1950s EASY-POP Songs and Singers...on the verge of Rock 'n Roll
Classic EASY-POP Christmas Songs
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) Recorded by Nat King Cole in 1956 Music & lyrics by Mel Torme & Robert Wells
Torme, the supper-club singer known as ‘the Velvet Fog,’ co-wrote the
classic Yuletide season song with roasting chestnuts, carolers, a
nipping Jack Frost, and people dressed like Eskimos. Mel Torme recorded the song in 1946 and Nat King Cole recorded an even more successful version a decade later.
The Christmas Waltz Recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957 Music & lyrics by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
Sinatra approached the successful songwriting team of Sammy Cahn and
Jule Styne to write a song for his Christmas album with Gordon Jenkins
Orchestra. Although reluctant to create another holiday song they
imagined a gliding waltz of ‘frosted window panes’ and ‘gleaming
candles’ in ¾ time. Doris Day also recorded a memorable version.
Frosty the Snowman Recorded by Gene Autry in 1950 Music & lyrics by Steven Nelson & Jack Rollins
songwriters had already created the Easter character Peter Cottontail
before they imagined Frosty’s hat, corncob pipe, and button nose. Nat
King Cole, Jimmy Durante, and others recorded versions, but cowboy
movie star Gene Autry’s was the million-seller.
Happy Holiday Recorded by Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in 1942 Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
the classic White Christmas is the best-known yuletide song from the
film ‘Holiday Inn,’ Irving Berlin also wrote Happy Holiday for the
film. Jo Stafford had a hit recording of the song in the late forties
and Peggy Lee had a hit in the early sixties.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Recorded by Judy Garland in 1944 Music & lyrics by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
original musical score for ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ included the Trolley
Song and this haunting little Christmas song that liquid-eyed Judy
Garland, with a quiver in her lips, sang to Margaret O’Brien. It is one
of the saddest Christmas songs of the century.
Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) Recorded by Gene Autry in 1947 Music & lyrics by Gene Autry & Oakley Haldeman
Christmas song that contributed to Gene Autry’s fame was written by
‘The Singing Cowboy’ himself. This was his and Oakley Haldeman’s salute
to the holiday season and Santa Claus in 1947. His recording of the
song was a huge hit, as was the recording by Bing Crosby and the
(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays Recorded by Perry Como in 1955 Music by Robert Allen, lyrics by Al Stillman
known for writing ballads like Chances Are for Johnny Mathis and
Moments to Remember for the Four Lads, Al Stillman and Robert Allen
turned their attention to Christmas for this Perry Como hit. You can’t
beat home for the holidays.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943 Music by Walter Kent, lyrics by Kim Gannon
During World War II, many Americans spent Christmas away from loved ones—this is their wish for a reunion. Bing Crosby’s 1943 record, with John Scott Trotter’s Orchestra, was a million-seller. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley had hit recordings in the fifties.
It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas Recorded by Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters in 1952 Music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Meredith Willson is better know as the composer of the 1957 Broadway hit ‘The Music Man.’ Before that, however, he wrote the warmly melodic song It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas, with toys in stores, candy canes, and holly on doors.
It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Recorded by Andy Williams in 1963 Music & lyrics by George Wyle & Eddie Pola
Joy explodes in Andy William’s exuberant It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The anticipation and excitement of Christmas is captured with kids jingle belling, hearts glowing, and loved ones near. An easygoing style and creamy delivery convey a holiday greeting in the happiest season of all.
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Recorded by Vaughn Monroe in 1945 Music & lyrics by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne
The cozy classic, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, was written by Broadway’s famed songwriters, Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. The Norton Sisters backed big-voiced baritone/ bandleader, Vaughn Monroe, on the popular version of this hit.
Marshmallow World Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1951 and by Johnny Mathis in 1963 Music by Peter De Rose, lyrics by Carl Sigman
Peter De Rose, who also wrote the lushly romantic Deep Purple, created the sparkling melody for A Marshmallow World. Carl Sigman contributed a delicious lyric about marshmallows, whipped cream, and a blanket of snow for Christmas. Recordings by Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis were the most successful of several contenders.
