Twelve Days Of Christmas

Album: Holiday Spirits (2008)
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  • In 1998, the Indiana University men's a cappella group Straight No Chaser put together a madcap arrangement of "Twelve Days of Christmas," blending it with "The Dreidel Song" and Toto's "Africa." When they performed it at a school concert that December, the crowd went nuts.

    They were well-known on campus and had performed at Carnegie Hall, but when the 10 members graduated, they moved on from a cappella with fond memories and at least one videotape copy of that show. In 2006, one of the singers, Randy Stine, uploaded the performance to YouTube, which launched just a year earlier and was filled with curios like "Evolution Of Dance" and "Lazy Sunday" that would occasionally go viral. By Christmas, the Straight No Chaser version of "Twelve Days Of Christmas" went viral as well and got the attention of Atlantic Records, which offered them a contract. Eight members of the original group took the offer and returned to the group, augmented by two Straight No Chaser members from later classes at IU. Their first album, Holiday Spirits, was released in 2008 with the original live version of "The 12 Days Of Christmas." The album went Gold and the group launched a successful tour; the next year, they repeated the feat with the album Christmas Cheers. They've established themselves as the top a cappella Christmas act, touring every year and releasing a new album from time to time. In 2014, they teamed with Kristen Bell for an original song called "Text Me Merry Christmas."

    Over the years, some members have left the group, but they have a built-in farm team at Indiana University, where the a cappella group is now known as Another Round.
  • The basic arrangement of this song, where the days of Christmas are layered and called out at unexpected times, originated with Richard Gregory, who came up with it in the 1950s when he was stationed on Guam with the US Navy. In the '60s, he taught music at the Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts, where he started an a cappella group called the Caterwaulers and refined the arrangement. One of the Caterwaulers went to Princeton University and joined their a cappella group, the Nassoons, and introduced the arrangement to them, which they started performing in the '70s. In this arrangment, the song ends with bits of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "The Christmas Song" - that section is replaced by "Africa" in Straight No Chaser's rendition.
  • Integrating "Africa" into this song was an inside joke that connected with their fans at the concert. Straight No Chaser had been performing "Africa" for a while and it always got a great reaction, but they were sick of it. In a Songfacts interview with group founder Dan Ponce, he explained: "We sang it, we sang it, we sang it, and finally we were like, 'We can't sing this song anymore. We're going to be a one-hit wonder. Everyone just wants to hear 'Africa.'' So we didn't do it at that concert but we added it on to the end of 'Twelve Days Of Christmas' just to make everyone laugh." (Ponce left the group in 2010 to return to Chicago, where he became a news anchor on the TV station WGN.)
  • Atlantic Records, which signed Straight No Chaser, is a particularly festive label. They signed parody artist Bob Rivers in the '80s and had a Gold album with his Twisted Christmas, which includes his own versions of "Twelve Days Of Christmas," re-worked as "Twelve Pains Of Christmas." In the '90s, they signed Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which became a holiday powerhose for the label as both a recording and touring act. They didn't sign Straight No Chaser until 2008, over a year after their video went viral. They were following a persuasive trend: the #1 album of 2007 was Josh Groban's Christmas album Noël.
  • The guy who interjects "The Dreidel Song" is Mike Itkoff, who was the only Jewish member of the group. When the members introduced themselves on stage during Christmas concerts, Itkoff would talk about how they needed some Hanukkah songs on the bill, and hint that he would make it happen. So when he apparently goes rogue and starts singing "dreidel, dreidel, dreidel..." the crowd has already been set up and it delivers a big laugh.

    Itkoff returned to the group when they signed their record deal in 2008, but left a year later. With no Jewish members, Walter Chase stepped into the role as the "de facto token Jew in the group." He says many people have always thought he was Jewish, and once dated a Jewish girl whose parents assumed he was.
  • This song got a lot of airplay on Adult Contemporary radio during the 2008 Christmas season, enough to send it to #5 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. This was the first time a Christmas song appeared on the AC chart.


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