ORIGINS of Your Favorite CHRISTMAS SONGS
Newly Expanded – The stories behind who wrote 58
of your favorite holiday classics
By Don Stone
We hear them every year. Most, we know all the words to and have sung since we were children. Christmas songs have become so ingrained in our memory that we never think about or wonder how they came to be such a natural part of the Christmas season.
It’s an interesting mix of traditional hymns from the middle ages to pop songs from America’s favorite singers.
We dug down deep to find how 58 of the most beloved songs came to be such a major and emotional part of our personal lives and culture, adding a few new ones each year… starting with “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and “All I Want For Christmas.”
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a Christmas song by Mariah Carey. She co-wrote and co-produced it with Walter Afanasieff for her fourth studio album and first holiday album, “Merry Christmas” (1994). Columbia Records released it as the lead single from the album on October 29, 1994. The track is an uptempo love song that includes bell chimes, backing vocals and synthesizers.
It is Carey’s biggest international success, topping the charts in twenty-six countries including Australia, Canada, France and Germany. In 2019, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, 25 years after its original release, thus breaking several records, including the longest trip to number one.
With an estimated sales of over 17 million copies, it is the best-selling Christmas single by a female artist and one of the best-selling singles of all time. By 2017, it had reportedly earned $60 million in royalties.
The earliest known printed version of “Angels We Have Heard On High” was in an 1842 French song book. It is generally sung to the hymn tune “Gloria”, a traditional French carol. The tune as we know it today was adapted and arranged by Edward Shippen Barnes.
The song’s subject is the birth of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of Luke, specifically the scene in which shepherds outside Bethlehem encounter a multitude of angels singing and praising the newborn child. The lyrics are inspired by, but not an exact translation of, the traditional French carol known as Les Anges dans nos campagnes (literally “the angels in our countryside”), whose first known publication was in 1843.
“Angels We Have Heard On High” is the most-common English version, loosely translated in 1862 by James Chadwick, a Roman Catholic bishop. Chadwick’s lyrics are original in some sections, including the title, and loosely translated from the French in other sections.
Just as the origin of the words to this French song is unknown, so also is the melody. Since it was common for text to be written for existing tunes, it is possible that the melody is even older than the words. The French text and music were probably derived from an even older, Middle Ages Christmas hymn.
“Away in a Manger” is often the first carol that children are taught. It was originally published in 1885. The publication of “Away in a Manger” was in a Lutheran Sunday school book and this created the misconception that the lyrics were actually written by Martin Luther himself. The author is unknown. The music was composed by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895.
While most people think “Blue Christmas” was originally recorded by Elvis Presley, the first time it hit No.1 on the charts was 1949, eight years before the ‘King’ would make it one of his most popular recordings.
Although the song was performed by a couple of big bands and orchestras in 1948, the first major successful recording of “Blue Christmas” came from Country superstar Ernest Tubb in 1949. The Grand Ole Opry Star was best known for “Walking The Floor Over You” (1941) and “Waltz Across Texas” (1965). Tubb’s original version also contained an extra verse not included in the 1957 Elvis recording – “I’ll have a blue Christmas I know dear/ I hope your white Christmas brings you cheer/And when you say your prayers on this Christmas Eve/ Will you feel the same dear as when you prayed with me.”
Presley recorded it in 1957 for his Elvis’ Christmas Album. It wasn’t released as a single until 1964, when in the US it was backed with “Wooden Heart” from Elvis’ soundtrack to his film, G.I. Blues. But from 1965 and on, it was backed with “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.”
Elvis performed this song for the first time on his December, 1968 comeback television special. Recorded in June, the special aired on December 3 and helped revitalize his career. His performance of “Blue Christmas” is the only video footage that exists of Elvis singing a Christmas song.
Before he begins the song, Elvis states: “I’d like to do my favorite Christmas song of the ones I’ve recorded.”
Although “Carol of the Bells” has become a popular tune during the holidays, the original lyrics had nothing to do with Christmas. The song with a haunting four-note melody was originally a Ukranian folk song written as a “winter well-wishing song.”
Written in 1916 by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled “Shchedryk,” the song tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have.
The Ukrainian word “shchedryj,” means bountiful.
When American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovich’s choral work, it reminded him of bells; so he wrote new lyrics to convey that imagery for his choir. He copyrighted the new lyrics in 1936 and also published the song, despite the fact that the work was published almost two decades earlier in Soviet Ukraine.
In the late 1930s, several choirs that Wilhousky directed began performing his Anglicized arrangement during the Christmas holiday season. Now called “Carol of the Bells,” the song has become associated with Christmas because of its new lyrics, which include references to silver bells, caroling and the line “merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.”
Ross Bagdasarian was a novelty writer in a non-novelty world. Making a living as a quirky songwriter during the McCarthy era didn’t pay regularly, but Ross was bent on following his own twisted dream. He had one major triumph – He had written the hit, “Come Onna my House” for Rosemary Clooney in 1951.
But mostly his recording career up to that point was “cheesy instrumentals” as he described them and some weird “drunk at a bar yacking over stupid piano riffs.”
He was remanded to the other side of the recording booth as a recording engineer.
Bagdasarian loved the dials and buttons and little gauges and lights; getting a kick out of playing with the technology of recording.
Now, back in Ross’s day, the one major evil to be avoided at all costs was recording outside of a non-standard speed. The drag of a dirty capstan head or an extra revolution per second due to a power surge would leave a music recording worthless, changed in speed,
key, and register. It became a waste of tape, unusable.
But, that being said, it sure sounded silly. Naturally, Ross had to play with it. By deliberately recording on the slowest speed possible on his reel-to-reel, he found he could sing normally, and sound like a freak on helium if he sped the recording to normal speed on playback. Using this novelty voice as the background singers for the chorus, Bagdasarian recorded “Witchdoctor,” and hit the top of the charts in 1958..“Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang. Walla walla, bing bang!”
Ross scattered to find a means of extending his 15 minutes of fame, and, to his great credit, he managed to do so within the very same year. He created the personas of three obnoxious drunks who sang harmony, sped the tape up, and voila, the chipmunks were born. Bagdasarian, at normal speed, played the hapless manager of the Chipmunks, the fictional David Seville. The chipmunks (Alvin, Simon and Theodore) were named after the two heads of Liberty Records, Al Bennett and Si Warnoker, and the session’s engineer Ted Keep.
“The Chipmunk Song,” released for the Christmas season of 1958, sold 5 million copies that year, and it got two Grammys in 1958, “Best Comedy Performance”
and “Best Recording for Children”.
It lead to a weekly television show and numerous albums still selling to this day.
