The Christmas Song

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"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)
Released November 1946 (1946-11)
November 1953 (1953-11)
Format 10-inch, 7-inch
Recorded August 19, 1946 (1946-08-19)
August 26, 1953 (1953-08-26)
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)
Writer(s) Robert Wells,
Mel Tormé

"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 Bob Wells and Mel Tormé. 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.[1] "I saw a spiral pad on his (Wells') piano with four lines written in pencil", Tormé recalled. "They started, 'Chestnuts roasting..., Jack Frost nipping..., Yuletide carols..., Folks dressed up like Eskimos.' Bob 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,[2] while Cole's original 1946 recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.[3]

Nat King Cole recordings[edit]

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[edit]

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), 1990 (in a medley with "Autumn Leaves", for his live Concord Records album Mel Tormé Live at the Fujitsu–Concord Festival 1990), and 1992 (for his Telarc Records album Christmas Songs).

Selective list of notable recordings[edit]

Peniston recorded the composition for the Merry Arizona II: Desert Stars Shine at Christmas compilation in 1996.

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"The Christmas Song" has been covered by numerous artists from a wide variety of genres, including:

Parodies[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]