"It Must Have Been The Mistletoe"

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Justin Wilde
Christmas and Holiday Music / Songcastle Music
26642 Via Noveno
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

PH: 949-859-1615


Justin Wilde
Christmas and Holiday Music / Songcastle Music
26642 Via Noveno
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

PH: 949-859-1615


IT 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.

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 "Mistletoe."
"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 response."

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."


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 form.

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 ten years.

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!'


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