Usually, a musician needs a special motivation — be it monetary compensation, benevolence or just plain mania — to pen the kitschiest of all anthems: the Christmas single.
After all, songs about yule logs and good tidings to all don't just spring unencumbered from songwriters' already fevered brains. Usually they need to be dislodged.
So when the Killers' Brandon Flowers decided to try his hand at tackling a Christmas tune, he had some motivation of his own: "I think people see us as these kind of coldhearted music machines, and we're really getting tired of that. They want somebody to be [Oasis frontman] Liam Gallagher, or they want someone to be an a--hole, and we're just not that big of a--holes," he laughed. "So I decided [writing a Christmas song] would be a nice way to show people that we've got a sense of humor. And that we weren't complete a--holes."
He's kidding. Sort of. Flowers also decided to write a Christmas song after U2 singer Bono contacted him and asked if the Killers would be interested in lending a hand to his ambitious (RED) campaign, which aims to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa through the sale of branded merchandise.
And lo and behold, "A Great Big Sled" was born.
"It's our attempt at a Christmas song, and to be honest, it just sort of came to me out of the air," Flowers said. "I mean, we had talked about it before, we had this sound that was kicking around in our heads, and then one day I just threw in these lyrics about snowmen and Santa, and it made sense. I mean, you can't escape Christmas songs, like some of the great ones written by John Lennon and Tom Petty and George Michael. And somebody needed to keep the tradition alive. Plus, it was just nice to have it go to the (RED) campaign. We wanted to help out, and instead of us doing a Gap ad, we wrote a song."
"Sled" clocks in at just under four and a half minutes and features Flowers crooning about snowmen, little boys with "action toys for brains" and his desire to soar through the night "dressed in red on a great big sled" (as well as busting out a rather impressive "Ho Ho Ho" during the chorus), all while the rest of the guys make an anthemic din reminiscent of much of their Sam's Town disc (see "Killers Try To 'Bring Back' Rock, But Not All Critics Are Onboard").
"A Christmas song needs to have a certain feel, and this one has it. It definitely represents the Killers, and it's also representin' the North Pole too," he explained. "You need to have a bit of nostalgia in there. Bells. We've got sleigh bells and tubular bells. You should mention the big man, Santa, in there too. We've got all that."
The song was recorded in one day by Sam's Town co-producer Alan Moulder at a U.K. studio owned by former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler. And in keeping with that fast-and-loose vibe, the Killers decided to use the studio time to also film a video for "Sled."
"Everyone was wearing costumes, and the crew was dressed up as elves and snowmen. We had a Filipino Santa Claus and [another] Santa Claus, and we're wearing ponchos and we had a big Christmas dinner," Flowers laughed. "There's a picture of me sitting on Santa's knee, and it looks like I'm holding a wish list, but I'm actually holding the lyrics, because I was still writing them up until we recorded it."
Starting Tuesday, "A Great Big Sled" will be available for purchase from the iTunes Music Store, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to (RED). The video for the song will premiere later in the week.
"We figured that if one-fifth of the people who bought Sam's Town buy the song, then we can raise something like $250,000 for (RED). To be honest, it's pretty much the first time we got to take advantage of our position, both in making the song so quickly and in helping people out," Flowers said. "We wanted to help Bono out, and what better way to do it than to do what we do best: write songs. Plus, we're hoping we can bring back a little bit of the Christmas spirit."