A half century later, it continued to delight a new generation of young fans with “The Chipmunks Go To The Movies” in 2007. The Chipmunks’ album “Undeniable” was released the following year. Its 2009 sequel, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” grossed $443,140,005 worldwide.
The project has earned five Grammy awards, an American Music Award, a Golden Reel Award, and three Kids’ Choice Awards, and has been nominated for three Emmys.
A third film installment, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” was released in theaters in 2011. And a fourth installment, titled “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” came for Christmas, 2015. It grossed $234 million worldwide against a $90 million budget. A CGI-animated TV series revival, titled “ALVINNN!!! and the Chipmunks”, has been a hit on Nickelodeon on since 2015. The series has been running ever since.
Through the continued success of the franchise, the Chipmunks have become the most successful children’s artists of all time while garnering two number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, winning five Grammy Awards, having four Top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 and three certified platinum albums.
“Christmas Canon” is a Christmas song by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) from their 1998 album “The Christmas Attic.”
The song is set to the tune of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” with new lyrics added by late TSO founder Paul O’Neill.
The style is a departure from TSO’s usual rock arrangements, instead being performed in the style of a children’s choir with light accompaniment from piano and strings. He later reworked the song, re-christening as “Christmas Canon Rock,” with Jennifer Cella on lead vocals. The jazzed-up version appeared on TSO’s “The Lost Christmas Eve” album in 2004.
Total sales of the digital track stand at over a million downloads according to Nielsen SoundScan, placing it seventh on the list of all-time best-selling Christmas/holiday digital singles in SoundScan history.
“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” was written by a native Chicagoan and made famous by a singer/songwriter who grew up in Chicago. The writer was Mel Torme, also known as “The Velvet Fog.” The singer was Nat King Cole.
Written in 1946 on one of the hottest July days on record in Los Angeles, Mel and his writing partner, Robert Wells, were assigned to write title songs for two movies, ironically neither of which were holiday themed. Wells was trying to fight off the unbearable heat by writing down everything he could think of from his childhood winters in New England.
Mel saw the notes Wells had written on a pad of paper – “Chestnuts roasting…Jack Frost nipping…Yuletide carols…Folks dressed up like Eskimos” and saw lyrics to a song. Wells dismissed the notion that it was a song and suggested that they focus on the task at hand – writing the music for the movies. Mel insisted they should continue with what Wells had started. Forty minutes later, “The Christmas Song” was complete.
Torme then took the song across the city to his friend Nat King Cole’s house. Nat immediately loved it and, sensing a hit, he asked Mel if he could record it before Mel offered the song to anyone else.
Within a week, Nat had gone to the studio and recorded it. Released October 1946, the song stayed in the top ten for two months, then hit the charts again in 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1954.
Now considered a holiday classic, “The Christmas Song” was significant at the time because it was the first holiday standard that was recorded and introduced by an African American.
Although it has been recorded by more than a hundred other artists, including Torme himself, the song will be forever linked to the voice of Cole. In much the same way that the holiday season isn’t complete without hearing Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas,” millions feel the same way about “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.
Go to Nat King Cole’ live performance of the original version of “The Christmas Song” from 1946 – Click Here
This piano-based piece has become a Christmas favorite thanks to its use on the 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” that has been rerun year after year. In it, the Peanuts characters sing the song. The vocal version runs 2:47, while an instrumental version goes 6:07.
Vince Guaraldi, who composed the tune, also wrote the score for the special, which is the famous Peanuts theme music (the song is actually called “Linus and Lucy”). Using jazz in a children’s special was very unusual, but it was a brilliant choice, helping the special appeal to both kids and adults.
Originally, this was an instrumental piece that Vince Guaraldi wrote to open “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” About a month before it aired, Lee Mendelson, who produced the special, decided it might work better with some words, so he wrote the lyric in about 10 minutes sitting at his kitchen table. “It was a poem that just came to me,” he told PRI in 2014. “Never changed the words to this day. It was only about a minute long.”
See The Original 1965 Video of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Featuring “Chrismas Time Is Here” – Click Here
The music to “Deck the Halls” is believed to be Welsh in origin and was reputed to have come from a tune called “Nos Galan” dating back to the sixteenth century.
In the eighteenth century Mozart used the tune to “Deck the Halls” for a violin and piano duet. J.P. McCaskey is sometimes credited with the lyrics but he only edited the Franklin Square Song Collection in which the lyrics were first published.
The first publication date of “Deck the Halls” is 1881. The author is unknown but the words are said to originate in America.
Although the names of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne may not be familiar, the pair had a string of successful songs in late ’50s and early ’60s with Regney writing the music and Shayne the lyrics. They include “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” recorded by Bobby Vinton, and “Dominque” by The Singing Nun. Shayne also had several hits writing with others like “Goodbye Cruel World,” by James Darren, “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life,” by Mike Douglas and “Almost There,” by Andy Williams.
Their masterpiece, however, is “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Regney (1922-2002) was a Frenchman trained as a classical composer who was drafted into the German army in World War II. He deserted and joined the French Resistance. After the war ended, he joined the French Overseas Radio Service and worked out of French Indochina until moving to Manhattan in 1952. Regney met Gloria Shayne while she was working as a pianist in a hotel dining room and married her a month later.
Regney and Shayne wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear” in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Regney drew the image of Jesus as a newborn lamb from Matthew 2:9 and 2:11 and took his lyrics to his wife to set in the reverse of their usual practice. But while it is often taken for a Christmas carol, for Regney and Shayne “Do You Hear What I Hear” is a hymn to peace by a man who had experienced the horrors of war.
“I am amazed that people can think they know the song,” Regney later said, “and not know it was a prayer for peace.”
Although the song has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Perry Como and over 120 others, Regney and Shayne’s favorite recording was Robert Goulet’s 1963 recording for its dramatic delivery and his climatic “Pray for peace,
Many people mistakenly assume this Christmas classic has been around for years and that it is of European origin. But it was written in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a powerful plea for peace. The song’s message of peace is as desperately needed today as it was then.
(Feed The World) Do They Know It’s Christmas Time
The age of the celebrity supergroup charity single truly began in October 1984, when Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof watched in horror as footage of the worsening Ethiopian famine played across his television screen as part of a BBC News documentary. He was still haunted by the images a week later when a chance encounter reunited him with an old friend, Ultravox frontman Midge Ure, who was just as troubled by what he had seen on the report. The men decided to channel their outrage into a new charity single.
The group assembled at Sarm West Studios on November 25th, 1984 was a venerable who’s who of recent U.K. chart toppers. The verses were sung by Paul Young, Boy George, George Michael, Le Bon, and Bono (respectively), while the “Feed the world” chorus featured Geldof, Ure, David Bowie, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, Status Quo, Bananarama, Paul Weller and many others.
