Twelve Pains Of Christmas

Album: Twisted Christmas (1987)

Songfacts®:

  • Christmas is, of course, a time of good tidings and cheer. But it can also be pretty annoying. In this parody of "Twelve Days of Christmas," Bob Rivers counts down the 12 things that are most painful during the holiday season. They are:

    Finding a Christmas tree
    Rigging up the lights
    Hangovers
    Sending Christmas cards
    Five months of bills
    Facing the in-laws
    Charities
    Whining children
    Finding parking spaces
    "Batteries Not Included"
    Stale TV specials
    Singing Christmas carols
  • Bob Rivers was a disc jockey at the rock station WAAF in Worcester, Massachusetts when he came up with the song for his morning show, the Bob & Zip Show with co-host Zip Zipfel. Many morning shows have done song parodies using radio production studios to phase out vocals on popular songs and sing new lyrics over them, but Rivers built a recording studio in his home and produced his parodies from scratch, giving him far better quality. They were very popular with listeners, and sometimes got the attention of record labels: "Breaking Up Is Hard On You" (about the breakup of AT&T, sung to "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" by Neil Sedaka) was released as a single on the Critique label in 1983 and made the Hot 100 at #70; "Just A Big Ego," a parody of David Lee Roth's cover of "Just A Gigolo," was picked up by Rhino Records.

    "The Twelve Pains Of Christmas" went on the air at WAAF in 1986 and got a great reaction. It was so popular, Critique, which was distributed by Atlantic Records, commissioned an entire album of Christmas parodies that Rivers and his team started working on right after Christmas. They came up with songs like "Wreck The Malls" (to "Deck The Halls") and "The Chimney Song," an original that tells the morbid tale of Santa getting stuck in the chimney - and not getting out. The album was delivered in the summer of 1987 and released for the holidays as Twisted Christmas. It went Gold, selling over 500,000 copies, and launched Rivers' "Twisted Tunes" franchise. When the Critique label folded, Atlantic kept rivers, who ended up doing seven albums of twisted Christmas songs for the label. Some of his more popular twisted Christmas tunes include "I Am Santa Claus" (to "Iron Man") and "Walkin 'Round In Women's Underwear" (to "Winter Wonderland").
  • Rivers brought in a team of friends and associates to perform on this song. The choir had to be actual singers, but all the speaking parts could be regular people, so spouses were enlisted. The "rigging up the lights" guy is Robert Ellis Orrall, a Boston-based singer-songwriter who hit #32 in 1983 with "I Couldn't Say No," a duet with Carlene Carter. Orrall plays a big part in the song - at the end, he's the guy who loses it, Clark Griswold style.
  • In a Songfacts interview with Bob Rivers, he explained how the song came together: "In thinking about Christmas, the "Twelve Days of Christmas" came to mind, and I started thinking about all the things that are annoying about Christmas. We sat down, me, Ryan Silva and Dennis Amero, and we wrote this song for my morning show, just for fun. We recorded it in my basement with my children starring on the record. We recorded it on an 8-track Tascam reel-to-reel 1-inch machine, which I had to break the bank to buy - my wife did not understand. We invited a bunch of people over.

    My son Keith is the one who could speak. He would say things like, 'I want a Transformer for Christmas.' My son Andrew was only about one-and-a-half years old, so he couldn't speak, but near the end of the record, when everything's getting really frantic, that's him crying. You want to be careful how you make a baby cry for recording, and we were punching in on the tape, so we need him to cry on performance - when it came around to his part, it was time for him to cry. My wife and I go a candy bar, and we held it out just to where he couldn't reach it. That's how we got the baby to cry.

    It's one of the most beautiful, nostalgic moments I've had recording a song. It was a group of people all feeding each other's enthusiasm. A lot of the lines and a lot of the characters were made up on the spot. It was pure fun."
  • It wasn't until 1994 that the Supreme Court ruled that parody could be considered fair use, which meant that every commercially released parody needed to have permission from the publisher of the original song, which could be a difficult task, especially in a time crunch. This song didn't have that problem because it's based on "Twelve Days of Christmas," which is in the public domain. When Rivers picked out songs to parody for the Twisted Christmas album, he went to the library to make sure none of them were copyrighted.

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