“Lord, it’s like a hard candy Christmas/I’m barely getting through tomorrow/But still, I won’t let sorrow bring me way down/I’ll be fine and dandy”
If there were every a set of lyrics that summed up how we are feeling about this holiday season and think about the new year ahead, it is artist Susannah B‘s cover of the iconic and beloved holiday track “Hard Candy Christmas”. 2023 had a LOT going on, but the fact that we are still here and pressing on can be a testament to our resilience, something that should be celebrated more often than not. And “music can be a “Hard Candy Christmas” feels like the perfect way to reflect not only on what we witnessed happening in the world, but also within ourselves.
Susannah has a special connection to this track, because it was her very own mother Carol Hall who penned the original, which has gone to be covered by the likes of Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Alison Krauss & Cyndi Lauper, LeAnn Rimes, RuPaul and others. Carol was a Broadway composer who wrote the song for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1978, which was turned into a movie in 1982.
“Hard Candy Christmas,” known for its poignant lyrics and memorable melody, has become an enduring holiday favorite. It won an ASCAP award for Most Performed Country Song. For her version, Susannah worked with co-producer Michael Farrell (Alanis Morissette, American Idol) and came up with a Marvin Gaye-inspired groove to bring the song’s hopeful message to a new generation of listeners. Susannah’s new release comes right before she is set to drop the first track from her forthcoming album ‘POV’. “Talkin’ To Myself’, which will be released January 10.
As we prepare to celebrate the holidays, we had the chance to speak with Susannah about what it meant to record her mother’s most famous track, how she made it her own, and what the song means to her personally.
What was it like re-recording a song originally made by your mother, and what made you want to do this?
It was actually pretty emotional for me to record this song. I felt really nervous about creating a version that would be original and unique to me, and I also wanted to do something that my mom would be proud of. She passed away five years ago, so she’s not around anymore to give me feedback, but my stepdad and brother both said they thought my mom would’ve loved it, which meant the world to me.
I guess I recorded it because it’s my mom’s most famous song, it gets played every year at Christmas (and I love Christmas songs), and I thought it would be a good way to pay tribute to her while also helping me connect with new listeners who might know the song, but not know my music.
Growing up, what did it mean as an aspiring musician to see your mom achieve so much popularity with this song, which has been sung by icons such as Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and more?
Growing up, I was much more focused on being an actor than a singer, and I never thought I’d ever be a songwriter. I think my mom’s success was something I’ve always been really proud of and, at the same time, it was also kind of intimidating. I think I avoided making music for many years because…what if I wasn’t as good as she was? I didn’t start writing songs and becoming a professional singer until my late 20s/early 30s, so I see myself as a late bloomer because of that.
What is it about this song that exemplifies the holidays for you?
The interesting thing about “Hard Candy Christmas” is that it wasn’t written as a traditional Christmas song. It originally came from the Broadway show that my mother wrote called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” which was a big hit in the ‘80s and got made into a movie starring Dolly Parton. In the show, there’s a moment when the group of female sex workers have all just learned that the place they call home is going to close soon, and they’re all going to be out of a job.
And that’s when they sing this song, which is about facing a scary, unknown future and choosing to believe that things will work out fine. Really, it’s a song about faith – having faith that, despite challenging circumstances, things will be okay – and for me, that hopeful, faithful way of looking at the future is something I want more of during the holiday season.
Can you share more about who you worked with and how you made this song “yours”?
My co-producer/collaborator right now is keyboardist Michael Farrell, who I’ve been working with for the last few 5 years, but who took on a much more creative role for my upcoming album POV. Mike is so talented in so many different ways. Besides being an excellent keyboard player who currently tours the world with Alanis Morissette, and Steve Martin & Martin Short, Mike is also one of the musical directors on American Idol, which means he knows so many songs. He helps so many singers identify their strengths, and arranges songs in ways that enhance each singer’s unique talents. And he brings all of those skills to his work with me as a producer/arranger.
He also connected me with my incredible band of musicians who he’s played, recorded and toured with – Victor Indrizzo, Sean Hurley, & Dave Levita. They’ve all toured with Alanis and they all get along so great. From the beginning, it’s been such a fantastic vibe – a very fun, effortless, collaborative environment in the studio with a bunch of guys who all really enjoy and respect each other, and who like me too. Mike opened that door for me, which I’m super grateful for..
How do you hope to inspire a new generation of listeners with your version?
As I created my cover of “Hard Candy Christmas”, my own version of my mother’s famous song, I was thinking a lot about all the people right now who are struggling financially to make ends meet. People who are working multiple jobs, but still struggling to buy holiday gifts for people they love. I wanted to make a song that would soothe and uplift those folks, especially.
I often think about how I want my music to make people feel, and I always start with the groove because I believe: a groove that gets your hips swaying and shoulders moving means that when the song is done, you’re going to feel better because you moved your body to music. And these can be slow grooves, okay, it’s not dance music I’m doing, I’m not a fancy TikTok dancer, I just love to get a little groove on whenever possible. Musically and thematically, one of the inspirations Mike and I talked about for our arrangement was Marvin Gaye.
So my version of “Hard Candy Christmas” is for groove-loving people who want to be cheered up and comforted right now. I’m also very proud of the way my mother Carol Hall wrote hopeful songs with positive messages like this one, and I wanted that warm spirit of my mom to be reflected in the arrangement and in how I sang it, too.