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Inside the world of production Christmas music

Before writing this article, I was occasionally looking to see if I could find more information to add to my Christmas disco article to hopefully back up my assertions, and I came across Ernie's post of Seasons Greetings from 3M on their blog, Ernie (Not Bert). As I was listening to the tracks, ultimately finding the two disco ones on the record to cite as proof, I noticed an extremely familiar introduction to one of the other tracks. Little did I know that the rest of my night would include tracking down all of the songs on this record on CD, creating a list of labels that have used production tracks from this and other records, and identifying a major company that has relied on production Christmas recordings for its use both internally and for its own released albums.

Background

The rest of this article assumes that you are familiar with Odyssey Productions, the company behind the 1979 Christmas disco recordings, and how they have been continuously re-released worldwide. To summarize, multiple companies licensed a set of Christmas disco songs from Odyssey Productions and sold records, tapes, CDs, and digital files under various names. Despite being released in various countries by various companies, the one goal each company had in common was making a quick profit off of reselling these songs. The physical media that they were released on would have been found in bargain bins and non-music retailers, attracting budget-minded, potentially na´ve customers who cared more about getting cheap albums than getting a well-known performance. This phenomenon is not limited to Christmas music, either; tribute and sound-alike albums can be found for popular music as well, created for the same purpose.

Identifying unknown music digitally and on CDs

I have a few strategies that I use to both find where production Christmas music on vinyl or cassette has been reissued digitally and to find CD releases from multiple labels that contain the same songs and link labels together. The first is music identification app Shazam. While limited as it only usually gives one digital song, artist, and album identification, it serves as a starting point to find out one particular label that has released a particular track and additionally verifies that any particular song has had a digital release.

After verifying that a song is available digitally, AllMusic, Discogs, and MusicBrainz can be used to find specific albums that a song appears on. AllMusic is best used by searching for specific parts of artist names that appear on certain labels' releases ("Countdown" and "Starlite" for Madacy releases, for instance). Its search will return a list of tracks performed by the artists you search for and allows you to see albums that a specific recording appears on. Since there are usually multiple recordings credited to the same generic artist over multiple albums, you can use the track times and previews returned for certain albums to narrow results down to a specific recording.

Discogs and MusicBrainz are good for identifying all of the albums in each site's respective database that a song appears on. Discogs can be searched with a track name (or a list of track names) with specific label names or parts of artist names, while MusicBrainz can be searched with a track name with parts of artist names or the generic artist "[christmas music]" to find potential albums that a specific recording appears on. In my experience, Discogs is best for searching for releases on specific labels, while MusicBrainz is best for matching exact track times with specific search results.

Of course, for any results you find, free streaming services like Spotify can be used to preview specific tracks and albums if they are offered to confirm search results.

Seasons Greetings from 3M

I was able to piece together a lot of this information and connect a lot of unrelated artists and labels with the knowledge that all of the tracks on Seasons Greetings from 3M were recorded by Odyssey Productions. Besides the two disco versions that have already been covered, the rest of the songs include the following:

Upon listening to the rest of these songs and seeing what else Odyssey Productions had to offer, I noticed that "Silent Night" was extremely familiar. In fact, I already owned it on Disney Presents a Family Christmas. The only difference between the two recordings was that Disney added a flute along with vocals provided by Larry Groce and the Disneyland Children's Chorus. The version of "Winter Wonderland" on the 3M record is again identical to the Disney version aside from Disney's addition of vocals to Odyssey's instrumental backing. In fact, Walt Disney Records had already used Odyssey Productions for other albums according to Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, so it is not surprising to see that they licensed songs from Odyssey Productions for other albums. Knowing that Disney modified these recordings, however, meant that this knowledge was interesting but ultimately insufficient for finding unmodified digital or CD versions of these ten songs, so I set out to find them.

Audio Treasures, Inc.

I quickly found one of the ten songs, "What Child Is This", in my iTunes library, matching the version on the record exactly. This song appears on The Little Drummer Boy, barcode 013132110028, by St. Paul's Orchestra and Chorus, released by Audio Treasures, Inc. in 1992. This confirms that at least one of the songs on this album was originally recorded by Odyssey Productions and is also evidence pointing to the fact that Audio Treasures is most likely releasing other production music and is not involved in creating any original recordings. Audio Treasures will appear again later and is one of the key labels that should be searched when attempting to locate releases of production Christmas music.

