Jose Mari Chan, the singer-composer of Christmas in Our Hearts, is now a symbol of the Philippine Christmas celebration
Story behind Christmas song
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - December 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The music business is all about “ears” or tainga or as we usually say it these days, tenga. People in music are described as having “ears.” That means the trait of knowing what song will become a hit or of choosing the sounds that the public will buy. This is why the legendary Clive Davis, who found hits in Barbra Streisand, Simon & Garfunkle, Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston and so many others, is described as “the man with the golden ears.”

It is a fact that you can spend a lot of money on an album with the best artists and technical people and state-of-the-art equipment. But if you and the people you are working with do not have the “ears” then you will not have the hits. Whereas there are a lot of cases of producers and singers who make hits on shoestring budgets.

I like to think that I have the “ears” because I have been part of the business in various capacities for many years now. I have picked out some hit singles and during those times when I falter, I go back to 30 years ago when I picked out what was believed to be an unlikely choice but which turned out to be one of the biggest selling songs of all time.

It was sometime in 1990 when the late Bella Tan, who was the head of Universal Records asked for my opinion regarding the single for a new album by Jose Mari Chan. The singer and songwriter was the biggest-selling artist in the country, thanks to the massive popularity of his Beautiful Girl. He had recorded a Christmas album and Tan was in the process of picking out a single.

It was believed then that albums sell because of the single. This was the first song that would be played on the radio and which the artist would perform in all promo gigs. A single could make or break an album. Chan was considered priceless as a hitmaker and Tan wanted it to stay that way.

Titled Christmas in our Hearts, there was no question that the album would sell. It boasted of beautiful songs, excellent arrangements and just the right sparkling mix for a Holiday collection. I was sure it would be a huge favorite for years and years to come.

I instantly loved the old songs. Little Christmas Tree, Count Your Blessings, Give Me Your Heart for Christmas. There were old carols. Mary’s Boy Child, Little Christmas Tree, When a Child is Born. Chan even set The Lord’s Prayer to a new melody. And the songs from the Christmas Carol musical by Leslie Bricusse were wonderful choices, A Christmas Carol, This Beautiful Day and Christmas Children.

And we came to the single. Tan told me that their choice was A Perfect Christmas, a new original by Chan. There was no question that the song had the makings of a hit. It was also chosen because it was a love song and Chan had always been known for romantic songs.

My choice was Christmas in our Hearts. I felt then that it was the only choice. Tan had misgivings. Composed by Chan and with lyrics by Rina Caniza, it was more religious or inspirational than Chan’s usual hits. It was also a duet which was not usual with Christmas songs and worst of all, it was with an unknown artist, Chan’s daughter Liza who has not done any recordings before. Christmas in our Hearts though was so steeped in the Christmas spirit. It literally sang the timeless message of Christmas. I told Tan it should be the single.

A few days later, after the very Christmasy album launch at the old Hyatt on Roxas Boulevard, I found out that the single was Christmas in our Hearts. We all know what has happened to the song, how it has become the most loved harbinger of the holidays in this country and Jose Mari Chan is now also a symbol of the Philippine Christmas celebration.

I do not know if my opinion had any bearing on the single choice but to this day, my ears perk up when I hear Christmas in our Hearts and, proudly I tell myself, I may not be Clive Davis, but I picked that single.

JOSE MARI CHAN
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