After not appearing on Billboard charts with holiday music for almost 25 years, Richard Marx is now making the practice an annual tradition as predictable as Santa’s Christmas morning travels.
Last year, the pop/rock veteran released his first seasonal album, “Christmas Spirit,” which reached No. 21 on the Holidays Albums chart. The set yielded Marx’s first Adult Contemporary top 10 in 15 years, the No. 7-peaking “Little Drummer Boy,” as well as two other top 20 hits, including the title track.
This year, Marx is again marching to a holiday beat, as his collaboration with Heart, “All Through the Night,” rises 17-16 on the AC chart. The song is his 20th top 20 AC hit, a run that began this week in 1987 with “Should’ve Known Better.” His impressive AC chart history encompasses 14 top 10s, including four No. 1s (“Right Here Waiting,” “Keep Coming Back,” “Hazard” and “Now and Forever”).
Heart, meanwhile, is enjoying its highest-charting AC entry in almost 20 years; it last rose higher with the No. 15 hit “Will You Be There (In the Morning)” in March 1994.
Marx says that the seeds of “Night,” a traditional Welsh folk song that dates to the 1700s, were sown as far back as the late ’80s. “I’ve been a fan of Heart’s, like everybody else, forever. The only connection I had to them was, [in 1989] Ann Wilson did a duet with [Cheap Trick’s] Robin Zander, the love theme from this Mel Gibson film ‘Tequila Sunrise.’ I happened to write the song [‘Surrender to Me,’ a No. 6 Billboard Hot 100 hit].
“I think I ended up meeting Ann and Nancy Wilson a couple years later, but we never worked together,” Marx says. “Then, a couple years ago, Nancy married a very dear friend of mine, [producer] Geoff Bywater. All of a sudden, she was exposed to the music I’m making now, because Geoff is always asking me to send him new stuff that I’m working on.
“So, he was playing some new song of mine and Nancy said, ‘Oh, is that Richard?'” Marx continues. “She said, ‘I’ve always wanted to sing with him.’ The next think I knew, Heart was recording Christmas music. She got in touch with me and said, ‘Would you consider singing this duet with me?’
“I was honored. Are you kidding me?”
Marx says that while Ann has historically stood in the spotlight more for singing the bulk of Heart’s hits, he’s also always been enamored with Nancy, the vocalist on, among other favorites, the band’s first Hot 100 No. 1, 1986’s “These Dreams.” “Ann gets that attention, rightfully so, because she’s one of the great rock singers of all-time. But, Nancy’s a really stellar singer, too. I was really thrilled to sing ‘All Through the Night’ with her.”
Marx and Wilson didn’t record “Night” in the same room, but “2013-style,” he says. “I was in Nashville and sent my vocal to her. We finally sang it live a few nights ago in Seattle on a Christmas special that Heart taped.” The concert, “Heart & Friends: Home for the Holidays,” airs Wednesday (Christmas night) at 8 p.m. ET on AXS TV. Shawn Colvin, Sammy Hagar and Pat Monahan of Train join Marx as Heart’s guests.
“It was a great experience. I was just happy to be on the team.”
Ultimately, Marx, who, in addition to “Christmas Spirit,” has conquered Billboard charts in recent years as a writer, co-penning Keith Urban’s 2011 Hot Country Songs No. 1 “Long Hot Summer,” (marking Marx’s third No. 1 as a writer on the tally), treasures the chance to have recorded “Night” with Heart. He cites the group’s version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” originally recorded in 1977 and revived as a single a year ago following Heart’s performance of it at the Kennedy Center Honors with Jason Bonham, as just one reason for his adulation. “Let’s face it … to cover ‘Stairway to Heaven’? Who the [expletive] covers ‘Stairway to Heaven’?” Marx marvels with a laugh.
“They absolutely kill it and make it their own,” he says of the group, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. “When they did it the other night at our show, I’d never seen it before live, just on YouTube … it was jaw-dropping.”
Having received a holiday present in the form of his new duet, Marx is working on finishing his next album, one which offers an even lusher sound than that of most of his prior catalog.
“It wasn’t like I was trying to make a new album. It’s just that I had this collection of songs that I had been writing and recording over the past few years,” he says. Eventually, Marx realized that the compositions share a commonality. “There’s a thread throughout them: they all have orchestral, symphonic components. They’re really moody, sexy tracks.”
Following the career path of his late father, jazz musician and arranger Dick Marx, Marx has enjoyed writing orchestral arrangements for the new songs. He’s also recently collaborated with Walter Affanasieff, co-writer of such Mariah Carey hits as “Hero,” “One Sweet Day” and modern holiday classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” He hopes to release the set as early as March.
“I can’t pull a Beyonce,” he jokes. “I can’t just put it out at midnight and sell as many records.”
Regardless, Marx is incredibly proud of the new material. “I think it’s such an elegant-sounding record. The songs don’t sound like my other songs. And, recording them with real strings has been a blast.”
“I feel like there’s just something special about this.”