"Sleigh Ride" is a popular light orchestral Christmas music standard composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946 and finished the work in February 1948. It was originally an instrumental piece; the lyrics, about someone asking another to join them for a ride in a sleigh, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Sleigh Ride was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. The Pops has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor.
The melody of the main strain of the tune was used (with no credit for Anderson) as the main theme of Victor Young's score for the 1949 western Streets of Laredo; Mitchell Parrish had worked with Young around this time, having recently written lyrics for Young's version of Hoagy Carmichael's previously instrumental number "Stardust".
In 1950 The Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal version.
Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas, and appears on Christmas compilation albums, the song's lyrics mention no holiday or religion (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). The song is noted for the sound of the horses' clip-clopping, as well as the sound of the whips used to get the horses moving. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet makes the sound of the horse whinnying. The Ronettes' version makes use of the clip-clopping as well as the sound of a recorded horse whinnying, heard at the beginning and end of the song.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most-performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide.
ASCAP named "Sleigh Ride" the most popular piece of Christmas music in the USA for the four consecutive years 2009 through 2012, based on performance data tracked by airplay monitoring service, Mediaguide, from over 2,500 radio stations nationwide. Anderson's recording remains the most popular instrumental version, while Johnny Mathis's recording has become the most popular vocal version.
According to author Steve Metcalf, in his book, Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography [Praeger 2004], "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."
The piece is in rondo form. The middle section utilizes an unusual, unprepared modulation to III, then to II. The difficulty of singing this has caused several recordings to alter the harmonies or omit the section altogether, as in the Phil Spector/Ronettes version.
- 1949 – Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. The original hit recording, this version has never been available on CD. Other Boston Pops recordings have been made under conductors Fiedler (1959, 1970, and 1972), John Williams (1991), and Keith Lockhart (1998 and 2003).
- 1950 – Leroy Anderson. The Decca Gold Label Series singles (#16000), both 45 and 78 rpm, referenced above were not issued as individual records. They were part of the four-disc set Leroy Anderson Conducts His Own Compositions. Anderson rerecorded "Sleigh Ride" in stereo for the 1959 Decca LP Leroy Anderson Conducts Leroy Anderson.
- 1950 – The Andrews Sisters. This was the first vocal version.
- 1952 – Bing Crosby recorded it on October 3, 1952 for Decca Records.
- 1954 – Ferrante & Teicher – Xmas Hi-Fivories.
- 1958 – Johnny Mathis – Merry Christmas.
- 1959 – Arthur Fiedler – Pops Christmas Party. This stereo re-recording of the original 1949 version is the one most familiar to listeners all over the world.
- 1960 – Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.
- 1963 – The Ronettes – A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. This recording has since become the most popular version of the song outside the traditional pop standard genre, charting in the top 10 yearly on the Billboard US Holiday 100. It features the well-known "Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong-ding" background vocals and the clip-clopping sounds with the whinnying cry of a horse, heard at the beginning and the conclusion of the song.
- 1965 – Andy Williams – Merry Christmas.
- 1965 – The Ventures – The Ventures' Christmas Album.
- 1977 - Bing Crosby - Seasons
- 1983 – Amy Grant - A Christmas Album
- 1988 – Alexander O'Neal – My Gift to You.
- 1992 – TLC – Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – Original Soundtrack Album.
- 1992 – Debbie Gibson – A Very Special Christmas 2.
- 1995 – Glen Campbell - Christmas with Glen Campbell
- 1997 – Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra — Holiday Pops (with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver conductor).
- 1998 – James Allen Gähres – Christmas concert with the Ulm Philharmonic.
- 1998 – Squirrel Nut Zippers - Christmas Caravan
- 2001 - Hi-5 - It's a Hi-5 Christmas
- 2002 – Los Straitjackets recorded an instrumental surf version on 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets!.
- 2005 – Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra — Sleigh Ride (instrumental version only).
- 2008 – Béla Fleck and the Flecktones – Jingle All the Way. This rendition was nominated for the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.
- 2012 – fun. – Holidays Rule.
- 2012 – R.A. The Rugged Man - "Crustified Christmas" (sample)
- 2013 – Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra — A Boston Pops Christmas—Live from Symphony Hall with Keith Lockhart (instrumental version; live version).
- Currier & Ives was a popular printing company in the 19th century. The company closed in 1907, 43 years before the song's lyrics were written.
- The whip cracks are made by a percussionist, preferably with a slapstick, occasionally with rimshots.
Classical "Sleigh Ride" pieces
"Die Schlittenfahrt (Sleigh Ride)" is also the popular name of one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Three German Dances. The composition is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Wolfgang's father, Leopold Mozart (whose own Divertimento in F major is popularly known as "Musical Sleigh Ride").
The "Winter Night" segment of Frederick Delius's Three Small Tonepoems is also commonly known as "Sleigh Ride".
"Caribbean Sleigh Ride" is a work for symphony orchestra by Robert Wendel in the style of a Latin a "fast merengue" dance.
- Christmas in New England, Commonwealth Editions 2006, pages 116-121
- Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography, Praeger 2004, chapter 2 - "Compositions", pages 25-81.
- ASCAP Announces Top 25 Holiday Songs – "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting ...)" Tops List
- "ASCAP Members Reign Over Top Ten Most-Played Holiday Songs List". ASCAP.
- Wieland, William. "Listen for Form Answer Key". Northern State University. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
- "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved May 10, 2017.