For some people, Jimmy Iovine's greatest contribution to music is his engineering and production work for Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, John Lennon, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen and many, many others which changed the sound of modern pop and rock records. For others, Iovine is the man who teamed with Dr. Dre to produce Beats by Dre headphones, which changed the way people listen to music. For HERC, Jimmy Iovine's single greatest contribution to music is his creation of A Very Special Christmas series of albums featuring popular artists singing both traditional and original Christmas songs. He said it was initially a way to honor his late father and it was his wife at the time who suggested making it a charity effort for Special Olympics for which she worked. In the 25 years since the first album was released, the series of albums and concerts has become the largest source of fundage for Special Olympics, generating over $100 million dollars.
Featuring artwork by Keith Haring, the first album in the series was released on October 12, 1987. Simply titled A Very Special Christmas, it contained 15 tracks by some of the most popular artists on the charts at the time, including U2 covering a Darlene Love classic, as seen in the video at the top of this post. Run-DMC's "Christmas In Hollis" was the only original track on the album and it was based on a sample of Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa" which itself was covered by Bon Jovi in a live version on the album. Later pressings of the album omitted that song in favor of a Bon Jovi original, "I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas".
Five years later, A Very Special Christmas 2 was released on October 20, 1992. The album has nineteen tracks including four originals and return appearances by Run-DMC and Jon Bon Jovi. Legend has it that Tupac Shakur had recorded a song, purported to be "Ghetto Gospel", for this album but it wasn't included as he became embroiled in legal troubles. The very first song on the album is Tom Petty's rocking "Christmas All Over Again", which went on to be featured in several Christmas movies including Home Alone 2 and Four Christmases. The performance of the song below is from "A Very Special Christmas Live", a TV special which originally aired in 2000.
But the song that brings HERC to tears every single time is the album's closer, Sinéad O'Connor's cover of Dylan's "I Believe In You" from his Slow Train Coming album, his first after becoming a born-again Christian. Sinéad performs it in the same simple arrangement as she did Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" a couple of years earlier. The video below was recorded in 1999. [FYI: The only other song that makes HERC feel like a bowl of quivering jelly is Joni Mitchell's melancholy classic "River".]
A Very Special Christmas 3 was released on September 23, 1997. It has sixteen songs with five of them clocking in at over five minutes long. There are three tracks on this volume that HERC returns to each year: "Christmastime" by Smashing Pumpkins, "Christmas" by Blues Traveler and this mellowed out version:
Recorded in 1998 as a tribute to the 30th Anniversary of Special Olympics but not released until October 19, 1999, the fourth volume in the series is A Very Special Christmas Live. There are only eleven tracks. HERC bought it to support the Special Olympics but rarely listens to it.
Released the day before Halloween 2001, a little more than a month after the tragedy of 9/11, A Very Special Christmas 5 featured several live tracks recorded in 2000. HERC likes the opening track, Macy Gray's reading of "This Christmas" but the rest of the tracks fail to toast his marshmallows. Ms. Gray has recorded more than several Christmas tracks throughout the years, it's about time she released an entire album of Christmas songs.
In 1995 and 1996, two albums (Jazz To The World and World Christmas, respectively) were released that also benefited Special Olympics and though they are not considered part of the official A Very Special Christmas series, they did pave the way for the single genre (country/bluegrass) sixth volume in the official series, A Very Special Acoustic Christmas, which was released in October 2003. HERC regularly listens to half of the album's sixteen tracks and has featured several of them on Christmas mix CDs in the last nine years.
It would be another six years before A Very Special Christmas 7 was released on November 24, 2009. Featuring a lineup of younger artists performing classic Christmas songs, the album's thirteen tracks seem squarely aimed at "tween" and "young country" listeners. Unfortunately, HERC is neither.
To mark the 25th Anniversary of the series in 2012, the eighth volume was released: A Very Special Christmas 25 Years Bringing Joy To The World. After being issued on A&M Records for 25 years, this volume marks the first release on Big Machine Records, "the label that Taylor Swift built". Clocking in at just over an hour, there the sixteen tracks on this album from a wide variety of artists and genres.
Also in 2012, the Christian music label WORD released A Very Special Christmas - Bringing Peace On Earth "featuring today's top Christian artists".
Happy Holidays and
from HERC's Hideaway
to everyone everywhere!
Here's a playlist of ALL the albums in the A Very Special Christmas series. If you can, try to buy one or two of them or make a donation (time or money) directly to Special Olympics.