A Very Special Christmas (1987 album)

Back in 1987, a charity album was released titled A Very Special Christmas. The album featured renditions of Christmas classics by some of the biggest names in music at that time and the proceeds went to Special Olympics. The album was the brainchild of music producer Jimmy Iovine, who wanted to produce a Christmas album as a memorial to his father. The idea of the record benefiting Special Olympics was suggested by Iovine’s wife Vicki, as she was a volunteer for the organization. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, the founders of A&M Records, along with Bobby Shriver, helped the Iovines make the project a reality. Through incredible generosity of all those involved, artists donated their time/talent while producers/labels waived their fees and the result is that 100% of the proceeds of sales of A Very Special Christmas albums goes directly to Special Olympics. Since the release of the first album in 1987, the series (now at eight albums with the most recent released in 2012) has raised over $130 million for Special Olympics, more than any other benefit series.

Selling over a million copies in its first year (and now over four million total), that 1987 premiere album, A Very Special Christmas set a precedent for the following albums. According to the Special Olympics website, “the album series has become the largest financial source in Special Olympics’ history, enabling the organization to respond with hope in areas around the world where people with intellectual disabilities are still perceived as less than worthy, less than capable, even less than human. These Christmas albums/CDs have given Special Olympics the power to forever change lives. They make possible another kind of music: the rousing cheers of proud parents and friends, where once there was only the stifling silence of ignorance and fear.”


The album contains a power-packed line-up of performers which had not been seen since “We Are the World” was recorded. The iconic cover art for this album and the subsequent albums in the series were all done by late artist Keith Haring (who passed away in 1990 at just the age of 31 due to AIDS-related complications). Here is a complete track by track list of all the contributions to A Very Special Christmas:


1. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – The Pointer Sisters

This was the perfect way to start off the album, an energetic rendition of this classic originally released in 1934. It reminded me of the 1970 version by The Jackson 5, but the Pointer Sisters definitely make it their own. Here is a live appearance of The Pointer Sisters performing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”…


2. “Winter Wonderland” – Eurythmics

Annie Lennox adds her distinct voice and modern arrangement to another holiday classic originally from 1934. It is reported that they recorded the song in just one day and that Lennox wanted to give it a “fusion between nostalgia and edginess.” The Eurythmics version is now recognized as the most-played version of this classic that has been covered hundreds of times. There is no music video for this version, but you can listen to “Winter Wonderland” performed by the Eurythmics here…


3. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Whitney Houston

Next we have a powerful version of this classic originally released in 1962 that could only be given to us by Whitney. There are so many covers of this beautiful song and Houston’s holds its own with Bing Crosby’s 1963 rendition. There is no official music video, but here is a live appearance on The Tonight Show from a few years later with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” performed by Whitney Houston…


4. “Merry Christmas Baby” – Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band

When it comes to Christmas songs, many remember Springsteen for providing his version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” which was recorded in 1975 and later released first in 1982 as part of the Sesame Street compilation album In Harmony 2 and again in 1985 as a B-side to “My Hometown”, a single from the Born in the U.S.A. album. But that is not the song he contributed here. He chose to give us his rendition of this one originally released in 1947, here is a live appearance of “Merry Christmas Baby” performed by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band…


5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – The Pretenders

This is probably my very favorite Christmas song and I love almost every version I have heard and this version by the Pretenders is certainly no exception. It was originally written in 1943 and introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The Pretenders gave us another holiday tune in 1983 with “2000 Miles” which I also enjoy, but Chrissie Hynde provides haunting vocals here as well. There once again is no official video, but you can hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” performed by The Pretenders here…


6. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – John Cougar Mellencamp

This is a fun version of this holiday classic originally released in 1952. They recorded a video for this song during a soundcheck during his 1987 Lonesome Jubilee tour. It features John’s adorable daughter Teddi on vocals. Here is the music video for “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” performed by John Cougar Mellencamp…


7. “Gabriel’s Message” – Sting

This is a Basque folk carol, originally based on Angelus Ad Virginem, a 13th or 14th Century Latin carol and is commonly performed in an arrangement by Edgar Pettman published in 1892. Though a beautiful rendition, I kind of wish Sting would have provided a rendition of a more traditional Christmas song. Here is a live appearance on Top of the Pops with “Gabriel’s Message” performed by Sting…


8. “Christmas in Hollis” – Run-D.M.C.

