Half the work of pulling together an all-star Christmas album, according to Bobby Shriver, involves picking up the phone and asking a few favors of some of the biggest artists in the music business.
It takes a lot of calls and a lot of planning, but what comes of all that is something truly unique, musically and otherwise, he added.
"We just called up some artists, like Billy Corgan [of the Smashing Pumpkins] and said, 'Hi, we're putting together this Christmas album, would you be into donating a song?'" said Shriver, co-executive producer of A Very Special Christmas 3 (Oct. 7). Corgan answered with an original Pumpkins holiday tune that Shriver said should become a rock Christmas classic.
Following in the footsteps of two previous collections with tracks from the Eurythmics, Run-DMC, Bon Jovi and Tom Petty, the latest installment of this holiday staple that benefits the Special Olympics (the massive athletic competition held for children with disabilities), features new and traditional songs from the Pumpkins, No Doubt, former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, Blues Traveler, Patti Smith, and many others.
"This is the rare kind of project where everybody donates everything," Shriver said. "The record company, the publishers, the artists, they all give 100 percent of what they would normally get paid and for them to have written such slam-dunk songs..."
Shriver, the older brother of Special Olympics president, Tim Shriver, said the third installment of the series, which launched in 1987 with an album featuring songs from Run-DMC, the Pointer Sisters and the Eurythmics, and has gone on to raise more than $40 million for the organization, offers one of the most powerful lineups to date.
The featured artists include: Sting ("I Saw Three Ships"), the Smashing Pumpkins ("Christmastime"), Natalie Merchant ("Children Go Where I Send Thee"), Reverend Run & the Christmas All-Stars featuring Mase, Puff Daddy, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Salt-N-Pepa, Onyx, and Keith Murray ("Santa Baby"), No Doubt covering the Vandals' ("Oi to the World"), Sheryl Crow ("Blue Christmas") and Blues Traveler ("Christmas").
Also on the album is the first post-break-up recording by former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell, who sings the religious hymn "Ave Maria," with Eleven backing him up.
"In some instances, the artists have the songs already, or they write them especially for you," Shriver said. "But sometimes you have a song in mind and you bring it to an artist and they just nail it."
Another song Shriver said he considers a highlight of the collection is the original Smashing Pumpkins track, "Christmastime." "Billy [Corgan] wrote it almost on the spot for us," said Shriver of the band's leader. "It's not really uptempo, but it's not a ballad, either. It's indescribable really. There are some guitars on it, but he brought in [renowned arranger] Arif Mardin and a 45-piece string ensemble and I really think it's an act of God, it's so miraculous how it sounds. If you listen to that song five times in a row and don't lose it, you're not... I don't know," said Shriver.
Reverend Run is the only artist returning from previous collections (the Run-DMC founder has appeared on all three albums). The list of new contributors also includes: Enya ("Oiche Chiun" ("Silent Night")), Hootie & the Blowfish ("The Christmas Song"), Mary J. Blige feat. Angie Martinez ("Christmas in the City"), Jonny Lang ("Santa Claus Is Back in Town"), Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds ("Christmas Song"), Steve Winwood ("Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand"), Tracy Chapman ("O Holy Night") and Patti Smith doing what Shriver described as the "John Coltrane-meets-the-Bible" track "We Three Kings."
Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of John F. Kennedy, founded the Special Olympics, said the money raised by past collections (which have also included Special jazz and world music albums) has allowed the organization to bring the Special Olympics in from the suburbs. "We've been able to do stuff with the money, especially in cities, where it hasn't penetrated as deep before because there aren't as many two-parent, suburban car families," he said.
"The idea that this all should come from Christmas, the celebration of the birth of a child, and these are children born in the toughest way... you wake up and think there's no God and then you say 'there's got to be a God to make this happen.' For mentally- and physically-challenged people to be the beneficiaries of the biggest donation in music industry history?" [Mon., Sept. 29, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]