The Christmas Song
|"The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)"|
|Single by The King Cole Trio|
|B-side||"In the Cool of Evening" (Capitol 311)
"Laguna Mood" (Capitol 15201)
"(All I Want for Christmas Is) My Two Front Teeth" (Capitol F90036; Capitol F2955)
"The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot" (Capitol 3561)
|Recorded||August 19, 1946
August 26, 1953
|Genre||Christmas, jazz, pop|
|Length||3:10 (1946 recording)
3:12 (1953 recording)
|Label||Capitol 311 (1946)
Capitol 15201 (1948)
Capitol F90036 (1953)
Capitol F2955 (1954)
Capitol 3561 (1956)
"The Christmas Song" (commonly subtitled "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" or, as it was originally subtitled, "Merry Christmas to You") is a classic Christmas song written in 1944 by musician, composer, and vocalist Mel Tormé (aka The Velvet Fog), and Bob Wells. According to Tormé, the song was written during a blistering hot summer. In an effort to "stay cool by thinking cool", the most-performed (according to BMI) Christmas song was born.
"I saw a spiral pad on his piano with four lines written in pencil", Tormé recalled. "They started, "Chestnuts roasting..., Jack Frost nipping..., Yuletide carols..., Folks dressed up like Eskimos.' Bob (Wells, co-writer) didn't think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. "I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics."
The Nat King Cole Trio first recorded the song early in 1946. At Cole's behest – and over the objections of his label, Capitol Records – a second recording was made the same year utilizing a small string section, this version becoming a massive hit on both the pop and R&B charts. Cole again recorded the song in 1953, using the same arrangement with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and once more in 1961, in a stereophonic version with orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. Nat King Cole's 1961 version is generally regarded as definitive, and in 2004 was the most loved seasonal song with women aged 30–49, while Cole's original 1946 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.
Nat King Cole recordings 
First recording: Recorded at WMCA Radio Studios, New York City, June 14, 1946. Label credit: The King Cole Trio (Nat King Cole, vocal-pianist; Oscar Moore, guitarist; Johnny Miller, bassist). Not issued until 1989, when it was (accidentally) included on the various-artists compilation Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits (1935–1954) Rhino R1 70637(LP) / R2 70637(CD).
Second recording: Recorded at WMCA Radio Studios, New York City, August 19, 1946. First record issue. Label credit: The King Cole Trio with String Choir (Nat King Cole, vocal-pianist, Oscar Moore, guitarist; Johnny Miller, bassist; Charlie Grean, conductor of 4 string players, a harpist and a drummer) Lacquer disc master #981. Issued November 1946 as Capitol 311 (78rpm). This is featured on a CD called The Holiday Album, which has 1940s Christmas songs recorded by Cole and Bing Crosby.
Third recording: Recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, August 24, 1953. This was the song's first magnetic tape recording. Label credit: The King Cole Trio with String Choir (Actual artists: Nat King Cole, vocal; Nelson Riddle, orchestra conductor) Master #11726, take 11. Issued November 1953 as the "new" Capitol 90036(78rpm) / F90036(45rpm) (Capitol first issued 90036 in 1950 with the second recording). Correct label credit issued on October 18, 1954 as Capitol 2955(78rpm) / F2955(45rpm). Label credit: Nat "King" Cole with Orchestra Conducted by Nelson Riddle. This recording is available on the 1990 CD Cole, Christmas and Kids, as well as the various-artists compilation Casey Kasem Presents All Time Christmas Favorites. It was also included, along with both 1946 recordings, on the 1991 Mosaic Records box set The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio.
Fourth recording: Recorded at Capitol Studios, New York City, March 30, 1961. This rendition, the first recorded in stereo, is widely played on radio stations during the Christmas season, and is probably the most famous version of this song. Label credit: Nat King Cole (Nat King Cole, vocal; Charles Grean and Pete Rugolo, orchestration; Ralph Carmichael, orchestra conductor). The instrumental arrangement is nearly identical to the 1953 version, but the vocals are much deeper and more focused. Originally done for The Nat King Cole Story (a 1961 LP devoted to stereo re-recordings of Cole's earlier hits), this recording was later included in a reissue of Cole's 1960 holiday album The Magic of Christmas replacing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. Retitled The Christmas Song, the album was issued in 1962 as Capitol W-1967(mono) / SW-1967(stereo) and today is in print on compact disc. This recording of "The Christmas Song" is also available on numerous compilation albums. Some are Capitol pop standards Christmas compilations while others are broader-based. For example, it is available on WCBS-FM's Ultimate Christmas Album Volume 3. This recording was digitally remastered in 1999 and reissued as the title track in the album The Christmas Song, released September 27, 2005.
There were several covers of Nat Cole's original record in the 1940s. The first of these was said to be by Dick Haymes on the Decca label, but his was released first – not recorded first. The first cover of "The Christmas Song" was performed by pop tenor and bandleader Eddy Howard on Majestic. Howard was a big Cole fan, and also covered Nat's versions of "I Want to Thank Your Folks" and "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons", among others.
Mel Tormé recordings 
Mel Tormé himself made several recordings of the song, including in 1954 (for his live Coral Records album At the Crescendo), 1961 (for his Verve Records album My Kind of Music), 1966 (for a Columbia Records Christmas single), and 1992 (for his Telarc Records album Christmas Songs).
Selective list of notable recordings 
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"The Christmas Song" has been covered by numerous artists from a wide variety of genres, including:
- Trace Adkins
- Christina Aguilera (from her third studio album, My Kind of Christmas (2001); No. 18 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart; No. 22 on the Canadian RPM Top 100 Singles chart)
- Clay Aiken
- Diana Ross
- Julie Andrews
- Herb Alpert
- Thomas Anders
- India.Arie and Stevie Wonder (winner of the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2003)
- Tony Bennett
- Polly Bergen (who sang the song on the December 14, 1957 airing of her NBC variety show, The Polly Bergen Show)
- Justin Bieber and Usher (#58 in US, #59 in Canada) from Bieber's album Under the Mistletoe (2011)
- Big Bird and The Swedish Chef (A Muppet Family Christmas)
- Andrea Bocelli and Natalie Cole
- Michael Bolton
- Toni Braxton
- Garth Brooks
- James Brown
- Les Brown and his Orchestra (with Doris Day on lead vocal)
- Michael Bublé (his version, bearing close similarities to Celine Dion's recording of the song, reached #6 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in December 2003.)
- Kenny Burrell
- Colbie Caillat (from her 2012 Christmas album Christmas In The Sand)
- Royce Campbell
- The Canadian Brass (from their 1985 Christmas album A Canadian Brass Christmas)
- The Carpenters (from their 1978 Christmas album Christmas Portrait)
- Cascada (from their 2012 Christmas album It's Christmas Time)
- Celtic Woman
- Christmas Who? (a SpongeBob Christmas special. SpongeBob and Patrick in a Christmas song sing as a lyric "...chestnuts roasting and burns in the third degree" before the ending of their song.)
- Charlotte Church (Dream a Dream, 2000)
- Rosemary Clooney
- Natalie Cole
- Bing Crosby
- Sheryl Crow (#24 in US Adult Contemporary)
- Daffy Duck
- Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass (1970)
- Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Doris Day (from her 1964 Christmas album The Doris Day Christmas Album)
- Gavin DeGraw
- Celine Dion (from her 1998 Christmas album These Are Special Times)
- Vanessa Doofenshmirtz (voiced by Olivia Olson on the album Phineas and Ferb Holiday Favorites)
- Bob Dylan
- Gloria Estefan
- Connie Francis
- Aretha Franklin
- Judy Garland, who sang the song in a duet with its composer, Mel Torme, on a Christmas-themed episode of her television show in December 1963.
- Robert Goulet
- Ariana Grande and Elizabeth Gillies
- Amy Grant (from her 1983 Christmas album A Christmas Album)
- Cee Lo Green (from his 2012 Christmas album Cee Lo's Magic Moment)
- Josh Groban (from his 2007 holiday album, Noël)
- Vince Guaraldi Trio
- Hampton String Quartet
- Eddie Higgins
- Hollyridge Strings
- Hootie and the Blowfish
- Whitney Houston
- Ramon "RJ" Jacinto (from his 1988 Christmas album Pasko Na Naman)
- Alan Jackson (from his 2007 Christmas album Let It Be Christmas)
- The Jackson 5
- Joni James (from her 1956 Merry Christmas from Joni). Joni's version alters the lyric: "I'm offering this simple phrase, for kids from one to ninety-two" to "... kids from one to ninety-one".