Mistletoe & Holly Recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957 Music & lyrics by Frank Sinatra, Henry Sanicola, & Dok Stanford
Frank Sinatra co-wrote Mistletoe & Holly. The charming holiday song, with the Ralph Brewster Singers and orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins, was co-authored with Dok Stanford and Hank Sanicola, with whom Frank Sinatra collaborated on other songs.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 Music & lyrics by Johnny Marks & Robert May
Rudolph was born as a promotion gimmick for Montgomery Ward department stores. Copywriter Robert May wrote the original poem and along with his brother-in-law, veteran composer Johnny Marks, they came up with the jaunty, jingle-like tune. Gene Autry’s version is the second biggest-selling record after Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
Santa Claus is Coming To Town Recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1947 Music & lyrics by J. Fred (John Frederick) Coots & Henry Gillespie
The opening line, “You better watch out,” is the attention-getting promise of a coming Christmas visit. Eddie Cantor originally preformed the bouncy and catchy melody on his radio show in 1934. It was one of the first pop hit Christmas songs and dozens of artists have recorded it.
Silver Bells Recorded by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1953 Music & lyrics by Jay Livingston & Raymond Evans
Silver Bells was introduced by curvaceous Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope in the 1951 film ‘The Lemon Drop Kid.’ You can just visualize “shoppers rushing home with their treasures” on Bing Crosby’s recording—he’s teamed with Carol Richards, best known for dubbing vocals for MGM movie stars, like Cyd Charisse, in 1950s musical films.
Sleigh Ride Recorded by the Boston Pops in 1949 Music by Leroy Anderson, lyrics by Mitchell Parish
Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is a brisk Christmastime classic. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, for whom Anderson was an arranger, first performed the song, delighting the audience recreating clip-clops, bells, and horse whinnies. Mitchell Parish provided the charming, homey, celebratory lyrics.
There’s No Christmas Like a Home Christmas Recorded by Perry Como in 1950 and again in 1968 Music & lyrics by Carl Sigman & Mickey J. Addy
Carl Sigman, who wrote the lyrics for A Marshmallow World, describes the Yuletide spirit—Christmas bells ringing and roads leading home when you’ve been away. The record was the ‘B’ side of Perry Como’s It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas with the Fontane Sisters. He re-recorded it in 1968, backed by the Ray Charles Singers.
White Christmas Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1942 Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Every Christmas, Bing Crosby is heard singing White Christmas, the best selling record of all time. Written in 1942 for the film ‘Holiday Inn’ during World War II, White Christmas was so popular that it reappeared on the pop charts every December throughout the 1950s and sold more than 30 million copies.
White World of Winter Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1964 Music & lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael & Mitchell Parish
Backed by Sonny Burke’s orchestra, White World of Winter was one of Bing Crosby’s last, one of his best, and most overlooked holiday recordings. He’s having a wonderful time squeezin’ in a toboggan, skating on Lake Happy, and skiing down Old Baldy. Writers Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish are best known for their classic Stardust.
Winter Wonderland Recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1958 Music & lyrics by Felix Bernard & Richard B. Smith
Regarded as a Christmas song due to its seasonal theme, the holiday itself is never mentioned in the lyrics written in 1934 when parsons often traveled to small towns to perform wedding ceremonies. Guy Lombardo and Johnny Mercer also had hit records.
Non-Traditional Christmas Hits
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth Recorded by Spike Jones and his City Slickers in 1949 Music and lyrics by Don Gardner
lyrics of this novelty Christmas song, supposedly sung by a lisping child, initially delighted the audience on Perry Como’s radio show and that led to a smash record by musical madcap Spike Jones. The song still generates smiles today.
Blue Christmas Recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957 & 1964 Music & lyrics by Bill Hayes & Jay Johnson
love is a familiar theme to country fans and Christmas gives it a poignant twist. Blue Christmas was written in 1948 and country singer Ernest Tubb made it a hit that year. Elvis Presley, the Browns, and Hugo Winterhalter had popular fifties versions.
The Chipmunk Song Christmas Don’t Be Late Recorded by David Seville (Ross Bagdasarian) and the Chipmunks in 1958 Music and lyrics by Ross Bagdasarian
actor, Ross Bagdasarian, calling himself David Seville created the
three ‘Chipmunks’ named for Liberty Records executives Alvin Bennett,
Simon Waronker, and Theodore Keep. Recording voices at slow speed and
playing them back at higher speed gave the chipmunks their sound.
Do You Hear What I Hear Recorded by Bing Crosby and by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1962 Music by Gloria Shayne, lyrics by Noel Regney
Regney, a resistance fighter in France, wrote a poem about the first
Christmas, he gave it to his wife Gloria Shayne, who had written the
1961 James Darren hit Goodbye Cruel World, to create a contemporary
melody. Harry Simeone arranged the music.
