Sometimes Christmas makes news, even in June. Last week it was announced that Vince Vance and the Valiants, the New Orleans-based retro rock group, was suing singer Mariah Carey for using the name “All I want for Christmas Is You” in her popular holiday song. The same name is used in a classic by the Vance group. My first thought was what took them so long? This is hardly a new issue. According to Vance’s lawsuit, their version was released in 1989 and became a hit in 1993. Carey’s version was released in 1994.
I do not propose to get into legal discourse over whose version came first or who has what right, instead I am responding from the heart. Carey’s recording, which is a totally different song from Vance’s, is good, maybe a nine and a half on the scale to 10. Vance’s version is a Christmas classic, easily a 10 point one on the same scale.
Vince Vance’s “All I Want…” was written by New Orleanian Andy Stone, who plays the role of Vance, the rock geek with the pointy hairdo, and guitarist Troy Powers. According to Stone, he was inspired to write the song in 1973 when he was touring with the band and spent a lonely Christmas in a Columbus, Ohio motel room.
His words would dig deep into the emotions of the season especially when Layne erupts after a seductive mid- song sax solo:
“I don’t need expensive things
They don’t matter to me
All that I want, can’t be found
Underneath the Christmas tree
Home-grown curiosity drove me to want to interview Lane. She was a little known super talent who recorded a New Orleans-rooted big hit.
With the help of a Valiant, I was able to make contact with her several years ago: “I never got a penny for that recording” Layne recalled, nor was her name on the label. She was an employee for the band just doing her job. Few Valiants were involved in the session, which included mostly Nashville musicians recording under the Valiants’ name. The song, nevertheless, would become world famous with Lisa Layne as the powerful, but mysterious voice.
For Layne, Sept. 27, 1989 would mean more than just her 27th birthday. She was standing at the microphone at Nashville’s Masterfonics recording studio. Nearby were some of the town’s finest studio musicians prepared to record a new bluesy Christmas song.
As the tape began to roll, a funky, but melancholic saxophone solo introduced the tune up to the point when Lisa Layne leaned into the microphone and began to sing:
“Take back the holly and mistletoe
Silver bells on string
If I wrote a letter to Santa Claus
I would ask for just one thing… “
Here was one of those moments when greatness was achieved – in a single take. The song is among the holiday’s best pop songs ever.
“I don’t need sleigh rides in the snow
Don’t want a Christmas that’s blue
Take back the tinsel, stockings and bow
‘cause all I want for Christmas is you.
Layne was born in Tyler, Texas but her family moved to Dallas when she was three. After graduating from high school, she performed with her own band until she was scouted by the Valiants, whose operations were split between New Orleans and Dallas.
Mariah Carey’s disco-ish song is good to dance to, but it comes nowhere near capturing the moodiness of Layne’s Joplinesque performance.
Vince Vance’s words and Lisa Layne’s delivery will reverberate for as long as there is Christmas – and hope.
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