The vocal track was completed in one marathon 24-hour session, and — amazingly — in shops just days later, credited to “Band Aid.” Thanks to a massive publicity campaign and an hourly push on BBC radio, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” shot to number one in the U.K., where it remained the biggest selling single until Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind 1997.” In addition to the tens of millions of dollars it raised worldwide for Ethiopian famine relief, the song helped sew the seeds for Geldof and Ure’s Live Aid concert the following year.
Puerto Rico singer, Jose Feliciano, was coming off a huge hit with a remake of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” when he recorded this. Belting out, “I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart,” Jose’s has become a Christmas Classic.
The 1970 recording was produced by Rick Jarrard, whose idea it was to add the horns. It is one of the 25 most played and recorded Christmas songs around the world. Feliciano’s original recording is the title track of his 1970 album.
Feliciano was born blind due to congenital glaucoma, September 8, 1945. He was five when his family moved to New York City. This bilingual holiday classic comprises a simple English verse with a Spanish chorus, “Feliz Navidad, prospero ano y felicidad” that translates as “Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness.”
The song’s composer told Billboard magazine: “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.’ And then there was no way the stations could lock that song out of the programming.”
Jose Feliciano’s original version of the song first charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1998, peaking at #70. It returned to the Billboard Hot 100 on the chart dated the week of January 7, 2017 reaching #44.
Imitation is the sincerest form of capitalizing on someone else’s idea. So it went with the writing duo of Jack Nelson and Steve Rollins in 1949, as Gene Autry’s performance of John Marks’ “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
sold 2 million copies in its first season.
Three things came to mind:
1) We could write something that stupid.
2) Those guys are making a fortune.
3) We want money, too.
Ipso facto, “Frosty.”
Over the course of the winter, the pair had ascribed anthropomorphic qualities to any number of holiday trappings before they finally came across the concept of the irrepressible snowman.
They tin-pan alleyed a catchy tune from it, and before summer was warm they found themselves at the doorstep of Mr. Autry, promising him they had ‘the next big thing’ for the Christmas to come. Autry was an easy sale; he was hoping for a chance to follow up on last year’s triumph, and snatched it up greedily.
Somehow, it worked. It was another hit – not a Rudolph by a long shot, but it did manage to burrow down into the public consciousness enough that Frosty joined the pantheon of Christmas icons.
Nelson and Rollins sold Autry another song at the same time – just in case.
And that’s how the Easter ballad “Here comes Peter Cottontail” was born.
A few of the more popular versions of “Frosty” that gets regular airplay each holiday season are from 1963 by The Ronnettes and by Jimmy Durante from the 1969 animated Christmas television special.
This is a traditional English carol dating back to the 16th or 17th century. It was first published in England in 1833, when it appeared in “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern,” a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys.
Ancient and Modern also marked the first publication of “The First Noel,” “I Saw Three Ships” and other great carols.
The arrangement generally used for this carol today first appeared in the 1871 collection, “Christmas Carols New and Old” by Sir John Stainer and the Reverend H.R. Bramley.
Apart From “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” their compilation also included Stainer’s arrangements of what were to become the standard versions of “Good King Wenceslas,” and “What Child Is This?”
When the character Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” heard this cheerful carol, he grabbed a ruler and made the singer flee in terror.
Bing Crosby recorded the classic on June 8, 1942 with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra and Max Terr’s Mixed Chorus. It was included on his “Merry Christmas” album of gramophone records released in 1945 on Decca Records. The collection consisted of ten songs on five 78 records, all of which had been previously released. Each one had a holiday theme with the exception of “Danny Boy.” Prior to the long-playing album era, such assemblies were not common for popular music. The album itself has sold over 15 million copies, and is the best-selling Christmas album of all-time.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the familiar Christmas carol is the confusion surrounding the punctuation of its title. The song, which originated in England in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, properly “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” “God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen,” “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” or some other permutation? Journalist/music critic Harold Schonberg devoted an entire article to the subject in 1971, tracing the work’s history through a myriad of nineteenth-century editions. Citing an 1893 reprint (which itself might have introduced an error) of the earliest known source of the words, a broadsheet in the “Roxburghe Collection of the British Museum,” Schonberg determined that the original was “God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen.”
The man we know as ‘Good King Wenceslas’ was actually Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia and lived from c.907 to 28 September 935.
And the reason we have his exact date of death is that he was assassinated – on the orders of his brother, appropriately named Boleslaus the Cruel.
The words to the carol were written in 1853 by John Mason Neale but the melody is much older – it’s a 13th-century tune called ‘Tempus adest floridum’ in praise of the spring.
Wenceslas was regarded as a martyr and saint almost immediately after his death but he wasn’t promoted from Duke of Bohemia to King of Bohemia until Holy Roman Emperor Otto I gave him the title posthumously a few years after his death.
The carol was written for the Feast of St Stephen, better known as Boxing Day. And it celebrates the long tradition of charitable giving on the Second Day of Christmas.
It’s become one of the best loved carols ever written.
The creation of “Handel’s Messiah” was actually induced by George Frederick Handel’s librettist, Charles Jennens. Jennens expressed in a letter to his friend that he wanted to create a Scriptural anthology set to music by Handel. Jennens’ desire quickly turned into reality when Handel composed the entire work in only twenty-four days. Jennens wished for a London debut in the days leading to Easter, however, a doubtful Handel anticipated such a wish would not be granted. A year after the work was completed, Handel received an invitation to perform his music in Dublin to which he joyously agreed.
In his book, “Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers,” Patrick Kavanaugh tells how Handel barely ate during the 24 days he wrote “Messiah.” At one point, the composer had tears in his eyes and cried out to his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” He had just finished writing the “Hallelujah” Chorus.
Amazingly, “Messiah” came at a time in his life when the 56-year-old Handel was facing bankruptcy and complete failure. He also had serious health problems. Also, some Church of England authorities were apparently critical of him and his work. He seemed all washed up – with his future behind him. But writing “Messiah” proved to be the positive turning point in his life.
Handel was born in Germany. His father wanted him to study law, but George Frederick had an aptitude for music, which was clear early on. His mother bought him a harpsichord, which they kept up in the attic, secret from his father. By the time he was twelve, Handel wrote his first work. Later, after his father’s death, he tried to study law, but he had no interest. So he studied music at the University of Halle.
In 1712, Handel moved to England and never returned to Germany. While he experienced various successes through various compositions, including operas and sacred operas (oratorios, based on biblical themes), Kavanaugh notes that his failures threatened to overwhelm Handel:
“His occasional commercial successes soon met with financial disaster…He drove himself relentlessly to recover from one failure after another, and finally his health began to fail. By 1741 he was swimming in debt. It seemed certain he would land in debtor’s prison.”
But 1741 proved to be the turning point. On the one hand, he gave what he feared was his farewell concert. On the other hand, Jennens, gave him the libretto (a text) for a sacred work. It was essentially 73 Bible verses, every word coming from the King James Version of the Bible. 42 of the verses come from the Old Testament, including many passages from the Psalms and Isaiah. Thirty-one come from the New Testament.
A charity in Dublin paid him money to write something for a charity performance. “Messiah” was the result, and it
was very successful. According to one source, proceeds freed 142 men
from debtors’ prison.
Most people know that Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas.” But many are unaware that he also wrote the standard, “Happy Holiday.” Berlin wrote both songs for the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.” In fact, he wrote all 12 songs for the film.
Many people mispronounce the title as Happy Holidays when it should be singular.
It expresses simple good wishes for the holiday season.
“Happy Holiday” was introduced by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in the movie in a scene when the Inn opens for the first time. While it is commonly regarded as a Christmas song, in the film it is performed on New Year’s Eve, and expresses a wish for the listener to enjoy “happy holidays” throughout the entire year. The film received a 1943 Academy Award for Best Original Song (Irving Berlin for “White Christmas”), as well as Academy Award nominations for Best Score (Robert Emmett Dolan) and Best Original Story (Irving Berlin).
Jo Stafford was the first to release “Happy Holiday” on a Christmas album, on her album of the same name in 1955.
Bing Crosby recorded the song on June 1, 1942, for Decca Records with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra, plus The Music Maids and Hal. Crosby also used the song as the introduction to his long-running “A Christmas Sing with Bing” radio shows.
Andy Williams probably gets the more airplay each season. He did it in a medley with “The Holiday Season”), on his 1963 album “The Andy Williams
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, in 1739.
A sombre man, he requested slow and solemn music for his lyrics and thus “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was sung to a different tune initially.
Over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed a cantata in 1840 to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the lyrics of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” already written by Wesley.
Two hundred and eighty plus years later, its still going strong. Think the latest Lady Gaga hit will last that long?
See Amy Grant’s live performance of “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing?” along with Art Garfunkle – Click Here
“Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” is a 1962 Christmas song written by Johnny Marks, who also wrote “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”, “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,” and Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run, Rudolph.”
It is most famously performed by Burl Ives. The song has since become one of the Top 25 most-performed “holiday” songs written by ASCAP members, for the first five years of the 21st century.
The song was featured in the 1964 Rankin-Bass Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in which Burl Ives voiced the narrator, Sam the Snowman.
Originally to be sung by Larry D. Mann as Yukon Cornelius, the song, as well as “Silver and Gold,” was given to Burl Ives due to his singing fame
This version was also included on the soundtrack album for the special and later released as a single.
“Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” was re-recorded by Ives for his 1965 holiday album, “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.”
This version of the song has a somewhat slower arrangement than the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” version and features an acoustic guitar solo introduction; it is this version that has since become the more commonly heard rendition on radio.
The song’s enduring popularity is evidenced by its reaching #30 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 1998, as well as #21 on the US Country Digital Songs chart and #5 on the Holiday 100 chart in 2011.
Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, Hall of Fame writers had written music for such movie classics like “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “Girl Crazy.” They also wrote classics like “The Trolley Song” (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1945) and “Pass That Peace Pipe” (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1948). Blane also collaborated with Harry Warren on “My Blue Heaven.”
Martin and Blane were contracted by MGM to write the music for “Meet Me In St. Louis,” which starred Mary Astor, June Lockhart, Margaret O’Brien, and a twenty-two year old who had made her big screen debut five years earlier as a girl from Kansas with her little dog, Judy Garland.
The plot in the movie called for Judy’s character, Esther, to sing a song to her little sister, Tootie, who was worried that the family’s impending move from New York City to Missouri would cause Santa Claus from being able to find her.
The scene was set on Christmas Eve night with Esther and Tootie looking out from an upstairs window onto a snow covered front lawn.
Martin and Blane felt the movie had taken a sudden tender and sad turn and that the song Judy was about to sing should reflect the pain she was feeling. The song’s first lines were “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last; next year will be living in the past.”
They brought the song to Judy, who promptly refused to sing the song the way it was written. She sent the song back and requested that they put a more
uplifting spin on it.
The film’s director, and Judy’s future husband, Vincente Minelli, Liza Minelli’s dad, also felt this way and required the songwriters to recreate the film’s crucial musical moment.
Judy based this request on the fact that, during her time off from making movies, she had spent countless days entertaining troops across the world. She knew from her interaction with the troops that they all just wanted to live through the war and return home. Her instinct was that “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” would provide them with hope that they would return home.
Martin and Blane reworked the song with a more encouraging opening: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light; from now on our troubles will be out of sight.”
Judy approved of the new lyrics and saw it as the perfect anthem for all those troops who wanted more than anything else to be
home for Christmas. Good choice!
A bit of controversy, though. Martin later claimed in his autobiography that he wrote both music and lyrics to all of the songs in “Meet Me In St. Louis” and that “all of the so-called Martin and Blane songs, (except for “Buckle Down, Winsocki” in “Best Foot Forward”), were written entirely by me (solo) without help from Ralph or anybody else.”
By the way, most people think that the title track of the film was also written for the movie. It was actually written in 1904 for the World’s Fair that was held in St. Louis. Judy Garland later recorded it in 1944 for the movie, which centered around the fair.
See Judy Garland’s’ original performance of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” From “Meet Me In St. Louis” –
Gene Autry has played a pivotal role in three of the best-known Christmas songs. Two of them, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” were written for him, and his performances of them made them famous. The first, however – “Here comes Santa Claus” – he had a hand in writing, as well.
According to Autry, he was inspired to the lyrics in 1947 while riding ahead of the Santa float on his horse down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, in the annual Hollywood Christmas parade. At the time, he was at the top of his profession, and was a bit confused that, as he cantered around on his world-famous horse and waved, the kids could care less. They just looked past him, and down the street, screaming at the top of their lungs about their sighting:
“Here comes Santa Claus! Here Comes Santa Claus!!”
So, he put it to song with friend Oakley Haldeman.
Autry first recorded the song in 1947; released as a single by Columbia Records, it became a No. 5 country and No. 9 pop hit. Gene performed the song in his 1949 movie “The Cowboy and the Indians.” He re-recorded it again for Columbia in 1953 and, once more, for his own Challenge Records label in 1957, which released it on more than one album that year.
The song was also featured prominently in the popular 1989 Christmas movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” during the climax towards the end of the film. The version of the song used was Autry’s 1957 Challenge Records recording.
