"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.
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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.
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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
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.
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.