A bootleg Christmas song for you today, one that, as far as I can tell, has never been officially released. Paul Simon sings “Silver Bells” while Steve Martin does a mock-solemn monologue about the meaning of Christmas. Billy Joel plays piano and sings harmony. It’s funny. You should listen…
There are lots of rumors about the recording, but it’s the internet, so solid facts are tough to nail down. It’s sometimes called an SNL outtake, but the three were never on the same episode. Billy Joel quotes about the recording come from an interview in a 2001 American Airlines magazine, but the original article isn’t online any more.
“One night around Christmas 20 years ago, I was doing a recording session at A&R Studios in Hell’s Kitchen. We had just finished the session, and my producer and I decided to get some food. It was fairly late at night, and we ran into Paul Simon and Steve Martin at the restaurant. We had a little bit of wine, and then we had a little more wine. Nobody was feeling any pain.”
“We got a brainstorm that we would go back to the studio and record a Christmas record. It must’ve been about midnight at this point. So we go back to the studio, and Paul Simon and I are singing in the background that Christmas carol ‘Silver Bells.’ We’re harmonizing, and Steve Martin starts into this soliloquy ‘What Christmas Means to Me,’ with these hysterical descriptions of the secretary sitting on the copying machine, all these very risqué scenarios. And Paul and I are just trying to keep it together.”
“We did this maybe in one take and we had a Christmas single. Now, it was never given to a record company, but there’s a copy of it floating around somewhere. Stuff like that happens in New York. It’s a small town.”
One story goes that (now retired) Los Angeles radio DJs Mark and Brian were the first to play a bootleg copy of “Silver Bells” on the air. Now, you can find multiple copies on YouTube and since an official release seems unlikely, that’s the best place to find it.