By the way, Chevy Chase is touring with Christmas Vacation, showing the film and doing a Q&A with the audience after. It will be at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on November 28.
The words for one of Christmas’s most beautiful carols was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Dec. 25, 1863, in response to the near fatal wound his son, Charles Appleton Wadsworth, received at the Mine Run campaign in Virginia.
On Dec. 25 of that year, he wrote from his Cambridge home, “I Hear the Bells on Christmas Day,” addressing the horrors of the Civil War. It was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
However, when it was put to music several years later, the two stanzas that speak to the war were dropped. It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody “Waltham” that he previously used as early as 1848. The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. Other melodies have been composed more recently, most notably in 1956 by Johnny Marks. Marks has contributed numerous holiday classics including “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Chuck Berry’s “Run, Rudolph, Run,” and “Rocking Around
the Christmas Tree.”
Bing Crosby recorded the song on October 3, 1956, using Marks’s melody and verses 1, 2, 6, 7. It was released as a single and reached No. 55. Marks’s tune has since received more than 60 commercial recordings, with total sales exceeding 5 million copies.
In 2008, contemporary Christian music group, Casting Crowns, scored their eighth No. 1 Christian hit with “I Heard the Bells”, from their album “Peace on Earth.” The song is not an exact replica of the original poem or carol, but an interpolation of verses 1, 6, 7 and 3 (in that order), interposed with a new chorus.
Probably one of the most simplistic of all holiday songs, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was penned by Walter Kent and James “Kim” Gannon. It contains an introduction, one verse, one chorus, and a mere twelve lines.
Originally from Brooklyn, Gannon called upon his every day experiences of watching families say good bye to their sons going off to war; churches filled to the maximum with parents praying for the safe return of their children; the rush towards the mailman with the hopes of a letter from an enlisted family member.
He also saw the fear in people’s eyes when the telegraph delivery man showed up in the neighborhood; the news reports of the latest outbreak of war in places that had been mentioned in the last letter home; the streets filled with holiday decorations, but the feeling of joy missing from the air.
With all this in mind, Gannon could have easily tried to incorporate all these components into a complicated song. Instead, he wrote a simple, straight forward song about the pain of being away from home for the holidays.
When he finished his poem, Gannon took the song to composer Walter Kent, who put the right melody and feel to the words. Kent realized the song was about two things: a message from the family members left behind telling the soldiers that they missed them terribly and a message from the soldiers telling those family members not to give up hope and that the soldiers would
return home soon.
In October of 1943, Bing Crosby recorded the song as a follow up to his enormous hit of 1942, “White Christmas.” As big as “White Christmas” was, when “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was released, it initially received more airplay and produced more sales than the singer’s hit of the previous year.
Of course, since then, “White Christmas” has gone on to become the biggest selling song of all time.
Eighty years after its release, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” remains one of the most requested songs every holiday season by members of our armed forces.
“I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In)” is a traditional and popular Christmas carol from England. The earliest printed version is from the 17th century, possibly Derbyshire, and was also published by William Sandys in 1833 in his book, “Christmastide: Its History,
Festivities And Carols.”
However, it is believed that earlier versions may have been around
from the 17th Century.
Other sources believe the hymn originated from an English folk song that was written by wandering minstrels traveling through the country in the Middle Ages.
The lyrics confusingly mention the ships sailing into Bethlehem, but the nearest body of water is the Dead Sea about 20 miles away. The reference to three ships is thought to originate in the three ships that bore the purported relics of the Biblical magi to Cologne Cathedral in the 12th century. Another possible reference is to Wenceslaus II, King of Bohemia, who bore a coat of arms “Azure three galleys argent”.
Another suggestion is that the ships are actually the camels used by the Magi, as camels are frequently referred to as “ships of the desert.”
The most common lyrics sung today are about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem.
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears in 1849, reportedly at the request of his friend and fellow minister, W.P. Lunt. It was first presented at his 1849 Sunday School Christmas celebration and was originally published on December 29, 1849 in a church magazine, The Christian Register in Boston, Massachusetts. Sears was also was the editor for the Boston-based Monthly Religious Magazine from 1859 to 1871.
The carol started as a poem written by its author who was a part-time preacher living in Wayland, Massachusetts at the time. Maybe one of the first social gospel hymns written. Sears’ context was the social strife that plagued the country as the Civil War approached.
In 1850, a friend of Sears, Richard Storrs Willis, a composer who trained under Felix Mendelssohn, wrote the melody called “Carol,” which he had written for the organ.
Some claim that this was the first Christmas song to be composed in the United States.
In 2006 Daryl Hall and John Oates reached #1 on the American Adult Contemporary chart with their version of this carol. Josh Grobin has one of the more popular renditions as well.
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is a classic Christmas song written in 1951 by Meredith Willson, who wrote the Broadway play “The Music Man,” which included his famous songs “76 Trombones” and “‘Till There Was You.” The cast recording won the first Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) and spent 245 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Willson’s work in films included composing the score for Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” (1940) (Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score), and arranging music for the score of William Wyler’s “The Little Foxes” (1941) (Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture).
The Christmas song was originally titled “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”, and celebrates that time when Christmas decorations appear in stores and public displays, which has been earlier and earlier in recent years. There are some dated references in the song, such as the “five and ten,” which is a store selling inexpensive items. The “Hopalong boots” the child wishes for are a reference to those worn by the fictional cowboy Hopalong Cassidy, a popular TV show in the 1950s.
A widespread belief in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, holds that Willson wrote the song while staying in Yarmouth’s Grand Hotel. The song makes reference to a “tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well…”; the park being Frost Park, directly across the road from the Grand Hotel, which still operates in a newer building on the same site as the old hotel. It also makes mention of the five and ten which was a store operating in Yarmouth at the time.
It is also possible that the “Grand Hotel” Willson mentions in the song was inspired by the Historic Park Inn Hotel in his hometown of Mason City, Iowa. The Park Inn Hotel is the last remaining hotel in the world designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and is situated in downtown Mason City overlooking central park.
The classic has been recorded by numerous artists, but was a hit by Perry Como and The Fontane Sisters with Mitchell Ayres & His Orchestra on September 10, 1951 and released on RCA Victor as a (45 rpm) single (78 rpm). Bing Crosby recorded a version a month later on October 1, 1951, which was also widely played.
Johnny Mathis recorded this in 1971 for his second Christmas album. His version was used in the movie “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” and gradually received more airplay than Como’s.
Andy Williams and Dean Martin also recorded popular versions of the song. Michael Buble covered the song and released it on his holiday album, “Christmas.” His version debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated
December 17, 2011. It became the second single achieving success the following Christmas season.