A Holly Jolly Christmas Recorded by Burl Ives in 1962 Music and lyrics by Johnny Marks
this effervescent song was popularized by Burl Ives, portraying the
narrator, Sam the Snowman, in the animated television classic ‘Rudolph
the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ it had been recorded earlier in the year by
the six Quinto Sisters.
I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day Recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1958 Music by Johnny Marks, words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
at his desk after his wife’s tragic death, listening to church bells
peal, librarian Henry Longfellow recognized the promise of Christmas.
Johnny Marks adapted the poet’s words of hope and provided the modern
musical setting. In addition to Harry Belafonte’s hit, Bing Crosby,
Kate Smith, and Frank Sinatra recorded versions.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus Recorded by Jimmy Boyd in 1952 Music and lyrics by Thomas P. ‘Tommie’ Connor
have dressed up for years in white beards and red suits at Christmas to
make their children think that the real Santa Claus has arrived.
Twelve-year-old Jimmy Boyd recorded a version of this catchy little
song of naiveté that sold nearly 2 million copies the first year. Zany
Spike Jones recorded a popular version too.
Jingle Bell Rock Recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957 Music & lyrics by Joseph Beal & James Boothe
Jingle Bell Rock was written one hundred years after James Pierpont’s 1857 Jingle Bells. New England public relations man, Joe Beal, and Texas advertising writer, Jim Boothe, collaborated on this unique best-seller for 21-year-old rockabilly singer Bobby Helms.
Little Drummer Boy Recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958 Music & lyrics by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, & Harry Simeone
Fred Waring’s conductor-assistant, Harry Simeone, co-wrote The Little Drummer Boy. A poor shepherd boy makes his way to the manger in Bethlehem to present his simple song as a gift to the infant. The gentle boy’s drumbeat accompanies the whole touching carol.
Mary’s Boy Child Recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956 Music and lyrics by Jester Hairston
Folksinger Harry Belafonte popularized Mary’s Boy Child, written by his friend Jester Hairston in the idiom of the West Indies. Based on Afro-American spirituals and folk material, Mary’s Boy Child, is the story of Jesus’ birth made vivid in its calypso rhythm. The pop group, Boney M, released a rousing version of Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord in 1978.
Pretty Paper Recorded by Roy Orbison in 1963 Music and lyrics by Willie Nelson
Versatile performer and songwriter Willie Nelson’s compassion for the downtrodden and disadvantaged is clear in this moving Christmas song. Happy busy shoppers rush by the pauper selling pencils, ribbons, and Pretty Paper. Texas rockabilly singer, Roy Orbison, recorded the best-selling hit, but composer Willie Nelson released a touching version too.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree Recorded by Brenda Lee in 1958 Music and lyrics by Johnny Marks
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree is another Johnny Marks holiday favorite. In 1958, rock ‘n’ roll was affecting even Christmas—in a “new old-fashioned way”—and Brenda Lee’s joyful, catchy recording was a top-twenty hit for ‘Little Miss Dynamite.’
Santa Baby Recorded by Eartha Kitt in 1953 Music & lyrics by Joan Javits, Phil Springer, & Tony Springer
Sultry siren Eartha Kitt purred her sensual, materialistic Christmas wish list to a sugar-daddy Santa Baby. With orchestral backing by Henri Rene, it was a top-five hit in 1953 and it was the biggest hit in the career of this bluesy American-born singer.
Santo Natale Recorded by David Whitfield in 1954 Music & lyrics by Dick Manning, Belle Nardone, & Al Hoffman
Popular British tenor David Whitfield had a top-ten hit recording with Cara Mia and a top-twenty hit with this merry Christmas song in 1954. The accompaniment was by Stanley Black and his Orchestra. Patti Page also had a popular recording of the song.
No musical era produced the quantity of memorable Christmas-season
classics as the post-war years. These songs wait to be re-discovered
each winter. The idealistic lyrics, upbeat arrangements, and familiar
vocalists in the fifties, uniquely suited the holidays. Maybe the only
time it is considered fashionable today to listen to ‘old-fashioned’
fifties music is during the magical Christmas season.
Holiday songs are an essential part of the season’s magic. It’s impossible to imagine the Christmas holidays without Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Perry Como’s folksy It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, There’s No Christmas Like a Home Christmas and (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays conjure up fond Norman Rockwell style images. Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride recall images of a cold starry night.
