MUST HAVE BEEN THE MISTLETOE is now considered a standard
by most print companies. Warner Bros., Hal Leonard, and Cherry
Lane currently use it in many of their folio books. It's been
recorded by Barbra Streisand, Barbara Mandrell, Vikki Carr,
and Kathie Lee Gifford and has sold over 7 million records.
It's published in choral and in piano/vocal single sheet by
Hal Leonard. Non-exclusive folio print rights are available.
Ditto non-exclusive choral.
Story behind "IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE MISTLETOE"
An interview with Justin Wilde
by Jim Richliano, author of "Angels We Have Heard", the
Christmas Song Stories.
War was finally over,
pop-punk raged, and near the heat and haze of "Beverly Hills,
LA," former marketing major Justin Wilde convinced his Jewish
songwriting partner Doug Konecky to collaborate with him in 1979
on something outrageously bizarre - writing a dreamy Christmas song
long after it had become fashionable or easily profitable to do
such a thing. The pair met two years before in a UCLA songwriting
workshop, and quickly began collaborating on sentimental tunes with
Pop/Rock titles like "There's Magic In My Love." Little
did they know what they were in for, however, when Wilde mistakenly
believed that making money from a traditional holiday melody built
around romantic images of mistletoe and falling snow, would be as
easy for them as it had been for Bing and Berlin.
But if anyone could perform such a Herculean task at a time when
the country took pride in declaring the death of anything musically
old-fashioned or corny, it would have to be Justin Wilde, known
in the yuletide music industry as "Mr. Christmas," and
owner of Christmas and Holiday Music publishing company. "Mr.
Christmas" credits his parents, Ruth and Jerry Volomino, with
instilling in him a phoenix-like determination he called upon to
single-handedly turn "Mistletoe" into an evergreen classic.
In the early eighties, Wilde worked relentlessly at sending their
song to any popular singer he thought might be the first to record
it and fulfill his dream of making it a timeless standard. It was
a difficult enterprise, since in order to save money, record companies
were no longer eager to invest in new Christmas music.
"Before I got the first record on it, I had sent the song out
376 times," says Wilde. "Back in the 40's, 50's and early
60's, when it was mainly a singles market, it was very commonplace
for labels to release Christmas singles. By the time I was promoting
'Mistletoe,' it was now an album-oriented market, and they were
hardly ever releasing singles from the albums anymore."
With this new record-label trend taking place, which sacrificed
the Christmas single for the holiday LP, it became easier for companies
to recycle old standards, and made it more difficult for a new song
like Wilde's to pierce the nation's collective consciousness.
Despite all these obstacles, Wilde continued to independently promote
"In 1984, when I heard that Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers were
doing a duet Christmas album, I was in seventh heaven, and thought
it was the answer to my prayers," remembers Wilde. "I
gave tapes to everyone involved in the project, but all of a sudden,
Dolly came in just before the recording session started with about
six original Christmas songs she had written, which just about eliminated
all other original material. I was devastated, but I picked myself
up, because I knew that Barbara Mandrell was also getting ready
to record a Christmas album. So I marched myself home, made another
tape, and expressed mailed it to Barbara's producer at the time
- Tom Collins. They got the tape on Friday, and Barbara began cutting
"It Must Have Been The Mistletoe" on Monday."
Soon after Barbara Mandrell recorded "Mistletoe" for her
1984 Christmas At Our House set, she was involved in a serious car
accident. A promotional vinyl 45, with "Mistletoe" as
its B-side, had been issued to country radio only, but that was
the extent of the promotion on Mandrell's Christmas album.
That didn't stop Wilde from quickly coming up with an alternate
plan in which he and Konecky would diligently hand deliver "Mistletoe"
singles for five days straight to pop stations in their home state
of California during the holiday season of 1984.
"Because of her horrible car accident, Barbara Mandrell was
out of commission for the next nine months and wasn't able to do
any promotion on the album," recalls Wilde. MCA's Los Angeles
office had a stack of promotion singles, but decided not to send
them to Pop radio. "At that point I took over the promotional
campaign myself, gathered those records, and turned 'Mistletoe'
into the A-side by using a nail to scratch off the other two songs
on it so only our song could be played. Doug and I then left for
five days to deliver them ourselves by car to over 100 stations
in California. I surveyed all of them the following January and
found that most played it, and that I had received a great listener
Over the next ten years, Wilde continued to independently mail Mandrell's
version to radio stations each Christmas. During that time, he sent
the song out over a thousand times to other artists, hoping to land
new covers of it. Attaining new recordings had always been an important
factor in turning a holiday tune into a classic, but Wilde discovered
that unlike the past, most artists were now reluctant to record
a song someone had already released.
"Some of the major standards of the golden era of songwriting
in the 1940's and 50's had been cut fifty to seventy or more times,"
explains Wilde. "Someone like Perry Como or Patti Page didn't
care whether forty-five people recorded a song before they were
led to do their own version of it. But after the Beatles, few people
wanted to record a song someone else had already recorded."
Despite facing these new challenges, Wilde persevered, and was successful
in getting two other artists - Vikki Carr and Kathie Lee Gifford
- to include it on their own Christmas pro-jects. Over the years
he would also single-handedly get Mandrell's version of "Mistletoe"
onto fourteen compilation holiday discs, thirty-five sheet music
folio books, a soap opera, two TV movies, various choral arrangements,
and even a music box. "I left no stone unturned," he says.
"Any place I could find to put the song in order to expose
it to the public, I pursued."
