Selected Christmas and holiday season songs
Selected Christmas and holiday season songs — This page is my original Christmas and Holidays feature, a survey of nine of the most popular Christmas and Winter Holidays songs, though revised many times since first published as a post on 21 December 2009.
- White Christmas
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (link to separate page)
- Sleigh Ride
- The Christmas Song
- Let It Snow!, Let It Snow!, Let It Snow!
- Winter Wonderland
- Silver Bells
- Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
- Frosty the Snowman
Other feature pages on Holiday Season songs and winter songs, created Dec 2009 – Dec 2011:
- White Christmas
- White Christmas: selected vocal harmony group recordings, 1948-1965
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- The Christmas Song
- Johnny Marks: Master of the Christmas song
- Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas
- Happy Holiday / Holiday Inn (mini-feature)
- My Favorite Things
- Some other popular holiday season songs
- Jingle Bells
- It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
- Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy)
- Feliz Navidad (José Feliciano)
- Happy Holiday / Holiday Inn
- Jingle Bell Rock
- other standards and popular songs of winter
1. White Christmas (Irving Berlin) – 1940
White Christmas was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1942 musical Holiday Inn. In the film, he sings it in a duet with Marjorie Reynolds. The song went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Though Marjorie Reynolds was the actress playing Linda Mason, her voice was dubbed by Martha Mears for the movie.
From The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, eds. Kimball and Emmet, pp. 350-351
“Much as I’d like to take a bow and say I anticipated its future success, I must admit I didn’t, ” Berlin told the Jamaica (Long Island) Press (September 24, 1954). “Maybe because it was so easy, comparatively, to write I didn’t realize its potential. I wrote it in two rather brief sessions and that’s fast for a song. Some take a lot more time.”
According to Erskine Johnson (Los Angeles Mirror, December 21, 1954), the melody was written in August 1938, then left on the shelf for four years (actually two years) until Berlin was signed by Paramount to write Holiday Inn [He signed an exclusive contract to write songs for the proposed film in May 1940, a year and a half before filming began]. Berlin told Johnson: “I took it off the shelf and polished the lyrics a little, and went to Bing’s dressing room at Paramount to get his okay on all the songs for the picture. I was nervous as a rabbit smelling stew. I sang several melodies and Bing nodded quiet approval. But when I did ‘White Christmas’ he came to life and said, ‘Irving, you won’t have to worry about that one.'”
Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn (1942). Better videos are available at Youtube, but are disabled for embedding.
Crosby’s recording with the Ken Darby Singers on Song Hits from Holiday Inn (Decca), often rereleased, frequently number one on the popular music charts, is one of the bestselling recordings of all time and was Berlin’s biggest hit.
As Berlin recalled in the Los Angeles Examiner (December 14, 1954):
“I wrote it for a revue I intended producing, changed my mind and put it away until it was used in a Bing Crosby picture. At the time I had no idea “White Christmas” would be a perennial hit or that Paramount would add to its popularity with a movie of the same name.
When the song first became popular, I attributed it to the War and the fact that Christmas means peace. I felt that since people were singing I ought to write another verse. But I couldn’t do it. New words would not come.”
The familiar version of “White Christmas” most often heard today is not the one Crosby recorded in 1942. He was called to Decca studios on March 18, 1947, to re-record the track; the 1942 master had become damaged due to its frequent use. Efforts were made to exactly reproduce the original recording session, and Crosby was again backed by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers.Even so, there are subtle differences in the orchestration, most notably the addition of a celesta and flutes to brighten up the introduction. – Wikipedia
Bing Crosby and the Ken Darby Singers — 1947
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane) — 1944
- Click on the title above to visit the separate feature page
3. Sleigh Ride (Anderson, Parish) – music 1948, lyrics 1950
“Sleigh Ride” is a popular light orchestral piece composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946; he finished the work in February 1948. Lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter’s day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra. The song was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become the equivalent of a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. This original mono version has never been available on CD, although the later 1959 re-recording is available in stereo. The orchestra has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor. – Wikipedia extract
Andrews Sisters — 1950 – the first known vocal recording of the song
Boston Pops, conducted by Arthur Fiedler – 1949
4. The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé, Bob Wells) — 1944
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 Tormé recorded the song himself in 1954, and again in 1961, 1966 and 1992
Mel Tormé and Judy Garland
Nat King Cole – 1961
5. Let It Snow!, Let It Snow!, Let It Snow! (m. Jule Styne, w. Sammy Cahn) also known as Let It Snow
The song was written in July 1945 in Hollywood, California during one of the hottest days on record. First recorded by Vaughn Monroe, it became a popular hit, reaching number one on the Billboard music chart the following year. One of the best-selling songs of all time, “Let It Snow!” has been covered countless times by many artists. Due to its seasonal lyrics, it is commonly regarded as a Christmas song. However, despite the song’s cheery, holiday feel, it is a love song that never mentions Christmas.