See a performance of “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” from “The Perry Como Show” – Click Here
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is a popular Christmas song written in 1963 by Edward Pola and George Wyle. Wylie’s other claim to fame is co-writing the theme song for “Gilligan’s Island” with producer Sherwood Schwartz.
His Christmas song was recorded and released that year by pop singer Andy Williams for his first Christmas album, “The Andy Williams Christmas Album.” However, the song was not released as a promotional single by Columbia Records that year, as they instead opted to promote his cover of “White Christmas” as the official promo single from the album.
The song is a celebration and description of activities associated with the Christmas season, focusing primarily on get-togethers between friends and families. Among the activities included in the song is the telling of “scary ghost stories,” a Victorian Christmas tradition that has mostly fallen into disuse, but survives in the seasonal popularity of numerous adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Other activities mentioned include hosting parties, spontaneous visits from friends, universal social gaiety, spending time with loved ones, sledding for children, roasting marshmallows, sharing stories about previous Christmases, and singing Christmas carols in winter weather.
In a 2005 interview, Andy discusses how The Andy Williams Show figured into his recording of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: “George Wyle, who is a vocal director, who wrote all of the choir stuff and all of the duets and trios and things that I did with all the guests, he wrote a song just for the show – I think the second Christmas show we did – called “Most Wonderful
Time of the Year”.
So I did that, you know, every Christmas, and then other people started doing it. And it’s become over 30 years a big standard. I think it’s one of the top 10 Christmas songs of all time now.”
In the issue of Billboard magazine dated November 28, 2009, the list of the “Top 10 Holiday Songs (Since 2001)” places the Williams recording of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” at No. 5. (ASCAP) ranked it at No. 4 in 2010.
The song was selected as the theme song for Christmas Seals in 1968, 1976, 2009 and 2012.
Other versions that get a lot of annual airplay are by Johnny Mathis, from his 1986 album “Christmas Eve with Johnny Mathis” and Amy Grant from the 2007 album “Home For Christmas.”
While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, American folklorist and singer, John Jacob Niles, attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. In his unpublished autobiography, he wrote of hearing the song:
“A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievably dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. … But, best of all, she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song.
“The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with “three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea”.
Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of “I Wonder as I Wander” that is known today, extending the melody to four lines and the lyrics to three stanzas. His composition was completed on October 4, 1933. Niles first performed the song on December 19, 1933, at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It was originally published in “Songs of the Hill Folk” in 1934.
Born in the small town of Medford, Massachusetts, James Pierpont showed great musical promise as a singer, songwriter, and organ player throughout his youth and into early adulthood. His father was the pastor of the town’s Unitarian church with James being called upon to assist with the choirs and musicians in the church. James was given the task of writing music to use with a Thanksgiving service his father would preside over.
As James was working on his musical assignment, he became distracted by a bunch of young boys who were playing outside his window. The boys were riding their sleds down a nearby hill. James decided to take a break and watch the boys and began to recall times in his youth when he raced sleds and sleighs with strands of bells attached to them… Bells that would “jingle” as he raced the sleds and sleighs.
The sled races inspired James and he began to write down a melody. Unfortunately, James did not have a piano, so he had to trudge through the snow and walk to the home of Mrs. Waterman, the only home in Medford with a piano. He explained his story and Mrs. Waterman let him sit down at the piano and play the tune.
When he finished, he went home and began to write down words to go with the melody. Using the images he had seen earlier in the day and his recollections of his youth, James put the finishing touches on “One Horse Open Sleigh,” the original name of the song that would soon become known as “Jingle Bells.”
“One Horse Open Sleigh” was debuted on Thanksgiving at the Medford Unitarian Church’s annual service. At that time, Thanksgiving was the most significant holiday in New England, so a large number of people heard the song. So many people heard it and liked it, that they requested it be performed again the following month at the church’s Christmas celebration.
The Christmas performance exposed the song to hundreds of out of town visitors who liked the song so much, they brought it back to their own home towns. Because they had heard the song on Christmas Day, they assumed the song was written about Christmas, not Thanksgiving.
James has a Georgia connection. In 1856, his brother, the Rev. John Pierpont, Jr. accepted a post with the Savannah, Georgia, Unitarian congregation. James, then 36, followed, taking a post as the organist and music director of the church. To support himself, he also gave organ and singing lessons. In August 1857, James married Eliza Jane Purse, daughter of Savannah’s mayor, Thomas Purse. She soon gave birth to the first of their children, Lillie.
In August 1857, his song “The One Horse Open Sleigh” was published. The song was copyrighted the next month. A dispute. Savannah claims that the song was originally performed in a Sunday school concert on Thanksgiving there,
not in Medford.
Though it wasn’t published until 1857 following James’ move to Savannah, and wasn’t renamed “Jingle Bells” until 1859, the song captured the imagery of an ideal rural Christmas
with snow, sleighs, and jingle bells that provided the inspiration for hundreds of greeting cards, books, movies, and even other holiday songs, like Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock.”
“Jingle Bell Rock” is an American popular Christmas song first released by Bobby Helms in 1957 (after it was recorded in October 1957). It has received frequent airplay in the United States during every Christmas season since then.
“Jingle Bell Rock” was composed by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe. Beal was a Massachusetts-born public relations professional and longtime resident of Atlantic City, NJ, and Boothe was an American writer in the advertising business.
“Jingle Bell Rock” has been performed by many, but Helms’ version is the best known. The song’s title and some of its lyrics are an extension of the old Christmas standard, “Jingle Bells”. It makes brief references to other popular songs of the 1950s, such as “Rock Around the Clock”, and mentions going to a “Jingle hop”. An electric guitar played by Hank Garland can be heard playing the first notes of the chorus of “Jingle Bells”. Backup singers were the Anita Kerr Singers.
Helms’ original version charted at No. 13 on Billboard’s Most Played C&W chart. It also crossed to the pop charts, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart, and at No. 11 on Cashbox magazine’s January 11, 1958 chart.
A bit of controversy. Helms, as well as session guitarist on the song Hank Garland, both claimed until their deaths, that it was they, not Beal and Boothe, who wrote the song. They claimed that the original song by Beal and Boothe was called “Jingle Bell Hop,” and that it was given to Helms by a Decca executive to record. This song, according to Helms and Garland, had little to no resemblance to the current song. Helms did not like it, and as a result, they both proceeded to work on it, changing the music, lyrics, and tempo, and also giving it a previously-missing bridge. This new song, they claimed, was the one that is known today. However, neither of them received writing credit or subsequent writing royalties.
