With the holidays approaching here at the end of 2015, we thought we’d re-post a Christmas Song Trivia blog from 2011. Fortunately, the songs mentioned are bona fide Christmas standards and worthy of another peek behind the genius creative process that contributed to our collective playlist. Enjoy!
One doesn’t have to stray too far during the holiday season to hear what have become song standards. Be it in your car, on television or radio, invariably a relatively (and surprisingly) small list of songs will be in the air.
Just for fun, we thought we’d look behind the curtain of the birth of a few of these songs and relay the stories behind some of the most memorable and popular music that has ever been created.
The original version of “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” (Johnny Marks) was first turned down by Gene Autry as he felt it didn’t fit his image. His wife, Ina, encouraged him to reconsider this pass as she thought the story of Rudolph’s exclusion from the reindeer games would resonate with the young and young at heart. The song was adapted from a story that was created for the Montgomery Ward stores to go with a coloring book about a reindeer character named Rudolph. The store initially gave away over 2 million copies, though the author, Robert May, who worked for the store saw no royalties. However, in 1947, Montgomery Ward gave this copyright to May, deep in debt, which allowed him to pay off his wife’s medical bills. And…Johnny Marks, the composer of the song was May’s brother in law.
“Here Comes Santa Claus” was written quickly in 1946 when Gene Autry heard the crowd along Hollywood Boulevard saying those words as he rode in the Christmas parade. He gave his idea to the head of his publishing company (Oakley Haldeman) and another gentlemen, Art Satherley, who was A&R director at Columbia Records. Satherley was sipping a cocktail within microphone range when Johnny Bond was recording the demo, so the idea wouldn’t be forgotten. When that acetate was played for the musicians to record, they thought the ice cubes heard in the background sounded like sleigh bells, so they put those on the recording. Satherley also had the distinction of helping turn Gene Autry from a recording personality to a major movie star, as he made this recommendation to the head of Republic Studios.
“The Christmas Song” was written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells was written in the mid summer of 1944 in an effort to stay cool on a sweltering hot day in the San Fernando Valley. The two had a writing appointment and Mel started writing down random lines on the paper – “Chestnuts roasting,” “Jack Frost nipping,” “Folks dressed up like Eskimos,” etc.) while waiting on his co-writer. In about 40 minutes the song was complete. Torme was 19 when he wrote this song which has become one of BMI’s all time top earners.
Every song has a story. Sometimes the story is better than the song, but these three songs represent iconic compositions that generation after generation all hear. Every composer hopes for a standard to be created when he sits down to write; no one can ever know what will become one until it does. We wish everyone a memorable holiday season.