Frank Sinatra — recorded 5 November 1950 with The Swanson Quartet, arrangement: Axel Stordahl
Dean Martin — from his 1959 album A Winter Romance
Ella Fitzgerald — from her album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, 1960
Andy Williams – from his second holiday album, Merry Christmas, released in 1965
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass — This mellow interpretation appears on the band’s Christmas Album, A&M Records SP-4166, released in 1968
6. Winter Wonderland (Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith) — 1934
Smith, a native of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, was reportedly inspired to write the lyrics after seeing Honesdale’s Central Park covered in snow. The original recording was by Richard Himber & His Ritz Carlton Hotel Orchestra on RCA Bluebird in 1934. At the end of a recording session with time to spare, it was suggested that this new tune be tried with an arrangement provided by the publisher. This excellent “studio” orchestra included many great New York studio musicians including the legendary Artie Shaw. The biggest chart hit at the time of introduction was Guy Lombardo’s orchestra, a top ten hit. Singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer took the song to #4 in Billboard’s airplay chart in 1946. – Wikipedia
Bing Crosby — 1962
7. Silver Bells (Jay Livingston , Ray Evans) was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the motion picture The Lemon Drop Kid, filmed in July-August 1950 but released in March 1951. The first recorded version was by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards, released in October 1950. After the Crosby and Richards recording became popular, Hope and Maxwell were called back in late 1950 to shoot a more elaborate production of the song. The song was inspired by the image of Salvation Army bell ringers (volunteers collecting donations) outside department stores during the Christmas season. – Wikipedia, modified
Bing Crosby and Carol Richards — 1950
Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney — date unknown, probably c.1954
Doris Day — from her 1964 LP The Doris Day Christmas Album, Columbia CL-2226 (Mono), Columbia CS-9026 (Stereo)
“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”…was first sung on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934. It became an instant hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day and over 400,000 copies sold by Christmas. The song is often used to tell children that Santa knows when they’ve been bad or good and that they should be good.
The earliest known recorded version of the song was performed by George Hall and the Hotel Taft Orchestra (featuring Sonny Schuyler on vocals) in 1934. It was mostly an instrumental except for a 35-second vocal by Schuyler. The version shown in the Variety charts of December 1934 was Harry Reser featuring Tom Stacks on vocal. The song was a sheet music hit, reaching #1. The song was also recorded on September 26, 1935, by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra .
Harry Reser and his Orchestra,vocal by Tom Stacks — recorded on 24 October 1934
Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra, vocals by Cliff Weston and Edythe Wright — 26 September 1935
Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters – Decca No.Y5872 – 1943
9. Frosty the Snowman (Walter “Jack” Rollins, and Steve Nelson)
Wikipedia says the song was
first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys in 1950. It was written after the success of Autry’s recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” the previous year; Rollins and Nelson shipped the new song to Autry, who recorded “Frosty” in search of another seasonal hit. Like “Rudolph”, “Frosty” was subsequently adapted to other media including a popular television special. The song was originally titled “Frosty the Snow Man”.
Animated short, Frosty the Snowman (1954), directed by Robert Cannon. It features a recording of the song by a vocal group (uncredited). They sing a jazzy a cappella version with a “Thumpety thump thump” introduction accompanied by sleigh bells.
Perry Como – 1957