The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)

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The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé, Bob Wells)

From the Wikipedia profile:

The Christmas Song, commonly subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire” or “Merry Christmas to You”, is a classic Christmas song written in 1944* by vocalist Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool,” the most-performed (according to BMI) Christmas song was born.

“I saw a spiral pad on his piano with four lines written in pencil,” Tormé recalled. “They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting … Jack Frost nipping … Yuletide carols … Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”

The Nat King Cole Trio first recorded the song early in 1946. At Cole’s behest — and over the objections of his label, Capitol Records — a second recording was made the same year utilizing a small string section, this version becoming a massive hit on both the pop and R&B charts. Cole re-recorded the song in 1953, using the same arrangement with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and once more in 1961, in a stereophonic version with orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. The latter recording is generally regarded as definitive and continues to receive considerable radio airplay each holiday season, while Cole’s original 1946 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.

Mel-Torme-and-Mel-Tones-1-f18Mel-Torme-Velvet Fog c.late 40sMel Torme-and the Mel-Tones 15 March 1946-Gene Lester

Excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Mel Tormé:

Melvin Howard Tormé was born in Chicago, Illinois, to immigrant Russian Jewish parents,[1] whose surname had been Torma . However, the name was changed at Ellis Island to “Torme.” A child prodigy, he first sang professionally at age 4 with the Coon-Sanders Orchestra, singing “You’re Driving Me Crazy” at Chicago’s Blackhawk restaurant.[2]

Between 1933 and 1941, he acted in the network radio serials The Romance of Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He wrote his first song at 13, and three years later, his first published song, “Lament to Love,” became a hit recording for Harry James. He played drums in Chicago’s Shakespeare Elementary School drum and bugle corps in his early teens. While a teenager, he sang, arranged, and played drums in a band led by Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers. His formal education ended in 1944 with his graduation from Chicago’s Hyde Park High School. [read more: Early career…]

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Nat King Cole**

Nat King Cole Trio recorded on 14 June 1946

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Nat King Cole with orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle (Label credit: The King Cole Trio with String Choir) — recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, 24 August 1952.

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The Nat King Cole Show. According to classictvinfo.com, Cole sang the song on two episodes, 24 December 1956, and 17 December 1957. Don’t know which one this is.

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Les Brown and his Orchestra, vocal: Doris Day 1946

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Bing Crosby and Karolyn Grimes, with director Stuart Heisler, set of Blue Skies (1946)

Bing Crosby with The Ken Darby Singers 1947

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Mel Tormé — from the 1954 live album At the Crescendo (Coral Records); medley: “The Christmas Song”/”The Wassail Song” (“Here We Come A-Caroling”)***

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Connie Francis 1959

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Mel Tormé and Judy Garland – The Judy Garland Show, Episode #15 was a “Christmas Special” filmed on 6 December 1963 and broadcast on December 22nd. Judy’s guests for the show were Jack Jones, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, Joey Luft, Mel Tormé, and Tracy Everitt.
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Medley: “The Christmas Song”/”The Wassail Song” (“Here We Come A-Caroling”)

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Nat King Cole — recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, 29 March 1961; released on the three-disc 1961 retrospective LP “The Nat King Cole Story

  • Nat King Cole: vocal
  • Charles Grean & Pete Rugolo: orchestration
  • Orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael

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The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé, Bob Wells)

Marvin Gaye_camera_1Marvin Gaye-breakfast-1a

Marvin Gaye — live at the Apollo Theater, NY, 1963

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Aretha Franklin – 1964(?). The album Joy to the World is a 2006 compilation.

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Kenny Burrell – recorded at Ter-Mar Studios, Chicago, Illinois in October 1966. Originally released on Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas, Cadet (779) — Kenny Burrell (guitar); Richard Evans (arranger, conductor); Esmond Edwards (arranger)

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Tony Bennett — from Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album, 1968

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Bing and Harry Crosby on one of Bing’s Christmas specials, early 1970s

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The Manhattan Transfer and guest Tony Bennett — from The Christmas Album, 1992

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Mel Tormé — probably from his 1992 LP Christmas Songs; includes the “Here We Come A-Caroling” ending

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Natalie Cole — 1994

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Christina Aguilera — 1999

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* I’ve no information as to why the song apparently remained unrecorded for two years after it was written, but I suspect that it’s similarity to “White Christmas” might have had something to do with the delay.

**Wikipedia provides some details on four Nat King Cole studio recordings. The following is adapted from their list. It does not include television performances.

1. Recorded at WMCA Radio Studios, New York City, June 14 1946. Not issued until 1989 on the various-artists compilation Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1935–1954) The King Cole Trio: Nat King Cole, vocal-pianist; Oscar Moore, guitarist; Johnny Miller, bassist.

2. Recorded at WMCA Radio Studios, New York City, August 19, 1946. First record issue. Label credit: The King Cole Trio with String Choir (Nat King Cole, vocal-pianist, Oscar Moore, guitarist; Johnny Miller, bassist; Charlie Grean, conductor of 4 string players, a harpist and a drummer)

3. Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, August 24, 1952. This was the song’s first magnetic tape recording. Label credit: The King Cole Trio with String Choir (Actual artists: Nat King Cole, vocal; Nelson Riddle, orchestra conductor) Master #11726, take 11.

4. Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, March 29, 1961. This rendition, the first recorded in stereo, is widely played on radio stations during the Christmas season, and is probably the most famous version of this song. Label credit: Nat King Cole (Nat King Cole, vocal; Charles Grean & Pete Rugolo, orchestration; Ralph Carmichael, orchestra conductor). The instrumental arrangement is nearly identical with the 1953 version [1952 recording], but the vocals are much deeper and more focused.

*** Every recording of the song by Mel Tormé that I’ve heard ends with a refrain from the traditional “Here We Come A-Caroling”. I’ve referred to the construction as a medley on this page, and elsewhere on the site where it may appear, but Tormé evidently did not. I’m guessing that the copyright includes this part. However, it’s often usually omitted in recordings by others.

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