For about six weeks at the end of every year, people everywhere are bombarded with the sounds of Christmas songs filling the air. The department stores play holiday tunes like crazy, and several radio stations go "All Christmas" for the month of December. Every song has a story, and here are five facts about some of your favorite holiday songs.
5. Wham! Got Sued For "Last Christmas". In 1984, the single "Last Christmas" hit #2 on the UK Christmas Singles Chart, a coveted spot for European artists. It lost the #1 spot to Band-Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" charity song for African famine, but was still the biggest selling UK single at the time to not reach #1. An enormous hit, still covered by artists to this day, "Last Christmas" sounded familiar to Arnold/Martin/Morrow, the songwriting team behind "Can't Smile Without You", a huge hit song for Barry Manilow in the late 70s. The publishing company behind "Can't Smile" sued George Michael (songwriter of "Last Christmas") for using the same melody, and the case was settled out of court, with the money going to the Band-Aid charity.
4. "Have Yourself..." Was a Depressing Little Christmas Song. In 1944, Judy Garland sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, introducing the world to an instant holiday classic. When Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane originally wrote the song, however, the lyrics were quite different than the song everyone has come to know and love. The opening lyrics to the song originally were "Have yourself a merry, little Christmas/It may be your last". Considering that the song was being sung by a mother to her daughter, these lyrics were, needless to say, a tad bit depressing. Other lyrics about how the new year is going to essentially be miserable ("faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us no more") were also removed. Also excised was the word "Lord", replaced by "Fates", to make the song more secular. The changes helped the song, apparently, since the it has become one of the top five most-recorded Christmas songs in history.
3. We Almost Had Tinkle In Our "Silver Bells". Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote the 1950 Christmas song "Silver Bells" as a reference to the Salvation Army, whose workers stand on street corners every Christmas and ring hand bells while seeking donations. The song is noteworthy for being one of the first Christmas songs to focus on city life, and not the rural Christmas setting popularized in many holiday songs. When they originally wrote the song, however, Livingston and Evans wrote the title and chorus as "Tinkle Bells". They thought of the tinkling sound they heard coming from the street corner bellringers. When Livingston's wife heard their original idea, she informed her husband how people were most-commonly using the word "tinkle" those days. Rather than let this bad news pee on their parade, Livinston and Evans changed the name and chorus to "Silver Bells", sparing themselves embarrassment and giving the world one of the greatest Christmas songs ever written.
2. A Heat Wave Inspired Some Chestnut Roasting. 1944's "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" became a huge hit for singer/songwriter Mel Torme and his writing partner Bob Wells. The Nat King Cole version of the song is called by most the definitive version of the song and easily was the biggest success of Cole's career. Since then, it has become one of the most-recorded Christmas songs in history, and it all began in the middle of July. During what was a blisteringly hot summer, co-writer Wells was hating the heat and dreaming of cooler days, still months away. He wrote down things on a notepad to make him feel cooler ("chestnuts", "Jack Frost"). From there, it took less than an hour in the middle of summertime for the two men to write one of the most beloved wintertime classics of all time.
1. "White Christmas" Beats Everybody. In 1941, when Bing Crosby recorded and released the song "White Christmas", he didn't think anything was terribly special about it. He told Irving Berlin, the song's composer, that he thought it was a fine song with "no problems". He also thought that anyone could have made the song popular and downplayed his role in its success. The song didn't perform that well when it was initially released (for the movie Holiday Inn) but suddenly took off a year later. It charted numerous times over the next several years and was one reason Billboard magazine created a chart just for Christmas songs. It's not only the most popular Christmas song ever recorded, it's the biggest-selling single ever made. The Guinness Book of World Records lists it as such and Crosby's version alone has sold over 50 million copies worldwide.
Christmas songs are enormously popular, otherwise people wouldn't keep writing them, re-writing them, and re-recording them every single year. Artists from Mariah Carey to Manheim Steamroller have become millionaires based on their Christmas songs alone. As new songs come along, so will new stories and legends to be told about each of them. What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?
Ward Anderson is a comedian, author, and one-half of the talk radio program "Ward and Al", which is heard weekdays on SiriusXM satellite radio. His first novel, I'll Be Here All Week, will be released in May, 2014.