This is the only original song performed by its original artist on the album and who would have thought that a Christmas rap song would have caught on like it did? Run-DMC continued to help spread rap music to the mainstream with this fun tale that sampled Clarence Carter’s 1968 holiday song “Back Door Santa” as well as “Frosty the Snowman”, “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World”. They also created a music video which you can get an in-depth look at in this Bodacious Breakdown on Rediscover the 80s. Or you can just watch the music video for “Christmas in Hollis” performed by Run-DMC here…


9. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2

This is a song originally released by Darlene Love in 1963. U2 recorded their rendition in July 1987 during a sound check in Glasgow, Scotland on their Joshua Tree Tour. They also had Darlene Love herself provide all three backing vocals. They filmed a video for the song in November 1987 at the Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana before the band’s concert there that night on the same tour that they were filming/recording for Rattle and Hum. Here is the music video for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” performed by U2…


10. “Santa Baby” – Madonna

This song was originally released in 1953 by Eartha Kitt. If anyone seemed likely to record a cover of this song, it seems like the Material Girl was a perfect candidate. Madonna certainly added to the incredible star power on this album. It is reported that Madonna had to heighten her vocal range by half of an octave in order to sing in the cutesy “baby voice” style that was required. A little surprised she didn’t make a music video for this one, but you can at least listen to “Santa Baby” performed by Madonna…


11. “The Little Drummer Boy” – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

This classic was written back in 1941, but not recorded until 1951 and made popular in 1958 by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Seger’s rendition is relatively restrained for him, but features his distinctive grit and builds as the song progresses, and somewhat surprisingly excludes all names or religious references. Along with his outstanding Silver Bullet Band, additional guitar is courtesy of Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren and the angelic background choir is anchored by longtime Seger backing vocalist Laura Creamer. Again no official music video, but you can hear “The Little Drummer Boy” performed by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band here…


12. “Run Rudolph Run” – Bryan Adams

This is a song co-written by Johnny Marks who had written “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” nine years prior and originally released by Chuck Berry in 1958. When it comes to Christmas songs, I much prefer Adams’ 1985 original “Christmas Time”, but am still glad he contributed to this album as well. Again no official music video, but you can hear “Run Rudolph Run” performed by Bryan Adams here…

13. “Back Door Santa” – Bon Jovi (was replaced on later pressings with “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” also by Bon Jovi)

“Back Door Santa” was originally released in 1968 and, to be honest, is really not one that I enjoy that much. As mentioned earlier, Run-DMC sampled “Back Door Santa” in “Christmas in Hollis” and that might be the best part about it for me. It was important to have Bon Jovi on this album because they were as big as could be after 1986’s Slippery When Wet. I think it was smart that “Back Door Santa” was replaced by “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” on later pressings of this album. Even better, Bon Jovi provided their rendition of “Please Come Home for Christmas” to 1992’s A Very Special Christmas 2 and that totally redeemed them. For the purposes of this, I am going to include the video for “I Wish Every Day Could Be Like Christmas” performed by Bon Jovi…


14. “The Coventry Carol” – Alison Moyet

Of all of the songs and artists on A Very Special Christmas, this song and artist is one that seem the most out of place. The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas carol dating from the 16th century with the text written in 1534 and the the melody dating back to 1591. Alison Moyet is best known as half of the synthpop duo called Yaz (or Yazoo) and was much more well known in the UK at the time. All of the other contributors were established pop radio stars in the U.S. except for Moyet. I feel like this spot would have been better filled by another more relevant artist and certainly a more recognized and enjoyable song.


15. “Silent Night” – Stevie Nicks

The album is wrapped up by a fine rendition of one of the most classic Christmas carols (originally composed in 1818). Bing Crosby’s 1953 version has sold over 10 million copies as a single showing the power and popularity of “Silent Night”. Stevie Nicks gives us a wonderful version that she is particularly proud of herself. In 2020, she shared that it was “one of my favorite things I have ever done (ever)”. She also confirmed that she wrote the bridge used in the middle of the song and she “really thought it made it more compassionate than it already was”. Here is a live appearance (including live singing and background vocal by Robbie Nevil) on Top of the Pops with “Silent Night” performed by Stevie Nicks…

Which song from the album is your favorite? Which other artists from 1987 do you wish would’ve have contributed a song to the effort? Leave your thoughts down in the comment section below.

Just a few years earlier, the music industry really stepped up its philanthropic efforts with Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” and events like Live Aid. A Very Special Christmas continued that ’80s charitable spirit. This album not only created some outstanding versions of some great Christmas classics, but it raised lots of much-needed support for a special organization. It exemplifies the spirit of the season, creating joy through music and helping those less fortunate. And yep, it’s another example of why the ’80s was an awesome decade!

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Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.

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