Gravelly voiced British slide guitar virtuoso Chris Rea was at the crossroads. His career was going nowhere. His label was about to drop him, and the records he’d released in his native England had flopped. What’s more, while in London to finish the album that would satisfy his contract, when he asked the label for a train ticket home to Middlesbrough, he was told, “Sorry.”
So his new wife was forced to drive the 250 miles down to London to pick him up. Deep in despair on the way home, Rea contemplated leaving the music business and opening a restaurant. The problem was money. He had none. His records weren’t selling and he was so behind on rent he feared he and his wife would soon be evicted.
It was 1978, December to be exact, and Rea had less than $500 in the bank. But on the way home, as his wife drove, he began thinking of the Christmas holiday and started vamping some stream-of-consciousness lyrics, which he ended up liking so much he began to write them down on a piece of scratch paper.
When the couple got home it was 5:00 in the morning. The house was freezing. And on the floor in the hall they found a letter. One letter. It was a royalty check. But not just any royalty check. It was royalty check for over $40,000. Chris Rea’s latest single, which had tanked in England, had somehow managed to sneak into the top 40 in America.
Fool, If You Think It’s Over saved not only Chris Rea’s career, but who knows what else.
Fast forward a decade. He and his keyboardist are in the studio testing out two new pianos. The keyboardist starts playing a lilting and melodic little Nat King Cole-style riff on one piano and Rea counters on the other. It’s good. He can tell. So he runs to his car and digs out the beat up old tin where he stuffed the scribbled lyrics he’d written ten years prior. Before he knows it, Chris Rea has composed his very first Christmas song.
And while that song has become something of a holiday staple in Rea’s homeland, it’s never garnered even a ripple of attention here. And, in fairness, it’s not a great song. But it is a great recording. It’s breezy and light, and celebrate something that people all over the world have felt in their bones for centuries – the siren call of home and the longing to be with loved ones for the holidays.
Today’s hidden holiday nugget is traveling music dressed up as Santa. It’s Sleigh Ride with a decidedly modern twist. And it’s a song that celebrates not so much the being home for Christmas, as the getting there.
So with that, please enjoy today’s Song of the Season, Chris Rea’s jazzy little homage to wintry December road trips everywhere, Driving Home for Christmas.