10 hit as a Stax artist with “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” and serve as the leader of Ray Charles’ backing singers, The Raelettes, for more than a decade.

Mark Lowry – “Mary Did You Know” (1991)
Though he spent eighteen years as a member of the legendary Gaither Vocal Band and has released nearly twenty albums, Dove award winning Christian singer and comedian Mark Lowry is best known to mainstream audiences as the co-writer of “Mary Did You Know.” The song was first recorded in 1991 by Michael English, who was a fellow member of the Gaither Vocal Band at the time. It would go on to be recorded by Natalie Cole, Reba McEntire, Glen Campbell, Jessica Simpson, Mary J. Blige, CeeLo Green, Pentatonix, and many others.

Bryan Wells – “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder (1966)
Former Motown staff writer Bryan Wells co-wrote Stevie Wonder’s Top 10 hits “A Place in the Sun” and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday.” He has earned four Clio Awards for music he has composed for advertising campaigns and is Bette Midler’s former music director. Wells and partner Ron Miller co-wrote three songs on Stevie’s 1967 holiday album, including the title track, “Someday at Christmas,” which has since been covered by The Jackson 5, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Jack Johnson, Justin Bieber, and others.

Lee Mendelson – “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
TV producer Lee Mendelson became a songwriter by default when he scrawled the lyrics for “Christmas Time is Here” on the back of an envelope to complete the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was Mendelson who chose Vince Guaraldi to score the special, introducing generations of kids to jazz music. He went on to write additional songs for future Peanuts specials with collaborators including David Benoit.   


Songcraft's Essential Holiday Playlist: Spotify users can select the song you'd like to hear below, or simply start the player and enjoy a selection of 150 Christmas songs by 150 different artists. It's the ultimate holiday playlist, and is our gift to you! If you don't have a Spotify account, follow the prompts to sign up for free. Click this link to take you directly to the playlist in the Spotify web player.