Bah Humbug! No that’s too strong. For ParcelHero’s favourite holiday we spoke with a true wrap star; Chris Butler, the man behind festive classic Christmas Wrapping, to find out where in the world he sends his presents, how he wrote the hit and what he thinks of Kylie covering his song.
Musician and artist Chris Butler may not be a household name in the UK, but chances are you will hear his work more than once this December. Since its release in 1981 by his then band The Waitresses, Chris’s Christmas Wrapping has become a modern seasonal staple. But when the song first took off it wasn’t quite the success which he had been hoping for.
Speaking to ParcelHero from his home in Akron, Ohio, Chris said: “In the mid and late 70’s I was playing in Akron band Tin Huey.
“I was a new song writer and I came up with this thing called ‘I Know What Boys Like’. My Tin Huey friends didn’t like it, so I parked it for later.
“In the early 80s I had moved to New York and I had pretty much burned out on being in rock and roll. People thought this ‘I Know What Boys Like’ was a hit, so I had an acetate made up and took it to a DJ”
The DJ took the pressing to Island Records, who liked what they heard, but had an important question for Chris.
He said: “Island said ‘this is great, we need a B-side. Where’s your band?’”
Needing to put together an outfit fast Chris spent his last $50 buying a bus ticket for singer Patty Donahue to come to New York and set about recruiting other musicians through friends. Saxophone player and Tin Huey alumni Ralph Carney came on board and bass player Tracy Wormwooth was approached to be a member while walking down the street.
Chris said: “We played our first gig in little Club 57 and we just kept going.”
The Waitresses were sold by Island to Ze Records, run by Michael Zilkha and Michel Esteban, home to ‘alternative’ musicians including John Cale and Suicide.
Chris said: “One day Michael had a brainstorm “I’m going to do a Christmas album of all our artists”
“He had a lot of not-so-warm-and-fuzzy artists and in August ’81 he took us to Electric Ladyland studios. We whipped this thing out in three days and forgot about it.”
When it came to traditional lyrics about snow and sleigh bells Chris chose to go against the norm and tell the story of a woman who was planning a low key Christmas on her own, with the catchy chorus proclaiming “Merry Christmas, but I think I’ll skip this one this year.”
Chris said: “I was a self-employed writer and I’m very much a workaholic.
“When everybody else has a holiday we get the calls to work and have to take them.
“I have always found Christmas to be an annoying inconvenience and my attitude to it is less than ‘ho ho ho’. I think I expressed that very well in the song.
“It being Christmas, I had to do a happy ending though. It’s such a snarky happy ending that I hope people will get my sarcasm.”
Christmas Wrapping’s protagonist meets a potential soulmate in the last verse of the song and a Christmas miracle is declared.
With the song recorded in the middle of summer, Chris and The Waitresses forgot all about it and headed back out onto the road.
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He said: “In early November ’81 we were playing in Rochester, New York, and I called my girlfriend at home and she said ‘you’re all over the radio’.
“I thought ‘we’ve been playing I Know What Boys Like for nine months, and finally!’
“She said: ‘no, it’s your Christmas song!’”
Christmas Wrapping was a hit in 1981 and has continued to endure for years to come, with covers by pop acts including The Spice Girls and, as part of her 2015 Christmas album, Kylie Minogue, featuring Iggy Pop.
Chris said: “I’m not in Kylie’s demographic, but I am in Iggy Pop’s so that’s kind of cool.
“The song continues to live and it’s kind of punk irony I guess.”
As the song continues to enjoy success it has also helped to warm Chris’s feelings towards the holiday season.
He said: “When I’m in my best Scrooge moment, that song blindsides me.
“It just happened – I was in a landscaping place where I got my purple Christmas tree this year. We’re looking at this impressive 50ft tree and I’m going ‘this is just disgusting’ and the song comes on the radio and I’m like ‘wow, lighten up!’”
Since establishing his place in Christmas music history, Chris has continued to be a prolific writer and performer, including breaking the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest pop song.
He has recently been working on what he describes as a ‘silly holiday record’ with Ralph Carney.
Chris said: “There’s no silly music any more, there are no silly bands. Ralph is the master of silly, so we started working on this project.
“We made a list of the most obscure holidays we could find and made songs about them. Things like Penguin Appreciation Day, Chastity Day and Bald and Free Day.
“I have a few more things to write and I’m going to mix it and I’m going to try to get it out for 2016.”
Chris, who recently moved back to Akron from New York, is also working on his own version of an autobiography, where he will be analysing rock and roll songs which mean a lot to him and tying them to events in his own life, and he is also performing in and around his hometown with a new band called Half Cleveland.
This being ParcelHero, we just had to ask him if he posts Christmas presents around the world.
Chris said: “My Scrooginess ends in my attitude – gifts are important.
“I have friends overseas who I send gifts to. I have friends in Brighton.
“Somebody who has come to the USA and said they like Texas barbeque sauce, I will send them a care package. Always in trade for Lion bars though!”
Read more about Chris’s work and hear some of the music that he has made recently at http://www.futurefossilmusic.com/.