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'LET'S MAKE A CHRISTMAS ALBUM' : Jimmy Iovine Produces a Superstarry Record

October 25, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

Iovine was devastated. He was especially close to his father and had always spent the Christmas season with his family in New York, even after he had moved to Los Angeles five years ago. Instead of huddling around the Christmas tree, however, the family spent the 1984 holidays at the father's bedside.

The Christmas album was Iovine's way of erasing some of the pain.

Says Bobby Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and a former newspaper reporter: "Everybody keeps saying that to publicize this album, we've got to have all these record stars come and do a photo or go on TV, but I keep thinking to myself that if I were a reporter (again), this album would be Jimmy's story . . . a very human story because he really did this in honor of his father."

In a profile on Iovine in the latest issue of Musician magazine, writer Vic Garbarini recalls his impression of Iovine the first time they met in 1980.

"Jimmy was like some character from a Scorsese film, a Brooklyn punk with a sense of humor and the proverbial heart of gold who'd managed to work his way up from the mean streets without losing his essential spark," he wrote.

Iovine, 33, is quite a ways from the mean streets these days, though he can't quite sever his ties with this city. While he is committed to Southern California (Iovine and his wife, Vicki, are building a home in Malibu), he still keeps a place here--partly because the 15th-floor apartment on Central Park South offers a gorgeous view of the park, but also because he spends a lot of time in the studio here.

Iovine got his start in the record business more than a decade ago, helping engineer records by John Lennon and Springsteen. He eventually graduated to producer, chalking up such credits as Patti Smith's "Easter," Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes," Dire Straits' "Making Movies," Bob Seger's "The Distance" and Stevie Nicks' "Bella Donna."

More recently, he has worked with U2, Lone Justice, Simple Minds and the Pretenders. He is now back in the studio with Smith, the hugely influential poet-turned-rocker who is working on her first album in almost a decade.

Sitting in his apartment with his wife, Iovine is wearing a sloppy sweat shirt, jeans and a Notre Dame cap as he he talks about putting the album together.

Iovine produced or co-produced seven of the album's 15 selections, including Madonna's update of Eartha Kitt's playful "Santa Baby," the Pointer Sisters' Spector-ized treatment of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and Whitney Houston's gospel-accented rendition of "Do You Hear What I Hear."

He also worked in the studio on the Pretenders' "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," U2's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Seger's "The Little Drummer Boy" and Nicks' "Silent Night."

Other tracks recorded for the album but not produced by Iovine: Eurythmics' "Winter Wonderland," Mellencamp's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis," Bryan Adams' "Run Rudolph Run," Bon Jovi's "Back-Door Santa" and Alison Moyet's "The Coventry Carol." Two selections--Bruce Springsteen's "Merry Christmas Baby" and Sting's "Gabriel's Message"--were B-sides of earlier singles by the artists but never appeared on an album.

About the record (which was released two weeks ago on the Special Olympics label, distributed by A&M), Iovine said: "I've wanted to make a Christmas record for years because I am a big fan of Christmas music. Every year I go to a record store and look around for a new Christmas album, and it's not there. There is the Phil Spector record ("Phil Spector's Christmas Album"), which is fantastic, and the Presley record ("Elvis' Christmas Album"), which is very good. But those records are 25 years old. I wanted to make a new Christmas record.

"Most of the ones you hear are put together real fast. They go into the studio for a couple of days and concentrate on maybe two or three songs, and then just run through the rest. I wanted to make an album where you spend as much time as you do on a normal album, maybe 400 to 500 hours in the studio and working with different artists."

But there were potential problems--major ones.

"I knew it would be hard to put the album together because the people I wanted weren't all on the same label and there would be the question of what to do with the money, so I just kinda forgot about it for a while," he said. "Besides, I was busy with other albums."

His priorities shifted, however, when his father died.

"At that point, I said, 'OK, I've got to do something or else I'm going to associate Christmas with this terrible time in my life.' I said to Vicki, 'Let's make a Christmas album. I've always wanted to do this and it will be great therapy for me. Let's give the money away to some great people who could really use it and let's have some fun.' "

The question was where to give the money.

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