Silver Bells Music

Based in Nashville, Silver Bells Music is an interesting case. I first heard about them years before writing this as they released a few interesting budget Christmas recordings, including Electronic Computer Christmas Music and Christmas Rap Music, which are clearly later recordings than the Odyssey Productions songs on Seasons Greetings from 3M. However, one of their earlier albums that I picked up hoping for unique budget recordings like the aforementioned two, Winter Wonderland, contained generic recordings. This album was completely ordinary and uninteresting until I found that it contained the same version of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" that was on the 3M record. It, however, does not contain any of the other songs.

Madacy

Madacy is a company based in Quebec that has released a large number of budget recordings and reissues. "Madacy" is a generic name that incorporates all of their historical names; the company has also published releases under Distribution(s) Madacy Inc. and LDMI (Les Distributions Madacy Inc.). Over the years, the company has sourced and released a wide number of production recordings, Christmas and otherwise, and has especially attributed artist credit on these to a wide variety of groups mentioning either "Countdown" or "Starlite". No matter the specific Christmas production music, there is a fairly strong chance that Madacy has released it at some point. Every song on the 3M record, except for "Deck the Halls", "The Christmas Song", and "What Child Is This", is present on The Starlite Orchestra's White Christmas and Other Holiday Favorites, barcode 056775992828, under the LDMI label. For good measure, this album even appears to contain non-Disney versions of some of the tracks appearing on Disney Presents a Family Christmas. Be careful, as copies of this album may suffer from disc rot and may not play or rip correctly, so you may need to return copies until you get a working one.

A return to disco

Odyssey Productions, and the record companies that purchased their 1979 disco recordings, were not the only companies to create and release budget Christmas recordings to cash in on the disco craze. Two other popular Christmas disco albums, P.K. & the Sound Explosion's Christmas Disco, released on Pickwick, and Christmas Disco Party, released on Classic Christmas, used production music. Despite being released on different labels, certain tracks on each of these albums have been released on CD and digitally by Music, Inc., based in Nashville.

The following songs were reissued from P.K. & the Sound Explosion's Christmas Disco, all credited to "Atlanta Rhythm" (which has no affiliation with Atlanta Rhythm Section):

Three tracks have been reissued from Christmas Disco Party, again appearing over two albums released by Music, Inc. They are:

Music, Inc. seems to be responsible for both creating in-house recordings of various styles that they issued on their own labels (usually crediting the musicians who recorded them) and also licensing them out to other companies, such as Pickwick, that repackaged them without maintaining any of the true credits. The songs from these two albums were not hard to find since Music, Inc. was proactive in reissuing them while maintaining attribution to their company. Unfortunately, their recordings did not seem to be licensed often, and I cannot find any other songs from these two albums reissued elsewhere.

Disney

Disney's records division and their relationship with Odyssey Productions have already been covered. However, another key component of Disney's business, besides acting as an entertainment company, is their theme park business. Entertainment is still a focus here, however, as Disney carefully curates nearly every aspect of guest experience within the parks, including background music. After playing one of the mini-golf courses at Winter Summerland years ago and enjoying the version of "Jingle Bells" that they played, I went online to find Winter Summerland's background music playlist. This immediately brought up the CD, which was the New Age Orchestra and Chorus's Spirit of the Season, barcode 013132111322, released by Audio Treasures. As I was putting this research together, though, I identified several of the tracks on that album with Shazam and received identifications from Madacy and other digital labels, confirming that the songs on Spirit of the Season were most likely licensed from somewhere else, much like the other albums released by Audio Treasures. The actual production company that produced these recordings is impossible to identify, but it is curious to trace how certain production companies and labels are linked to each other and companies outside of the music industry.

Conclusion

Hopefully you have found the connections and information on this page interesting. As I have collected more Christmas music and obtained mostly everything that could be considered mainstream that I want, my interests have increasingly turned towards budget releases and finding the best (and worst) that they have to offer. If you have more knowledge about any budget recordings or production companies that you'd like to share, please let me know. My contact information is available on the homepage.

Page written on 4 May 2019 and last updated on 25 February 2020.