The best selling record of all time, White Christmas, first topped the charts in 1942. Bing Crosby introduced it in the film ‘Holiday Inn.’ His recording was so popular that it reappeared on the charts every December for twenty years. Its popularity was renewed when Bing Crosby, along with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen reprised it in the 1955 musical ‘White Christmas.’ Not only did Bing Crosby’s White Christmas top the charts each holiday season, so did his optimistic soldier boy lament I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Cowboy singer Gene Autry recorded the best-known version of Here Comes Santa Claus where he etched his own folksy, down-home pronunciation of ‘Sanny Claus’ in our minds. What is not so well known is that he also wrote the song. We don’t think of Frank Sinatra as a songwriter either. “Yes, by gosh, by golly—it’s time for mistletoe and holly” are the lyrics we remember from Frank Sinatra’s recording of Mistletoe and Holly but we forget that he wrote the song as well.
Most prolific of post-war Christmas-song writers was Johnny Marks. He collaborated with his brother-in-law to create Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and went on to write Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and Holly, Jolly Christmas.
In 1952, Buddy Pepper and Inez James wrote the peppy Christmas song Ol’ Saint Nicholas for Doris Day to sing at a Christmas family gathering in the Doris Day/Ronald Reagan baseball biopic ‘The Winning Team.’ Then, on her 1959 Christmas album, Doris Day released what many critics call the very best Christmas recording from the fifties, her gentle, dreamy Toyland from Victor Herbert’s operetta ‘Babes in Toyland.’
Record companies, capitalizing on the 33 1/3 rpm record format, had their singers assemble a dozen holiday favorites on a long-playing disc. Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Connie Francis, Joni James, Dean Martin, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Williams all recorded Christmas albums.
Dozens of post-war holiday songs are immediately recognizable but even more are nearly forgotten. English tenor David Whitfield and Patti Page both recorded Santo Natale. Irish tenor Dennis Day as well as Percy Faith’s Orchestra with the Shillelagh Singers both recorded Christmas in Killarney. All four were successful in the fifties but rarely heard today. You’re All I Want for Christmas was a top-twenty hit for Frankie Laine in 1948 and for Eddie Fisher in 1953—his version even prompted Betty Johnson’s 1954 response record I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas!
Some fifties Christmas recordings have virtually disappeared including Eddie Fisher’s Christmas Day, the DeCastro Sisters’ Snowbound for Christmas, Jimmy Dean’s Little Sandy Sleighfoot, Jimmie Rodgers’ It’s Christmas Once Again, and the song Christmas Alphabet recorded by the McGuire Sisters and by Dickie Valentine in 1955. Still more obscure are Tommy Edwards’ Kris Kringle, Ruby Wright’s Let’s Light the Christmas Tree, and Patti Page’s Where Did My Snowman Go? Even Rosemary Clooney couldn’t create a holiday classic with her recording of Suzy Snowflake nor with her version of the official 1954 Christmas Seal song Happy Christmas Little Friend written by Rodgers & Hammerstein.
The light-hearted fun of the Christmas season lent itself to the recording of several novelty tunes. In 1958, Liberty Records released The Chipmunk Song – Christmas Don’t Be Late by David Seville and the Chipmunks. He had used the technique of recording voices at a slow speed and playing back at a higher speed in his novelty recording Witch Doctor the year before. In 1959, Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous released the similarly themed novelty record Happy Reindeer.
Earlier in the decade, eleven-year-old Gayla Peevey’s I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas made the top-twenty in 1953 and seven-year-old Barry Gordon sold two million copies of his top-ten hit Nuttin for Christmas in 1955. Harry Stewart called himself Yogi Yorgesson to record his top hits I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas and Yingle Bells.
Stan Freberg’s bitingly satirical Green Chri$tma$, was a merciless attack on merchandising. The parody of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ had Scrooge as the head of a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Although tame today, at the time it was extremely controversial.
EASY-POP holiday songs continued to be popular well into the 1960s. Bing Crosby recorded Do You Hear What I Hear in 1963 and released The White World of Winter in 1965. Johnny Mathis recorded Sounds of Christmas, Andy Williams released It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, and Willie Nelson wrote and recorded the Christmas/country EASY-POP song Pretty Paper in the sixties. Jonathan Cain wrote If Every Day Was Like Christmas for his daughter’s school Christmas play and Elvis Presley had a hit with it in 1966. Popular song writing team Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne wrote the graceful and sophisticated Christmas Waltz in the fifties, several singers recorded it during that decade, but they had to wait until Harry Connick Jr. released it in 2004 for it to be a top hit. While new holiday songs continue to be written and recorded, the Christmas season often revives the memorable and popular post-war hits.