Green Christmas (Stan Freberg song)
|Single by Stan Freberg|
|B-side||"The Meaning of Christmas"|
|Released||December 2, 1958|
|Stan Freberg singles chronology|
"Green Christmas" (styled "Green Chri$tma$") is a comedy single written and performed by Stan Freberg and released by Capitol Records in 1958 (catalog number F 4097). Musical arrangement and direction is made by Billy May, and performed by the Capitol Records house orchestra. Other vocal performances are by Daws Butler, Marvin Miller, Will Wright and the Jud Conlon Chorale. The title is a play on "green Christmas" (that is, one with no snow, the opposite of a white Christmas) and the green color of U.S. currency.
Mr. Scrooge (Freberg), the head of an unnamed advertising agency, has gathered a group of clients to discuss tying their products into Christmas. One attendee, Bob Cratchit (Butler), wants to resist tying his spice company into Christmas, preferring to send Christmas cards with a simple message of "Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men." Scrooge extols the virtues of making money off Christmas, including an over-the-top medley of parodies of popular Christmas songs entitled "Deck the Halls with Advertising" that includes an advertisement for "Tyn-E-Tim Chestnuts" that borrows heavily from cigarette advertisements and a toothpaste commercial. Cratchit counters by reminding Scrooge "Whose birthday we're celebrating."
The piece is a scathing indictment of the commercialization of Christmas, with references of Christmas-themed advertising by Coca-Cola and Marlboro cigarettes, among others. The names of the characters are taken from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, as is one of the products "advertised" ("Tyn-E-Tim Chestnuts"). Green Chri$tma$ also contains a parody of the Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and an original song by Freberg, "Christmas Comes but Once a Year". The single ends with the first phrases of the chorus of "Jingle Bells" interrupted by cash register sounds.
At first, Capitol Records refused to release the record. Lloyd Dunn, the president of Capitol, told Freberg the record was offensive to everybody in advertising, and predicted that Freberg would never work in advertising again. Freberg responded with his intent to end his entire recording contract with Capitol. He spoke to a contact at Verve Records, and the company offered to release the record without even hearing it. Faced with this, Capitol finally decided to release it but provided no publicity at all.
The record was attacked in advertising trade magazines. It was played only twice in New York by one disc jockey, and the station's sales department threatened to have him fired if he played it again. George Carlin once told Freberg that he was almost fired from a DJ job for playing the record repeatedly. KMPC in Los Angeles played the record, but some advertisers required that their ads be scheduled more than fifteen minutes away from it. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times condemned it, but the author later admitted he had not listened to it. Similarly, Robert Wood, the station manager of KCBS-TV in Los Angeles (later president of CBS), cancelled a TV interview with Freberg because the record was "sacrilegious" and he did not need to hear it because he had read about it. KRLA, Pasadena (Freberg's hometown) showed it as reaching #3 in popularity in their printed survey. It is unclear whether this was based on sales or airplay.
Station KFWB, then known as "Color Radio Channel 98", where the record reached #3 on 3 January 1959, also kept on playing it. KFI, then the Earl C. Anthony station, played it a few times and then discontinued as did many other stations because of reaction from the advertising community.
However, the mail Freberg received from the public, including rabbis and Christian clergy, was overwhelmingly positive.
Within six months, Coca-Cola and Marlboro, both recognizably satirized in the record without being named, asked Freberg for advertising campaigns. He turned down Marlboro, but he created a campaign for Coca-Cola that was very effective. And contrary to the predictions of Lloyd Dunn (see above) and others, Freberg's advertising campaigns continued to be in demand and successful for decades.
Some years later, Time magazine was going to publish an essay in their Christmas issue about the overcommercialization of Christmas, including considerable attention to Green Chri$tma$. The essay was killed at the last minute due to pressure from their sales department.
Rebroadcast and rerelease
Of especially noteworthy importance is the impact of this song's message in the heart of corporate America, as reflected in the fact that it received no commercial AM radio airplay until 1983; only getting a little FM airplay before that (such as on the Doctor Demento Show) and only slightly more AM airtime after 1983, by which point AM radio as a music medium was becoming obsolete. Beginning in 1972, Capitol reissued the single as catalog number 3503, dividing the piece into two parts; it remained in the Christmas singles section of record stores for years thereafter. It can currently be found on Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time (1989).
- Freberg, Stan (1988). It Only Hurts When I Laugh. Times Books. ISBN 0812912977.
- Mirtle, Jack (1998). The Music of Billy May: A Discography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313307393.