When you're having "Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which version of this holiday classic do you prefer to sing?
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When you're having "Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which version of this holiday classic do you prefer to sing?

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When you're having "Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which version of this holiday classic do you prefer to sing?

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"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" had a pretty big year in 2016. Thanks to Josh Groban, this 72 year-old Hugh Martin / Ralph Blane tune reached No. 1 on Billboard's adult contemporary charts.


Copyright Reprise / Warner Bros. All rights reserved

Mind you, this isn't the only time in recent memory that this holiday song has charted. Back in 2014, Sam Smith's cover of "Merry Little Christmas" made it into Billboard's Hot 100. And Michael Bublé's version did equally well back in 2011.

Which is pretty impressive. Especially when you take into consideration that - in spite of its rather ironic title -- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is actually one of the saddest holiday songs ever written.

Mind you, it used to be even sadder. When Martin & Blane originally wrote this tune for MGM's 1944 musical, "Meet Me in St. Louis," it was supposed to musically comment on that moment in this motion picture where the Smith family had just learned that - due to Father's promotion - they'd now all have to move to New York and thus miss out on seeing the 1904 World's Fair.


Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment. All rights reserved

So - as older sibling Esther (played by Judy Garland) attempted to console her heart-broken little sister Tootie (played by Margaret O'Brien) during a scene set on Christmas Eve, Ralph & Hugh had originally envisioned "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" getting underway by having Garland's character sing:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

It may be your last

Next year we may all be living in the past

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Pop that champagne cork

Next year we may all be living in New York.

Judy balked at singing these lyrics as written, arguing that - if her character actually said something like that to her little sister - Esther would wind up traumatizing poor Tootie. Which would then make the audience hate her character. And when "Meet Me in St. Louis" director Vincente Minnelli (who would go on to marry Garland the following year) backed up his star, Martin & Blane were forced to soften this song's opening stanza.


Copyright Warner Bros. Entertainment. All rights reserved

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Let your heart be light

Next year all our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Make the yuletide gay

Next year all our troubles will be miles away

When MGM released "Meet Me in St. Louis" to theaters in November of 1944, it was a smash hit for the studio. And Garland's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" proved to be so popular during the waning days of World War II that Decca actually released two different versions of this recording over a 6-month period. One paired this holiday tune with another Martin & Blane song from "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Boy Next Door." This version was then followed up by a Decca recording that paired "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with Garland's performance of "You're Never Walk Alone." This Rodgers & Hammerstein song had quickly become a favorite after it was introduced in "Carousel," which opened on Broadway back on April 19, 1945.

Barring some relatively minor tweaks to the song's lyrics (i.e., "From now on" replacing the phrase "Next year"), this was the version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that was performed from 1944 - 1957.


Copyright Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved

"So what happened in 1957?," you ask. Well, Old Blue Eyes went into the studio at Capital Records to record his very first full-length Christmas album, "A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra." Frank labored from May 1st through July 10, 1957 on this recording. Working in front of an orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins and backed up by the Ralph Brewster Singers, he put that distinctive Sinatra spin on such holiday favorites as "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night," and "I'll be Home for Christmas."

But when it finally came time to record Frank's version of 'Have Yourself a Merry Christmas," Old Blue Eyes balked. Largely because Sinatra felt that the closing stanza of this song (as it was originally written for "Meet Me in St. Louis") ...

Someday soon we all will be together

If the fates allow

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now


Frank Sinatra recording at Capital Studios in Hollywood in the 1950s

... was far too bleak.

So Frank reached out to Hugh Martin and supposedly said that " ... I'm working on an album called 'A Jolly Christmas.' I'd really like to include 'Merry Little Christmas' on this recording, but that ' ... muddle through' line is a real downer. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?"

And given that it was now the more hopeful 1950s ... Well, Hugh agreed to tweak "Merry Little Christmas" 's lyrics for Frank. Swapping out " ... until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" for " ... hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Which then allowed this still-bittersweet holiday song to end on a more upbeat note.


Copyright Reprise / Warner Bros. All rights reserved

And since the Sinatra version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" became a smash hit ... For nearly 50 years now, singers have had to make a hard choice whenever they decide to perform this holiday standard. Do they do as Judy did back in "Meet Me in St. Louis" and opt to " ... muddle through" what can often be a very emotional time of year? Or do they follow Frank's example and offer a more hopeful view of the season? Literally reaching for the stars by hanging one " ... upon the highest bough" ?

Me? I have to admit that I'm one of those guys who embraces what Walt Disney once supposedly said (i.e.,"For every laugh, there should be a tear"). So I honestly don't mind a little melancholy mixed in with my Merry Christmas. Which is why it kind of does my heart good to hear versions of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" like the one James Taylor performs. Where the original bittersweet message of this Martin & Blane song is basically left intact.

But how about you folks? When you're having "A Merry Little Christmas," which version of this holiday classic do you prefer? Are you a muddler like myself? Or do you prefer to hang a shiny star? 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Saturday, December 24, 2016

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  • Nice little article. Your reference of the R&H song is in need of correction, though. The song is entitled "You'll Never Walk Alone", not "You're Never Walk Along".

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks for pointing out that typo. It's been fixed now

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