“‘I really didn’t want to cut it because it was such a bad song. So me and one of the musicians [, Hank Garland], worked on it for about an hour putting a melody to it and we put a bridge to it,’ said Helms [in a 1992 interview].”
“‘I let it hop back to where it came from,’ Garland recalled. ‘It wasn’t any good. [Bobby and I] came up with the “Jingle Bell Rock” America hears every holiday season,’ he [Garland] said [in a 2001 interview].”
Billy Garland, brother of Hank Garland, maintains his deceased brother’s story, and has long been involved with and vocal about the issue.
As of December 2019, it has sold 891,000 copies in the United States, placing it ninth on the list of all-time best-selling Christmas/holiday digital singles in SoundScan history.
Jeremiah was not a bullfrog in this much older version of that title. The words and lyrics of the old carol “Joy to the World” were written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) based on Psalm 98, 96:11-12 and Genesis 3:17-18. The father of John Watts was a non-conformist and so extreme were his views that he was imprisoned twice.
Watts was ordained as a pastor of an independent congregation. He wrote many hymns and carols and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the University of Edinburgh in 1728.
The tune usually used today is from an 1848 edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist. Mason’s was the fourth version to have been published. Musically, the first four notes of “Joy to the World” are the same as the first four in the chorus “Lift up your heads” from “Handel’s Messiah” (premiered 1742), and, in the third line, the same as found in another Messiah piece: the arioso, “Comfort ye”. Consequently, and with Mason’s attribution to George Frederic Handel, there has long been speculation over how much a part “Handel’s Messiah” had in “Joy to the World.”
As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.
Watch a live performance of Mannheim Steamroller’s popular version of “Joy To The World” – Click Here
The wonderful Christmas song “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” was created by lyricist Sammy Cahn and the composer Jule Styne in 1945. The duo wrote a slew of hits including “Three Coins in a Fountain,” “It’s Magic,” “Time After Time,” “I Believe,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” and “My Kind of Town.”
The words and lyrics of “Let It Snow” reflect the feeling of warmth and security associated with Christmas and brings in the more modern customs of popping corn!
Some may not be familiar with some additional lyrics that were not included in many of the more popular versions. ..
He’s sitting by the fire’s cosy glow
He don’t care about the cold and the winds that blow
He just says, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”
Why should he worry when he’s nice and warm?
His gal by his side and the lights burn low
He just says, “Let it snow, let it snow”
Despite the lyrics making no mention of any holiday, the song has come to be regarded as a Christmas song in North America due to its winter theme, being played on radio stations during the Christmas and holiday season and having often been covered by various artists on Christmas-themed albums. But the first hit was by Vaughn Monroe, who reached No. 1 on the Billboard Best Sellers music chart after the holidays in late January and through February 1946.
The song was reprised in recent years when used in the Bruce Willis film Die Hard, which started with the film’s hero travelling to meet his family at Christmas. Andy Williams has the most recognizable version of the song, recorded in the mid-1960’s.
The words and music to the Christmas song “Little Drummer Boy” were composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958. The lyrics consist of no less than 21 ‘rum pum pum pum’ – a major part of the song and therefore presenting an apparently easy task for the lyricist!
First recorded in 1951 by the Trapp Family Singers, the song was further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. However, “Little Drummer Boy” has been a huge hit for several artists. The most notable rendition was created by the most unlikely combination on Bing Crosby’s last TV appearance was a Christmas special filmed in London in September 1977 and aired just weeks after his death. It was on this special that Crosby recorded the duet of “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth” with rock star David Bowie, looking very boy next doorish at the time. It was a massive hit for the artists and was, in fact, Bing’s most successful recording since the legendary “White Christmas” thirty years earlier.
Crosby died shortly after within weeks of the deaths of legends Groucho Marx and Elvis Presley.
Popular Christian artists, For King & Country, who had a successful Christmas album based on the song, have a national tour called A Drummer Boy Christmas Tour.
See Bing Crosby’s famous duet with David Bowie doing the medley “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” – Click Here
“Mary, Did You Know?” is a Christmas song addressing Mary, mother of Jesus, with lyrics written by gospel singer Mark Lowry and music written by Buddy Greene. It was originally recorded by Christian recording artist Michael English on his self-titled debut solo album in 1991 (English and Lowry were both members of the Gaither Vocal Band at the time).
It reached No. 6 on CCM Magazine’s AC Chart. Lowry would record the song several times himself, most notably with the Gaither Vocal Band on their 1998 Christmas album, “Still the Greatest Story Ever Told.”
The song has since gone on to become a modern Christmas classic, being recorded by many artists over the years across multiple genres.
It was also used as the basis for a stage musical, also titled “Mary, Did You Know” and written by Bruce Greer, that won the 1999 Dove Award for Musical of the Year.
Among the most popular versions are by Kenny Rogers and by Pentatonix.
Karen Carpenter’s voice has almost become synonymous with Christmas season. Well, this was The Carpenters’ first attempt at Christmas music. The lyric was originally written in 1946 by Frank Pooler when he was 18. Frank was the choir director at California State University, Long Beach. Karen and her brother, Richard Carpenter, were both part of the choir. In 1966, at Pooler’s request, Richard composed the music for this ballad, which was first released in 1970. This sparked the interest and idea of a Christmas album by the Carpenters, and on October 13, 1978, “Christmas Portrait” was released. It was first available on a 7-inch single in 1970 and was later re-issued in 1974 and again in 1977. The single went to number one on Billboard’s Christmas singles chart in 1970, and did so again in 1971 and 1973.
In 1978, the Carpenters issued their “Christmas Portrait” album, which contained a new version of “Merry Christmas Darling.” Richard Carpenter himself calls the original recording one of his sister’s very best. Karen once said: “‘Merry Christmas Darling,’ I think, is a little extra special to both of us, because Richard wrote it, and the lyrics were written by the choral director at Long Beach State choir, where we went to school, Frank Pooler.
“Frank was very helpful in our college days, when we were trying to get a contract and constantly missing classes and everything. “He was the only one down there who actually understood what we were after, and he stood behind us all the way.
“We just did a benefit at Long Beach state, for a scholarship fund, and we did it with the choir and the whole thing, and we did ‘Christmas Darling’ and he just glows every time we do it. I think it’s my favorite, because it’s really close to me.”
Pooler died January 19, 2013 from lung cancer at his home in Los Alamitos, California.
The popular Christmas Carol, “The First Noel,” is believed to date from the 13th or 14th century, a time in which all medieval civilization in Europe was springing to life. The inspiration for the story of the song comes from dramatizations of favorite Bible stories for holidays, which were called the Miracle Plays, and were very popular during this time. It tells the story of the night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, based on the Gospel accounts in Luke 2 and Matthew 2.
