Jingle Bells

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This article is about the traditional Christmas song. For the song by Basshunter, see Jingle Bells (Basshunter song). For the song by Crazy Frog, see Jingle Bells/U Can't Touch This.
Musical notation for the chorus of "Jingle Bells" About this sound Play 
Plaque at 19 High Street, Medford, Massachusetts
Historical marker in Savannah, Georgia

"Jingle Bells" is one of the best-known[1] and commonly sung[2] American Christmas songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in the autumn of 1857. Even though it is now associated with the Christmas and holiday season, it was actually originally written to be sung for American Thanksgiving.[3][4]

Composition[edit]

It is an unsettled question where and when James Lord Pierpont originally composed the song that would become known as "Jingle Bells". A plaque at 19 High Street in the center of Medford Square in Medford, Massachusetts commemorates the "birthplace" of "Jingle Bells", and claims that Pierpont wrote the song there in 1850, at what was then the Simpson Tavern. According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town's popular sleigh races during the 19th century.

"Jingle Bells" was originally copyrighted with the name "One Horse Open Sleigh" on September 16, 1857.[5] It was reprinted in 1859 with the revised title of "Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh". The song has since passed into public domain.

The date of the song's copyright casts some doubt on the theory that Pierpont wrote the song in Medford, since by that date he was the organist and music director of the Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, where his brother, Rev. John Pierpont Jr., was employed. In August of the same year, James Pierpont married the daughter of the mayor of Savannah. He stayed on in the city even after the church closed due to its abolitionist leanings.[6]

"Jingle Bells" was often used as a drinking song at parties: people would jingle the ice in their glasses as they sung. The double-meaning of "upsot" was thought humorous, and a sleigh ride gave an unescorted couple a rare chance to be together, unchaperoned, in distant woods or fields, with all the opportunities that afforded. Sleigh rides were the nineteenth-century equivalent of taking a girl to a drive-in movie theatre in the 1950's and early 1960's, so there was a somewhat suggestive and scintillating aspect to the song that is often now unrecognized.

Lyrics[edit]

Music historian James Fuld notes that "the word jingle in the title and opening phrase is apparently an imperative verb."[7] In the winter in New England in pre-automobile days, it was common to adorn horses' harnesses with straps bearing bells as a way to avoid collisions at blind intersections, since a horse-drawn sleigh in snow makes almost no noise. The rhythm of the tune mimics that of a trotting horse's bells. However, "jingle bells" is commonly taken to mean a certain kind of bell.

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight!

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

Although less well-known than the opening, the remaining verses depict high-speed youthful fun. In the second verse, the narrator takes a ride with a girl and loses control of the sleigh:

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.[a]
|: chorus :|

One Horse Open Sleigh
Title page
First half of the chorus
Second half of the chorus and other verses
Musical notations of the original version

In the next verse (which is often skipped), he falls out of the sleigh and a rival laughs at him:

A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow,
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away.
|: chorus :|

In the last verse, after relating his experience, he gives equestrian advice to a friend to pick up some girls, find a faster horse, and take off at full speed:

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty as his speed[b]
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead.
|: chorus :|

Notes to lyrics

  1. ^ An archaic past participle of upset, in this instance meaning "capsized", but was also slang for "drunk or intoxicated", perhaps by association with the British term "sot" (drunkard).
  2. ^ Two forty refers to a mile in two minutes and forty seconds at the trot, or 22.5 miles per hour. This is a good speed, and suggests the horse should be a Standardbred.

Original lyrics[edit]

The 1857 lyrics differed slightly from those we know today. It is unknown who replaced the words with those of the modern version.[7]

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the hills we go
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bobtail ring
Making spirits bright
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

|: chorus :|
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way!
O what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we — we got upsot.
|: chorus :|

A day or two ago
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away,
|: chorus :|

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty is his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! You'll take the lead.
|: chorus :|

Original melody


Performed on Celesta and Violin

Problems playing these files? See media help.

Melody[edit]

The original 1857 "Jingle Bells" had a slightly different chorus featuring a more classical-style melody. The "I V vi iii IV I V I" chord progression is a common theme in classical music; except for the final two chord changes, the melody as originally written follows the same pattern as Pachelbel's Canon, resembling the tune Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, which appeared about fifty years after "Jingle Bells".

The "Jingle Bells" tune is used in French and German songs, although the lyrics are unrelated to the English lyrics. Both celebrate winter fun. The French song, titled "Vive le vent" ("Long Live the Wind"), was written by Francis Blanche[8][9] and contains references to Father Time, Baby New Year, and New Year's Day. There are several German versions of "Jingle Bells", including the popular Roy Black versions of Christkindl and Christmastime.[10]

The Swedish version titled Bjällerklang (Bell Sound) contains a few extra lines, eight bars long, in the chorus which are followed by a repetition of the last two lines of the chorus. Those were added by the Swedish lyricists, Eric Sandström and Gösta Westerberg.

Chorus in Swedish Translation

Bjällerklang, bjällerklang, hör dess dingelidong
Flingor som det virvlar om i munter vintersång
Följ oss ut, följ oss ut, Blacken travar på
I hans spår vår släde går där höga furor står

Vi sitter under fällen och snön omkring oss yr
Och inte förr'n till kvällen vi färden hemåt styr
Bjällerklang, bjällerklang, hör dess dingelidong
Flingor som det virvlar om i munter vintersång

Bell sound, bell sound, hear its dingelidong
Snow flakes that twirl around in joyous winter warble
Follow us out, follow us out, Blackie trots on
In his trails, our sleigh goes where high pines stand

We sit under our pelt and the snow whirls around us
And it is not until the evening, that we will be going home
Bell sound, bell sound, hear its dingelidong
Snow flakes that twirl around in joyous winter warble

Recordings and performances[edit]

James Lord Pierpont's 1857 composition "Jingle Bells" became one of the most performed and most recognizable secular holiday songs ever written, not only in the United States, but around the world. In recognition of this achievement, James Lord Pierpont was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"Jingle Bells" was first recorded by the Edison Male Quartette in 1898 on an Edison cylinder as part of a Christmas medley entitled "Sleigh Ride Party". In 1902, the Hayden Quartet recorded "Jingle Bells".

In 1943, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded "Jingle Bells" as Decca 23281 which reached No. 19 on the charts and sold over a million copies. In 1941, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra with Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and the Modernaires on vocals had a No. 5 hit with "Jingle Bells" on RCA Victor, as Bluebird 11353. In 1935, Benny Goodman and His Orchestra reached No. 18 on the charts with their recording of "Jingle Bells". In 1951, Les Paul had a No. 10 hit with a multi-tracked version on guitar. In 2006, Kimberley Locke had a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart with a recording of the song.

"Jingle Bells" has been performed and recorded by a wide variety of musical artists, including Louis Armstrong, The Beatles, The Chipmunks, Judy Collins, Nat King Cole (also using the melody at the end of his hit song "The Christmas Song"), Perry Como, Plácido Domingo, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Spike Jones, Barry Manilow, The Million Dollar Quartet (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley), NSync, Luciano Pavarotti, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Frank Sinatra, Fats Waller and Yello, among many others.

In 1955, Don Charles, from Copenhagen, Denmark, recorded a novelty version with dogs barking to the melody of "Jingle Bells" as RCA 6344, and a version credited simply to "St. Nick" called "Jingle Bells (Laughing All the Way)" features someone laughing, rather than singing, the entire song.

