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For The Record: How José Feliciano Crafted His Bilingual, Universal Christmas Hit "Feliz Navidad"

José Feliciano

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For The Record: How José Feliciano Crafted His Bilingual, Universal Christmas Hit "Feliz Navidad"

In the newest episode of For The Record, ring in the holiday season with a deep dive into how José Feliciano's inescapable Spanish/English classic "Feliz Navidad" came to be

GRAMMYs/Dec 23, 2021 - 03:02 am

José Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" is known globally as a chipper ode to cross-cultural well-wishes — a hit that spans Christmas and New Year's, English and Spanish. So it may come as a surprise that the tune came out of a sense of loneliness and distance.

Feliciano recorded the song — you know the one, with the cascading "I wanna wish you a merry Christmas!" chorus — while spending the holiday in an L.A. studio in 1970, longing for his loved ones in New York and his native Puerto Rico. He rued the lack of it all: the merrimaking, the rum-imbing, the cuisine of pasteles and lechon.

"It was expressing the joy that I felt on Christmas and the fact that I felt very lonely," he later recalled to NPR. "I missed my family, I missed Christmas carols with them. I missed the whole Christmas scene." Pining for his 11 brothers and the rest of his extended family, he wrote a joyous, bilingual romp — one that came to him on a bit of a lark.

"I was working on my Christmas album and the producer asked me to write a Christmas song, to which I thought 'Ooh! How am I going to do that?'" he said "The Tamron Hall Show" in 2021. "'Feliz Navidad' came and it makes a lot of people happy."

"Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad," goes the English verse, which translates as "Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness." "If I had left in Spanish only, then I knew the English stations might not play it, so I decided to write an English lyric, 'I want to wish you a merry Christmas.'" Feliciano explained to Billboard. "And then there was no way the stations could lock that song out of the programming."

His strategy worked — progressively. The song first charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1998, peaking at No. 70. It returned to the Billboard Hot 100 on the chart dated the week of January 7, 2017 reaching No. 44. "Feliz Navidad" finally reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 a half-century after its release, on the chart dated Dec. 19, 2020.

Fifty years after its release, the song remains an inimitable earworm, providing warmth and light to listeners on both sides of the border during one of the most confusing Christmases yet. And Feliciano is well aware of its enduring presence — the Puerto Rican star is celebrating with a new recording, a children's book and a live-streamed concert, which aired on Dec. 20.

"Musically, it's simplistic, but that doesn't take away from the charm of the song at all," musician Bobby Sanabria, co-director of the Bronx Music Heritage Center, added to NPR. "'Feliz Navidad's one of those kind of songs that, like 'Happy Birthday,' it's very, very iconic. And anybody can sing it."

In a revealing interview with GRAMMY.com, Feliciano himself agreed. "I don't know how 'Feliz Navidad' became such a favorite. But, I would like to say that I think what made 'Feliz Navidad' such a favorite is the simplicity of the song," he said. "The song, in total lyric-wise, because it's bilingual, has 19 words.​"

But what a 19 words it is — everybody on the planet, regardless of their background or religious persuasion, seems to have been born with it programmed in their brain. And it paid off for Feliciano, who had already won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist in 1968. Today, the seven-time GRAMMY winner and 16-time nominee's signature song is in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame, where it was inducted in 2010.

So, this Christmas — or whatever holiday you celebrate — take a moment to holler along with one of the most recognizable seasonal songs of all time.

José Feliciano On 50 Years Of "Feliz Navidad," New Album Behind This Guitar & Hitting The Big Screen

N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2018 - 11:05 pm

A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.

Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.

Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.

Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Alanis Morissette

Photo: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2018 - 03:10 am

For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.

Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.

The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."

As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).

Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.

Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.

"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."

Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Kendrick Lamar

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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night

GRAMMYs/Feb 9, 2018 - 03:16 am

Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.

There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true.  Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.

"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."

Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").

Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.

Catching Up On Music News Powered By The Recording Academy Just Got Easier. Have A Google Home Device? "Talk To GRAMMYs"

Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Alabama Shakes

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Wilder than before, the band's fusion of country and soul with immersive rock on their 2015 album defined a sound all their own

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2018 - 09:43 pm

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut Boys & Girls was such a wild success, no one expected the band would get even wilder on 2015's Sound & Color. But the band took their music way out, exploring a spacious, country-soul rock sound that would be more completely their own if it didn't seem so timeless.

"We're just a normal group of people who believe in writing and making something, and honestly, it was truly from a point of having fun," lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard told our oral history of the album. "It wasn't to get famous or anything like that. We wanted to play gigs, that was our goal, but we didn't have anywhere to gig."

Bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson write together with Howard, and the band shared in their Best Rock Song win, at the 58th GRAMMY Awards for "Don't Wanna Fight," as songwriters, in addition to winning Best Rock Performance. Sound & Color also won Best Alternative Music Album that year.

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut brought them 55th GRAMMY Awards nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for the song "Hold On." As a single, it remains their biggest hit so far, having reached No. 93 on Billboard's Hot 100. The following year the band was nominated for Best Rock Performance again, for "Always Alright" from the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook. A truly admired band, their album sales suggest Alabama Shakes falls better into the category of classics-makers than hit-makers. Their debut reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in 2013 and Sound & Color reached No. 1 in 2015.

Although Alabama Shakes hasn't released an album since Sound & Color, their performance of "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" drew another Best Rock Performance nomination at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. Earlier this year at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Alabama Shakes' performance of "Killer Diller Blues" won Best American Roots Performance, the band's fourth win. The song was originally recorded by Minnie Lawlers, and as for other artists participating in the Jack White and Bernard MacMahon 2017 project American Epic: The Sessions, all final recordings were made on an antique 1925 Western Electric direct-to-disc system. How's that for a historic recording?

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