Richard Marx has scored his first top 10 hit in 14 years. And it's with a song he didn't even want to record. Marx's rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" -- from his new "Christmas Spirit" album -- has, thanks to radio stations switching to 24-7 holiday music, become his first Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit since 1998's "At the Beginning."
The irony, he tells Billboard, is that the song is "one of my least favorite Christmas carols ever" and was never intended to be part of the collection.
"The album was essentially finished," Marx recalls. "Then my manager reminded me that, 'Dude, we need bonus tracks, a couple of extra tracks so that different retailers can have their own version of the record.' " "Little Drummer Boy" was on the short list for consideration, Marx says, "but I just never liked that song. It's just so monotonous." Then inspiration struck.
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"Right before I was ready to just completely scratch it off the list, I thought 'What would happen if U2 was forced to do 'Little Drummer Boy? What would The Edge play?,' " Marx recalls. "I came up with this guitar part, totally ripping off the best of The Edge, and I basically borrowed the drum groove from 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for.' So I tried to approach it like 'Little Drummer Boy' circa 'Joshua Tree'-era U2, and I wrote a bridge section for it and I walked out of the studio thinking, 'This is one of my favorite things on the record.' I was surprised but also thrilled that was the go-to track, but it made all the hard work worth it."
Marx has largely foregone his own recording career in recent years in order to focus on songwriting and production -- including the No. 1 country hit "Long Hot Summer" for Keith Urban in 2011. "Christmas Spirit," however, grew out of a series of songs he and his sons gave as holiday presents for his wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes. The family then began sharing them with friends, resulting in an EP last year and the album this year. And it might not be the last holiday music we hear from him.
"I actually said to (his wife) last month, 'You're not expecting another song this year, are you?' and she went, 'Oh yeah I am!' " Marx says with a laugh. "I looked at my boys the other day and said, 'Y'know, we have to go in and cut another freaking Christmas song for your mom.' So, yeah, I don't get any slack."