First song in outer space[edit]

"Jingle Bells" was the first song broadcast from space, in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra. While in space on December 16, 1965, they sent this report to Mission Control:

Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He's in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a ... Very low. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one ... You might just let me try to pick up that thing.[11]

The astronauts then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells and broadcast a rendition of "Jingle Bells."[12][13] The harmonica, shown to the press upon their return, was a Hohner "Little Lady", a tiny harmonica approximately one inch long, by 3/8 of an inch wide.[12]

Parodies and homages[edit]

Like many simple, catchy and popular melodies, "Jingle Bells" is often the subject of parody. "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" has been a well-known parody since the mid-1960s,[14] with many variations on the lyrics.[15] Bart Simpson sings this version on The Simpsons, the first time being on "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire".[16] The Joker himself also sings it in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas With the Joker" right before he "got away". These lyrics were included in the 2013 film Prisoners starring Hugh Jackman. In addition, comedian Phil Snyder recorded a full-length version of the song, adding new verses utilising other comic superheroes.[17] This same parody was also done in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with the lyrics being changed to match the context of Mermaidman and Barnacleboy.

Parodies or novelty versions of "Jingle Bells" have been recorded by many artists, and include Yogi Yorgesson's "Yingle Bells," Da Yoopers' "Rusty Chevrolet," Bucko and Champs' "Aussie Jingle Bells", The Three Stooges' "Jingle Bell Drag" and Jeff Dunham's "Jingle Bombs", performed in his "Achmed the Dead Terrorist" sketch. Another popular spoof of the song is "Pumpkin Bells", a "Pumpkin Carol" which celebrates Halloween and the "Great Pumpkin". It originated in the Peanuts series of TV specials.

"Jingle Bell Rock" by Bobby Helms pays homage to "Jingle Bells", directly referencing the source song's lyrics, but with a different melody. Originally recorded and released by Helms in a rockabilly style, "Jingle Bell Rock" has itself since become a Christmas standard.[18]

In the Brian Setzer Orchestra version of the song, the first occurrence of "one-horse open sleigh" in the chorus is changed to "'57 Chevrolet", most likely to better suit the band's throwback rock 'n' roll/big band style.

The first notes in the chorus have become a motif that has been inserted into recordings other Christmas songs, most notably a guitar passage at the end of Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and Clarence Clemons performing a saxophone solo in the middle of Bruce Springsteen's "Merry Christmas Baby"; a piano is also heard playing these notes at the end of Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Browne, Ray B. and Browne, Pat. The Guide to United States Popular Culture Popular Press, 2001. ISBN 0879728213. p.171
  2. ^ Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas Zondervan, 2004. ISBN 0310264480. p.104.
  3. ^ "Jingle Bells (Christmas Read-Aloud Stories, Carols, & more)". Reader's Digest. Retrieved November 19, 2010. 
  4. ^ Wook Kim (December 17, 2012). "Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Beloved Holiday Songs". TIME. "Jingle Bells" (p. 2)
  5. ^ "J. Pierpont, "One Horse Open Sleigh", Boston: Oliver Ditson & Co., deposited 1857 with Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 26, 2006. 
  6. ^ "James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) Author of 'Jingle Bells'" on the Hymns and Carols of Christmas website
  7. ^ a b James J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music, Fifth Edition, Dover Publications (New York), p. 313.
  8. ^ "Vive le vent (French chorus and literal English translation)". About.com. Retrieved December 26, 2006. 
  9. ^ "Vive le vent (with verses and augmented refrain)". Paroles.net. Retrieved December 26, 2006. 
  10. ^ "Roy Black, "Jingle Bells" (German lyrics and literal English translation)". About.com. Retrieved December 26, 2006. 
  11. ^ "Gemini VI Voice Communications". NASA.  p. 116, timestamp 23:57:30.
  12. ^ a b Smithsonian Magazine. December 2005. pp. 25.
  13. ^ "The song from Outer Space". YouTube.com. December 12, 2011. 
  14. ^ Studwell, William Emmett (1994). The Popular Song Reader: A Sampler of Well-Known Twentieth Century-Songs. Psychology Press. p. 224. 
  15. ^ Bronner, Simon J. (1988). American Children's Folklore. August House. p. 105. 
  16. ^ Groening, Matt (2001). The Simpsons season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 
  17. ^ "'Jingle Bells Batman Smells' Christmas Song with New Verses by Phil Snyder". YouTube. 2009. 
  18. ^ Collins, Ace (2010). Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas. Zondervan. pp. 101–103. 

External links[edit]