We hear them in dozens of different versions, in the malls and on mixes offered by bloggers. The secular Christmas carols feature on the latest seasonal CD, perhaps recorded because of contractual obligations, perhaps because these things sell. And with the versions of these Christmas songs seemingly multiplying every season, it becomes almost immaterial who sang them first. Except for this blog. So here are 21 originals of famous Christmas songs.
The origins of the first two are pretty well-known, but the popular versions of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and Nat ‘King’ Cole’s The Christmas Song are later recordings. Featured on this mix are Bing’s recording of the song in the 1942 film Holiday Inn; Cole’s is from the 1940s (not quite the first version, I think, but a live recording by the King Cole Trio nonetheless). Both songs, incidentally, were written in hot weather, as was, of course, Sammy Cahn and July Styne’s Let It Snow!, written in July 1945, and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride.
Bing actually performed White Christmas earlier than in the film, on his The Kraft Music Hall radio show on Christmas Day 1941. He recorded it in May 1942; this recording, included here as a bonus track, was issued in July that year to coincide with the release of Holiday Inn. In the film Crosby’s character teaches the song to Marjorie Reynolds’ character, whose voice was dubbed by Martha Mears. Mears also dubbed the singing for the likes of Rita Haworth, Claudette Colbert, Loretta Young, Hedy Lamarr, Veronica Lake and Lucille Ball.
Bing was a Christmas song specialist. He also recorded the first version of I’ll Be Home For Christmas (written from the perspective of a World War 2 soldier, hence the final line), and he was the first to release Silver Bells on record. Actually, the song — originally intended to be called “Tinkle Bells” — was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell during the filming of The Lemon Drop Kid in summer 1950. But the film wasn’t released until March 1951. In the interim Bing and Carol Richards recorded Silver Bells in October 1950. Owing to the success of that recording, Hope and Maxwell refilmed a more refined version of the song.
Some songs here are older than one might think, such as Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, first recorded in 1934, or Winter Wonderland (also 1934); others are much younger than one might expect, such as Little Drummer Boy (1955), Holly Jolly Christmas (1964) and Do You Hear What I Hear (1962).
You might associate If Every Day Was Like Christmas with Elvis, who released it as a single in 1966. The year before, it was written and recorded by his close friend and bodyguard Red West, under the name Bobby West. He fell out with Elvis shortly before The King’s death in 1977, after West wrote a revealing book titled Elvis, What Happened?. Elvis fans still haven’t forgiven the man.
When A Child Is Born was a huge Christmas hit for Johnny Mathis in 1976, but it was originally a secular pop song. The melody, titled “Soleado” was composed in 1972 by Ciro Dammicco for the Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble (included as a bonus track). With lyrics added, German Schlager singer Michael Holm had a massive hit with it in 1974 under the title “Tränen lügen nicht” (Tears don’t lie). At the same, Holm recorded an English version of it, with its Christmas-themed lyrics by Fred Jay — two years before Mathis did.
One inclusion here is not a full track, but features briefly in a trailer for a TV movie of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Mistletoe And Wine was a Cliff Richard UK #1 in 1988. It was originally performed in 1976 in the musical Scraps, based on the Andersen tale. In 1986 the play was filmed for TV, now under Andersen’s title, starring Roger Daltrey and Twiggy, who sings it in character as a Victorian prostitute. For Cliff Richard’s version, the lyrics were altered to reflect the singer’s brand of Christianity.
By far the oldest of all recordings here is that of Jingle Bells, which forms part of a skit recorded in 1898. By then it was already a classic, by way of sheet music, having been first published in 1857. Originally it was intended as a song for Thanksgiving.
1. Bing Crosby & Martha Mears – White Christmas (from the film Holiday Inn, 1942)
2. King Cole Trio – The Christmas Song (1946)
3. Vaughn Monroe – Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1946)
4. Gene Autry – Here Comes Santa Claus (1947)
5. Boston Pops Orchestra – Sleigh Ride (1948)
6. Bobby Helms – Jingle Bell Rock (1957)
7. Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby (1953)
8. Bing Crosby – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1943)
9. The Trapp Family Singers – Carol Of The Drum (Little Drummer Boy, 1955)
10. Michael Holm – When A Child Is Born (1974)
11. Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (1963)
12. Bobby West – If Every Day Was Like Christmas (1965)
13. Harry Simeone Chorale – Do You Hear What I Hear (1962)
14. Bing Crosby & Carol Richards – Silver Bells (1950)
15. Richard Himber and his Orchestra – Winter Wonderland (1934)
16. Harry Reser and his Orchestra – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1934)
17. Gene Autry – Frosty The Snowman (1950)
18. Jimmy Boyd – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952)
20. Edison Male Quartette – Sleigh Ride Party/Jingle Bells (1898)
21. Twiggy – Mistletoe And Wine (excerpt from The Little Matchgirl trailer, 1986)
Bonus: Bing Crosby with Ken Darby Singers – White Christmas (1942)
Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble – Soleado (1974)
CHRISTMAS MIXES WITH WORKING LINKS:
Any Major Christmas Pop
Any Major Rhythm & Blues Christmas
Any Major Christmas Soul Vol. 1
Any Major Christmas Soul Vol. 2
Any Major Christmas Soul Vol. 3
Any Major Smooth Christmas Vol. 1
Any Major Country Christmas Vol. 1
Any Major Country Christmas Vol. 2
Any Major Acoustic Christmas
Christmas In Black & White
More Christmas In Black & White
Christmas Mix, Not For Mother
Any Major X-Mas Mix
Song Swarm: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer