Funny holiday songs are a tradition for many folks. Bob Rivers’ Twisted Christmas, Da Yoopers’ “Rusty Chevrolet,” Weird Al’s “Christmas At Ground Zero,” or what sounds like Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas” (it was actually comedian Denny Brownlee) – whether they’re parodies of existing songs or new compositions, there’s something to be said for spreading a little Christmas joy through comedy (unless it’s deemed to be offensive, but I digress).
One such song that has made its way into the public consciousness in recent years actually has a direct link to southern gospel music. For years, an mp3 floated around the gospel industry of an objectively terrible rendition of “Oh Holy Night.” It was often viewed by industry insiders as the perfect example of someone who is blissfully unaware of how bad they really are at singing. Part of it’s charm was that it sounded like it came from a cassette recorder, not a professional studio (the beginning of the clip is cut off, and there’s some noticeable analog “flutter” in the intro, as well as tape hiss thorughout). This recording continued to spread until one day, someone decided to share it with the world on YouTube, where its popularity soared – the clip currently has 1.7 million views.
At this point, the person behind the record was bound to be found – and found he was. It turned out that the “artist” in question was none other than Steve W. Mauldin, a well-known and highly-respected musician and arranger in Nashville (pull five gospel CD’s out from the last 20 years, and odds are, you’ll see his name listed on at least one of them). As he explains in this video, the recording was meant to be purposely awful – it was recorded after a long day in the studio, and he and engineer Kevin McManus decided to have a little fun, which was put on a cassette for their own amusement. It was never meant to be heard by anyone other than those two, and maybe someone who needed a good laugh.
The music track was actually legitimate – it was for a recording by the Christ Church Choir in Nashville that Mauldin had arranged. The original recording featured Guy Penrod (a member of the choir) on lead vocals. Mauldin simply took that music track and added his own vocals (you can hear a “comparison” here, with Mauldin mixed to the far left and Penrod mixed to the far right).
Mauldin himself has commented on the viral recording several times in the past. To this day, he is not only amazed at how many people have heard and enjoyed this comedic take on it, but also somewhat confused as to how it ever got as far as it did. In his own words:
Absolutely unbelievable. The clowning around antics of Kevin McManus an me late one night in 1990, after a month long, grueling series of sessions in the production of a Christmas record for Christ Church Choir, now has reached 1,746,171 plays on Youtube.
Absolutely amazing, especially since we never meant for it to be released to the public, and STILL do not know who or how it became digitized and inflicted/releases to the world.
Every year I think, “Well it will be over now, surely it has had it’s day and will end.” But I was shocked when I just saw the number edging close to 2 million streams.
Stories I have received from fans have warmed my heart. One lady said her mom and dad had been at odds for 20 years after a bitter divorce but agreed to come to her house for Christmas. She played my song and the tension left the room and she saw her mom and dad in the same room, openly laughing together for the first time since the divorce.
It was a crazy, silly, spur-of-the-moment recording similar to those Art Baine, Otis Forrest, Dean and Mary Brown, Bobby All and I used to make back in Greenville, SC in the 70s. I personally believe the release was a “God thing.” So many people have testified that my singing is a part of their family tradition officially starting their Christmas season.
I am sincerely flattered that so many people choose to play my comical rendition. Thank you to all who listen and enjoy/endure my comedy.
While Mauldin has been an incredibly good sport about the whole thing for years, there is a hint of concern in his voice – someone somewhere along the line made a digital copy that was then forwarded, then forwarded, then forwarded…. The first time I heard the recording, it was sent to me by an industry friend around 2005. A couple years later, I sat in a car with several other gospel singers at a convention and laughed hysterically as someone played this “underground” recording. By the time it showed up on YouTube, most industry folks had heard this recording already and happily shared it with their friends.
In a way, this recording should be a word of caution to folks who post stuff online. Like Pandora’s Box, once it’s opened….it can’t be closed again. In this instance, what spread has become a blessing to many, and again, Mauldin is playing along with no problem, but not everything that makes it to the masses should be there.
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the “original,” as performed (loosely) by Steve Mauldin: