Thursday, November 29, 2012

Green Chri$tma$

File this one under "speaking truth to power."

Stan Freberg created his comedic mini-opera "
Green Chri$tma$" all the way back in 1958. Logging in at a whopping 6 minutes and 52 seconds it was too long for most radio station's formats.  But that isn't what kept it from being played on AM and FM stations back in the late 50's.

Freberg was an advertising powerhouse in the 1950's sought after by major clients worldwide. He was also a major comedy recording artist for Capitol Records.  Virtually his entire catalog is still available for purchase or download. 

Popular history says that Stan Freberg was inspired to write "Green Chri$tma$ when he happened upon a magazine advertisement showing a family, on Christmas morning, thrilled with receiving four new whitewall tires for Christmas. For the son and grandson of ministers, it was just too much, and he had the first draft written that afternoon.

"Green Chri$tma$" performed by Stan Freberg and the folks from his advertising group. Some of the greatest advertising and musical geniuses of the day worked with Mr Freberg in creating this masterpiece.  Musical arrangement was written by Billy May, who directed the Capitol Records house orchestra. Other vocal performances are by Daws Butler, Marvin Miller, Will Wright and the Jud Conlon Chorale.

While the creation of "Green Chri$tma$" was truly inspired, getting it released and on the air turned out to be a nightmare. At first, Capitol Records refused to release the record. Capitol told Freberg the record was offensive to everybody in advertising, and predicted confidently that Freberg would never work in advertising again. 

Freberg doubled down and  threatened to cancel his entire recording contract with Capitol if they didn't release his masterpiece.  He went so far as to talk to a competitor,  Verve Records, and Verve jumped at the chance to sign Freberg. They offered to release the record without even hearing it. Rather than lose Freberg, Capitol released Green Chri$tma$ quietly, with no promotion or publicity.

In spite of Capitol's efforts to "fly under the radar" Freberg's record was attacked immediately in advertising trade magazines. And advertisers flexed their muscles and forced radio stations to censor the song and keep it off the air. It was played only twice in New York by one disc jockey, and the station's sales department threatened to have him fired if he played it again. The story was repeated station after radio station. In spite of overwhelming listener requests, stations bowed to advertisers and refused to air the song.

And it got worse!  An editorial in the Los Angeles Times condemned it, but the author later admitted he had never listened to it.   The head of CBS refused to even listen to the song because he "already knew what it was all about."

However, the mail Freberg received from the public, including Christian clergy and rabbis, was overwhelmingly positive.
However, Freberg did get both the first and last laugh.  The song became an underground hit is an age when copies had to be made on home tape recorders.  Even more importantly Coca-Cola and Marlboro, both recognizably satirized in the record without being named, asked Freberg for advertising campaigns. On principle he turned down cigarette company Marlboro, but he created a very successful campaign for Coca-Cola.

Today Green Chri$tma$ is considered a work of art by an advertising genius who had the courage to see exactly what his profession was doing and to call them on it.  Freberg was willing to speak truth to power and win.

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