Three football players walk into a recording studio in the middle of their off-season…
… you can finish that sentence when you listen to “A Philly Special Christmas” — a seven-track project where Philadelphia Eagles players Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, and Jordan Mailata show off their singing chops and spread holiday cheer alongside a bunch of local musicians and other Philly personalities.
There’s no real punchline — because the album is pretty great.
What started off as a joke between Kelce, who plays center, and Johnson, offensive tackle, turned into “this kind of reflection of something that’s uniquely cool about Philadelphia,” Charlie Hall, producer of the album, told Billy Penn.
Hall, who’s also the drummer for rock band The War on Drugs, saw the project as a way of bringing people together from “different corners” of the music and entertainment worlds. “At its core, [it] was just this group of human beings doing something awesome together and having tons of fun doing it,” he said.
After the initial pre-Thanksgiving release of albums sold out in less than a week, another limited run of green vinyl records came out Friday. At $75 each, they sold out within 120 seconds, according to executive producer Connor Barwin, a former linebacker who now works for the Eagles as director of player development.
Proceeds from all sales benefit the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. The full album will be released online on all streaming platforms Dec. 23. Scroll down to check out the track listing and mini-reviews.
It’s perfect timing for a soundtrack for holiday gatherings, or just cozying up with a blanket and a hot drink on a winter’s evening. This record delivers peak Christmas Eve gift-wrapping vibes. It might be best-suited for tree decorating, so no judgment if you wanna wait till it drops on Spotify to get your tree up.
The whole project only took about half a year to put together, said Barwin and Hall.
It features a level of performance the casual Birds fan may have never seen coming from their football faves — except for any who also watch “The Masked Singer,” in which case offensive tackle Mailata’s pop star vocals won’t come as a surprise.
It’s a musical endeavor that the people putting the album together took seriously while also having a blast doing it, and it shows.
“One thing we all were in agreement on was like, this isn’t a goof,” Hall said. “Like, we’re doing this. We’re making a real Christmas record. You know, we’re gonna make something awesome … we’re gonna have fun, but … this isn’t a joke.”
Making of the album: ‘Little magical moments’
The idea for the album originated last year, when Kelce was volunteering with teammates at a toy drive for Children’s Crisis Treatment Center on Delaware Avenue, per the Eagles’ blog.
He mentioned the idea to Barwin, who — as a self-proclaimed music lover, and especially a Christmas music lover — suggested they make it happen ASAP, Barwin told Billy Penn.
Barwin brought the idea to Hall, and they started approaching musicians. They brought on Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, Robbie Bennett and Eliza Hardy Jones of The War on Drugs, and Brandon Beaver of MeWithoutYou.
“It’s just such a beautifully weird and fun idea,” Hall said. “I think people were just game for it.”
They started recording last summer — a particularly fast turnaround for putting out a vinyl record, Hall said.
To figure out the tracklist, the team started by reflecting on warm holiday memories, thinking about what songs resonated with them, and figuring out what they sang well together. They also worked to make each track special, Hall said: “Can we do something to the song to make it like, you know, uniquely our own?”
Once they got the ball rolling, things really started to shine. “Every time, there were these little magical moments that started to happen,” Barwin said. “And it just started to kind of compound. And then all of us were kind of like, whoa, this — this is gonna be really special.”
There were some fun surprises along the way.
One was just how well Johnson could sing. Barwin had heard Kelce’s and Mailata’s vocals before, but really didn’t expect the offensive tackle to sound the way he did.
“I knew he was talented, but like, once he really got going, I was like, holy shit,” Barwin said. “That is a special sound coming from Lane.” It’s been “incredible and fun” to watch younger players and coaches be surprised, too, he said, alongside reactions from fans.
The producers requested permission from Peanuts for the cover art, Hall and Barwin said, and were thrilled when they got it. Hannah Westerman of Philly-based design firm Avenue West made the three starring players’ Charlie Brown moment into a reality.
They named the album for the Philly Special — a title they initially “circled around” in brainstorming sessions but eventually “got pulled into,” Barwin said, “because it’s so descriptive, obviously, of exactly what this is.”
“It’s got a ring to it,” Hall said. “It’s evocative of a very important part of our history. That play is going to be remembered forever, and I hope this record is remembered forever.”
What you’ll hear when you listen
In advance of the Dec. 23 album release date, the producers have been releasing one track each week on streaming platforms, so you can already listen to some of the songs even if you didn’t get in on the early vinyl run.
Here’s a teaser of what to expect from each track on the list.
If you think three grown men with a combined height of 19 feet and 5 inches couldn’t deliver that festive feeling you got watching 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin lip sync into a comb, you’d be thinking wrong. This opening track is a down-to-earth yet harmonious rendition of the Irving Berlin classic, and it’s the perfect intro to how Kelce, Johnson, and Mailata are going to continue to charm you with holiday cheer.
A pining number is pretty much essential for any Christmas, and you can’t really go wrong with this country classic. Johnson and Kelce do justice to the work — most famously performed by Elvis Presley — with their twangy, soulful rendition.
‘Merry Christmas Baby’
This one is nothing short of a bop. Mailata’s funky, upbeat rendition — with guesting by Philly house music artist Lady Alma — feels like it belongs on the radio (or at the very least in a TV commercial).
‘The Night Before Christmas’
A relaxing interlude for your holiday gathering with plenty of rocking chair x fireplace vibes. Why read “The Night Before Christmas” to your kids when Eagles announcer Merrill Reese (accompanied by Dr. Dog‘s Zach Miller on piano) can do it for you?
‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’
The first track on the B-side of the vinyl version, this has all the ingredients that make a successful upbeat holiday song. Sleigh bells, plenty of other percussion, a little bit of twang, a background chorus singing “Christmaaaaaas” over and over, a killer alto sax solo by Marshall Allen of Sun Ra Arkestra, and an offensive tackle belting his heart out. It’s basically some holiday pining (again), but they made it ✨sparkle✨.
Every Christmas album needs an a capella carol. This entrancing B-side slowdown, performed by The Silver Ages, fills that niche well. Also, not gonna spoil it, listen a few verses in for a team-specific twist you certainly won’t hear on any other Christmas album — but might just get stuck in your head next gameday.
‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’
As full of life and fun as many of the songs on this LP are, this one’s the true personality track. It’s the first and last place it becomes glaringly obvious that this is not just a regular Christmas album — it’s a bunch of Philadelphia football players making a Christmas album.
You’ll hear some team banter in the interludes, maybe catch a shoutout to your neighborhood, and revel in a little holiday dig at D*llas. The rendition oozes Christmas cheer, and it’s an absolutely delightful sonic present from a sports team to its city.