- Al Jarreau
- Wynonna Judd
- Toby Keith
- Peggy Lee
- Damien Leith (from a special limited Christmas edition of his 2007 album Where We Land)
- The Lettermen
- Demi Lovato
- The Manhattan Transfer (with Tony Bennett)
- Barry Manilow
- Aimee Mann (from her 2006 album One More Drifter in the Snow)
- Richard Marx
- Johnny Mathis
- Martina McBride
- Paul McCartney (from the 2012 albums Kisses on the Bottom – Complete Kisses and Holidays Rule, released as a single and peaked at number 25 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.)
- Reba McEntire
- Brian McKnight
- Ricky Nelson (on the episode of TV's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet titled "A Busy Christmas")
- Aaron Neville
- New Kids on the Block
- Des O'Connor (from a Tesco Christmas advert)
- Alexander O'Neal
- Olivia Olson (from a 2010 Christmas album Phineas and Ferb: Holiday Favourites)
- The Partridge Family (from their 1971 Christmas album A Partridge Family Christmas Card)
- Les Paul
- CeCe Peniston (from the 1996 Christmas album Merry Arizona II: Desert Stars Shine at Christmas)
- LeAnn Rimes (on her first holiday album What a Wonderful World)
- Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (from their 1963 Christmas album Christmas with The Miracles)
- Linda Ronstadt (from her 2000 Christmas album A Merry Little Christmas)
- Kenny Rogers
- Diane Schuur (nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female in 1990)
- Neil Sedaka (from his 2008 first-ever holiday album, The Miracle of Christmas)
- She & Him (from their 2011 Christmas album A Very She & Him Christmas)
- Jessica Simpson
- Frank Sinatra (including two recordings: a virtual duet with Nat King Cole, and an actual duet with Bing Crosby)
- Tom Smith (of the Editors) and Agnes Obel (on the 2011 Smith and Burrows album, Funny Looking Angels)
- Rod Stewart (on the deluxe edition of his 2012 holiday album Merry Christmas, Baby)
- George Strait
- Barbra Streisand (from her 1967 album A Christmas Album)
- Donna Summer
- The Supremes (remained unreleased until their 1965 Christmas album, Merry Christmas, was re-released in 1999 with additional tracks)
- Kim Taeyeon (of the South Korean pop group Girls' Generation)
- Take 6
- James Taylor
- Team Rocket (voiced by Rachael Lillis, Eric Stewart and Maddie Blaustein on the album Pokémon Christmas Bash)
- The Temptations
- Mel Tormé – recorded by the writer four times (1954, 1961, 1966 and finally in 1992 as part of his album "Christmas Songs")
- Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- Luther Vandross
- Andy Williams
- Stevie Wonder (from his 1967 Christmas album Someday at Christmas)
- Dwight Yoakam
- ASCAP entry for song showing numerous other covers
- The title of The Simpsons episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is a parody of the song.
- Bob Rivers parodied the song with his 2000 album, and the title track from said album, "Chipmunks Roasting On an Open Fire".
- Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$" includes several snippets of holiday songs. One segment begins with a sincere-sounding "Chestnuts roasting..." and quickly segués into a mock 1950s radio or TV ad, for a brand of chestnuts, being described as if they were toothpaste or cigarettes.
- Twisted Sister parodied the song in their 2006 album A Twisted Christmas.
- Ariana Grande and Elizabeth Gillies parodied the song in 2011.
- Taylor Schlicht parodied the song in 2012.
- Wook Kim (Dec. 17, 2012). "Yule Laugh, Yule Cry: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Beloved Holiday Songs (With holiday cheer in the air, TIME takes a closer look at some of the weird stories behind our favorite seasonal tunes)". TIME. - "The Christmas Song" (p. 4)
- Edison Media Research: What We Learned From Testing Christmas Music in 2004 Retrieved November 29, 2011
- Grammy Hall of Fame Retrieved November 29, 2011
- "The Polly Bergen Show". Classic Television Archives. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- "New Release - 'Kisses On The Bottom - Complete Kisses' - Paul McCartney Official Website". paulmccartney.com. 11 December 2012. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
- Thomas, Fred. "Holidays Rule - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
- "Paul McCartney Music News & Info". Billboard. Retrieved 27 November 2012.