"Mr. Christmas" finally knew his exhaustive decade-long
effort to make his song a familiar standard was paying off when
he was out holiday shopping one December day at a Hallmark greeting
card store in California. "I was in one of the malls doing
my Christmas shopping," he recalls, "and suddenly I heard
'It Must Have Been The Mistletoe' playing on their speaker system.
I was actually paying the cashier at the time, and I stopped dead
in my tracks, hardly able to speak. Finally I shouted out, 'They
are playing my song, they're playing my song!' The store clerk thought
I was nuts, until I explained to her I had co-written the song,
and that it was the first time I had ever heard it played in public."
MORE WITH JUSTIN WILDE
How did you end up writing a Christmas song?
I was a marketing major in college and was always quite adept at
the business side of the music industry. Doug and I had written
two or three non-Christmas songs, but In 1979, I told him that I
really wanted to write a holiday song, because if you ever have
a Christmas standard, it will be around forever. Doug agreed, and
I threw the title, "It Must Have Been The Mistletoe,"
at him, which he liked. He started twiddling around with the music,
taped some of the chorus and first verse, which I took home. We
got together for maybe four sessions, at the most, at his house
in Glendale, California, before it was finally in its completed
When did you know
you had a potential hit on your hands?
As soon as we finished the song, we played it for some songwriters
at a writers' workshop in LA, so that we could get some feedback
on it. These people didn't pull any punches. They were very critical
of any weak spots in songs they critiqued. Doug played the song
on the piano, and I sang the melody for them. They loved it the
way it was. Nobody thought it needed any changes.
Why did you decide
to publish "Mistletoe" yourself?
Because I could never find a publisher willing to work my songs
as hard as I was. My philosophy has always been that nobody wants
to see me succeed more than I do, so I knew that I was going to
have to do my own publishing from day one if I was ever going to
launch any of my songs.
Did anyone show
interest in "Mistletoe" prior to Barbara Mandrell?
Actually, the song had a history before it ever got recorded. In
1979, Doug and I created a demo, and the guy who played drums on
our first demo version worked with Glen Campbell, and got it to
him. Campbell liked it so much that he immediately decided to sing
it as a duet with Tanya Tucker for a CBS show he was taping called
A Country Christmas. It aired during the 1980 holiday season.
Other than Glen Campbell
and Tanya Tucker, did anyone else perform your song for television?
In 1982, on An NBC Family Christmas, which was a special composed
almost entirely of actors from various television series, David
and Meredith Baxter Birney sang the song as a duet.
What was it like
promoting Mandrell's record to radio in 1984?
Doug and I went on the road for five days that first Decmber, driving
to every big and little radio station in California, giving them
copies of the single along with a bunch of mistletoe. I covered
every radio station from L.A. to the Mexican border; Doug took every
station north to Bakersfield. It was interesting because I'd go
into some larger cities like San Diego, and couldn't get past the
front desk. But in some of the smaller areas, I remember going to
stations where there were only two people working there, and they
were so happy to see anybody in the music business. After five minutes,
I had head phones on and was in front of a microphone doing a half-hour
radio interview about "It Must Have Been The Mistletoe."
Why did you have
to continue to promote the song for close to ten years?
I had to go out there and beat radio to death for the next ten holiday
seasons. Every year I would call 400 stations up reminding them
to keep playing it - fortunately they really liked it and received
a really good listener response. And I just continued to carry the
ball year after year, because in order to establish a song as a
hit in the listener's mind, it takes anywhere from ten to eighteen
weeks to go up and down the chart. With a Christmas record, you
only get a chance for a few weeks of airplay each season, because
no one plays that kind of music until after Thanksgiving. I realized
if I wanted to turn "Mistletoe" into a standard, I would
have to get that one or two weeks of airplay every year for nearly
What kinds of other
songs have you written?
Mostly country album cuts - I had Loretta Lynn's last major single
on MCA Records called "Heart Don't Do This To Me." I've
written about five other Christmas songs, but after my experience
with "Mistletoe," I wanted to do something different,
and collaborated once again with Doug to write "Happy Hanukkah,
My Friend," the first pop Hanukkah song, which we hoped would
become the Jewish answer to "White Christmas." Doug, who's
Jewish, thought it was a horrible idea, but I insisted it was a
good move. When we released it in 1986, we got such an amazing response
that we released an entire album of Hanukkah songs the following
year. The CD is called Happy Hanukkah, My Friend, and includes five
of our original songs along with a few traditional tunes like "I
Have A Little Dreydl."
Why did you create
your own company, Christmas and Holiday Music, which exclusively
publishes holiday music?
With "Mistletoe," I learned the Christmas market inside
and out, and how to promote holiday material better than anyone
else in the industry. It became my niche to the point where I began
to be known by the nickname, "Mr. Christmas," the industry's
best source for original Christmas songs. For example, when Melissa
Manchester needed a fresh holiday song to sing during her Colors
of Christmas tour in 1995, I found one for her. I knew however,
that I couldn't write all of the songs myself, so I started signing
songs by other writers, and now have close to 180 original Christmas
songs. The first tune I signed was a song called "What Made
The Baby Cry," written by William J. Golay, and it's been recorded
by The Platters, Toby Keith and Vikki Carr.
When did you finally
realize that "It Must Have Been The Mistletoe" had become
a modern Christmas standard?
In 1995, Newsweek did a little piece on various celebrity weddings
that had taken place during the Christmas holidays. There were pictures
of women in their wedding gowns along with the headline, "It
Must Have Been The Mistletoe." I realized that the title had
enough recognition that it could be cited away from my song, and
said to myself, 'I think we've finally arrived!'