by Craig Shelburne
Cody Belew is hanging more than the Christmas stockings this season. An Arkansas native who now lives in Nashville, Belew has placed the irresistible original song “Hang Your Hat on My Christmas Tree” in the new Paramount Channel movie, Dashing in December.
The festive film, which details an unexpected romance between a handsome city dweller and a hard-working ranch hand, premieres on Sunday, December 13 at 7 pm ET/6 pm CT. The cast includes Andie MacDowell, Juan Pablo Di Pace and Peter Porte.
Take a look at the colorful video for “Hang Your Hat on My Christmas Tree,” then read our interview with Cody Belew below the player.
CMT: Filming this video at Santa’s Pub — which is a real bar in Nashville — was an inspired choice. What was the vibe on set that day?
Belew: The vibe on set, for me, was… I guess “anxious” is the best word. I had asked a lot of my friends to participate, so first of all we were asking a lot of time of them. I remember people saying, “They’re going to want to be a part of it! They’re going to be excited to do this!” That was the first thing going into it, and then we were really, really sensitive and proactive about how we did it with Covid. … So, leading up to it, like anything that requires a lot of moving parts, I was a little about nervous about all of that. But once we got into the space and started the shoot, it went off without a hitch.
It’s funny because we had shot the cover art for the single in front of Santa’s Pub, not expecting the owner to be there, or the place to be open. He closed it back in March and it hasn’t been open all year. But he came outside, and before I knew it, he was in the front seat of this old Oldsmobile that we were shooting in, as the chauffeur, and that all blossomed into us filming at Santa’s Pub and him starring in the video.
Are you a line dancer?
Now I’m a line dancer. The movie that’s coming out on Sunday, which the song is featured in — that’s the whole reason any of this happened. It’s featured in a line dancing scene, so the choreographer-producer from the movie was gracious enough to get on a Zoom call with myself and one of my friends who just so happens to be an accomplished choreographer. She taught us the bones of the line dance from the movie, then we took that and adapted it for me. So, who knows? Maybe we’re going to start this huge craze with this line dance.
I would imagine you wrote the song thinking about the rhythm and the beat for a line dance, but what was on your mind, lyrically, as the song was taking shape?
The hook came to me first. I was under a time pressure. They needed the demo, or at least a work tape, within days. I was asked by the writer-director [Jake Helgren], who found me on Instagram and sent me a message to tell me he liked my music and liked my voice. And then I made the pitch and was like, “If you ever have a movie that requires an inescapable Southern drawl, let me know because I’d love a shot.” And he said, “I don’t have anything like that in the works, but would you be interested in pitching for this movie?”
He told me it needs to sound like Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine,” and it also needs to be the feel of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” (laughs) One of my favorite songs of all time, and one that I love to sing, is “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” I felt like that was close enough in the world of those two songs that I could let it be my guide.
And for some reason, I had the thought of Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” and the line from George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” – “that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.” I don’t know why God gave me those two Christmas gifts as a thought, but I combined them into “You Can Hang Your Hat on My Christmas Tree.” And I just thought, “Well, hell, that is suggestive. It is catchy. Now what are you going to do?” So, I wrote backwards from that. …
It really did write itself. I thought about the hook, and the chorus I wrote the same day I thought of it. I sang that for a day, and the next evening I would write a line and laugh my face off. Then I’d write another line and think, “There is no way in hell I’m going to send this in, and they’ll accept it.” But I turned it in and they loved it! They even choreographed to the scene with the work tape. I don’t know that it always happens that way for everyone, but it happened that way for me.
This film has an LGBTQ storyline, which is rare for Christmas movies. For you personally, why is it important for you to be part of the film?
Well, let’s cut to the realness of it. When you’re a newly signed artist, anything that you can grab onto that’s going to push the ball forward is a huge win. And something like this, to be the vehicle to give you something to talk about and to write about, you just couldn’t ask for anything better than that. I never anticipated getting to be a part of a Christmas song that was going to have radio promotion and it’s going to play on the big screens in Times Square. I feel like I am living through my own Christmas movie right now.
Whenever he (Helgren) told me there was going to be this first-of-its-kind Christmas storyline that centered around two guys, I was really proud to be attached to that project, in a way that was so authentically me. I didn’t get to be in the movie, but this is a song that I wrote by myself. I have a song out called “Crimes,” and it’s more about the struggle and being beaten down all the time, socially, and we keep getting up and moving forward. But this gets to be just about the celebration of an innocent moment in time, being attracted to somebody and rolling the dice and hoping that they like you back. That’s a universal feeling, and one that we can all relate to.
More than anything, I feel like it’s my job to represent the “all-ness” of myself as an extension of the LGBT community. I’ve never felt the need to wave a big flag in your face and say, “Accept me! Accept me!” What I’d rather say is, “I’m no different than you.” I grew up the same way you did, and I know how to shoot a squirrel out of the top of a tree, and I could skin it if I had to, but that’s not really what I want to be doing with my day!
So, I just feel like it’s good to have a wholesome, fun, Christmas holiday rom-com. And I’m hoping that this song is what they call an evergreen Christmas song, in that it lives beyond the movie and gets to be part of that great playlist that we all love every year.