Noel is the French word for Christmas and is from the Latin natalis, meaning “birthday.” Most medieval poetry was written to be sung, so it is presumed that the words were written with an existing tune in mind. This makes the tune to the song even older, and is likely English or French.
‘The First Nowell’ was first published in Davies Gilbert’s “Some Ancient Christmas Carols” in 1823. Ten years later, William Sandys was concerned that the celebration of Christmas was ‘on the wane.’ His action that changed this was to compile a collection of carols in order to preserve them. Sandys’ collection of Christmas Carols begins with a history of the Christmas celebration, followed by a total of 80 carols. It is here that “The First Noel” was first published with words by Sandys in his 1833 edition of “Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern.”
All subsequent versions of “The First Noel” have been based on the version found in Sandys’ collection. The publication of Sandy’s 1823 book has historical significance in that it was the first of its kind to include many of the songs we now consider classic Carols. Songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “The First Nowell,” “I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” had their public debut in this songbook.
The origin of “The Nutcracker,” a classic Christmas Story, is a fairy tale ballet in two acts centered on a family’s Christmas Eve celebration. Alexandre Dumas Pere’s adaptation of the story by E.T.A. Hoffmann was set to music by Tchaikovsky and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa.
It was commissioned by the Moscow Imperial Theatres in 1891 and premiered a week before Christmas 1892. Since premiering in western countries in the 1940s, this ballet has become the most popular to be performed around Christmas time.
The story centers on a young girl’s Christmas Eve and her awakening to the wider world and romantic love. The composer made a selection of eight of the more popular pieces before the ballet’s premiere, forming what is currently known as “The Nutcracker Suite.” The suite became instantly popular; however the complete ballet did not achieve its great popularity as a Christmas performance event until almost 100 years later.
Watch Lindsey Stirling’s official video for “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker – Click Here
“O Christmas Tree” is a traditional German Carol. The author of the lyrics are unknown as is the composer of the tune. The tradition of bringing a tree inside and decorating it with candy, baubles and bells was started in the nineteenth century and is immortalized in the carol “O Christmas Tree” lyrics.
The carol, which is also known by it’s German title, “O Tannenbaum,” has been performed and recorded by hundreds of artists over the centuries.
One of the more popular versions was a jazzy instrumental from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
John Francis Wade is now generally recognized as both author and composer of the hymn “Adeste fideles,” originally written in Latin in four stanzas. The earliest manuscript signed by Wade is dated about 1743. By the early nineteenth century, however, four additional stanzas had been added by other writers.
Besides Wade, the tune has been attributed to several musicians, from John Reading and his son, to Handel.
Research by Dom John Stéphan, author of “The Adeste Fidelis: A Study of Its Origin and Development” (1947), has determined that the first and original manuscript was dated in 1743, indicating that Wade composed both the Latin words and the music between 1740 and 1743.
The English language translation of stanzas one, two, three and six is the work of Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), a translator of Latin hymns. Oakeley’s stanzas, penned in 1841, first appeared in F.H. Murray’s “Hymnal for Use in the English Church” (1852) under the title “Let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” (Luke 2:15)
The words and lyrics of the old carol “O Holy Night” were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. Cappeau was a wine seller by trade but was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas. He obliged and wrote the beautiful words of the hymn. He realized that it should have music to accompany the words and approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams (1803-1856).
The music for the poem was composed by Adams. Adolphe had attended the Paris conservatoire and forged a brilliant career as a composer. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893).
The song has been recorded by numerous well-known popular-music, classical-music, and religious-music singers. Celine Dion reached #44 on Billboard’s Holiday chart in 1998. Josh Groban hit #1 in 2002 on their Adult Contemporary cart. The cast of Glee also topped the charts in 2010-11. Lauren Daigle reached #14 in 1017-2018 on the Contemporary Christian charts.
Some of the best known versions have been by Mariah Carey, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Whitney Houston, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and Mahalia Jackson.
Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Philadelphia, wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868, following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine especially at night time, hence the lyrics of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
His church organist, Lewis Redner, (1831-1908) wrote the melody for the Sunday school children’s choir.
English singer Cliff Richard had a 1982 Christmas hit with it in the UK. In the US, the better known version is by American CCM artist Amy Grant, released on her 1983 Christmas album
“Please Come Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song, released in 1960, by the American blues singer and pianist Charles Brown. The title is often thought to be “Bells Will Be Ringing”, which are the first four words of the song.
Hitting Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in December 1961, the tune Brown co-wrote with Gene Redd peaked at position #76. It appeared on the Christmas Singles chart for nine seasons, hitting #1 in 1972.
It includes a number of characteristics of Christmas music, such as multiple references in the lyrics to the Christmas season and Christmas traditions, and the use of a Church bell type sound, created using a piano at the start of the song.
Then The Eagles got a hold of it.
Sessions for their follow-up to “Hotel California” were dragging on, and executives at Asylum Records had grown concerned. Everybody needed a break.
“The record label was bugging us because “The Long Run” was, at this point, 6.8 months behind schedule,” producer Bill Szymczyk told Miami’s WPLG in 2015.
Then Don Henley had an out-of-nowhere idea: “Well, maybe if we give them a Christmas single, they’ll get off our back,” Szymczyk remembered.
It proved to be just the rejuvenating time-out everybody needed. Problem: Eagles were holed up in Szymczyk’s Bayshore Recording Studios – a converted motel at Coconut Grove, Fla., which was certainly no winter wonderland.
Henley suggested the recently reformulated Eagles cover an old Charles Brown song he remembered as a kid growing up in east Texas. Unlike the rest of what would become the Eagles’ final classic-era album, “Please Come Home for Christmas” was quickly completed. A song devoted to holiday melancholy seemed to have finally ended their creative stalemate.
“We needed a break from the daily routine,” Henley told Cincinnati’s The Enquirer in 2017. “So, I suggested that we record a Christmas song, and I went on to suggest this song that I had remembered from my teenage years. The band members, and our producer, welcomed the idea.”
The completed 1978 single served as an official introduction to new bassist Timothy B. Schmit, who’d replaced Randy Meisner after the Eagles’ most recent tour completed.
“We knocked it out in a matter of two, three days,” Szymczyk told WPLG, “gave it to the label and then they indeed did get off our back until we were finished.”
Their version peaked at #18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the first Christmas song to reach the Top 20 on that chart since Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Paper” in 1963.
Originally released as a vinyl 7″ single, it was re-released as a CD single in 1995, reaching #15 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This version includes the lyrics “bells will be ringing the sad, sad news” (that is, a Christmas alone) as opposed to Brown’s original version which references the “glad, glad news” (that is, Christmas in general).