December 06, 2008

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It’s been a little while since I made a post and hopefully this massive entry will make up for that. Sometimes the Santa pictures take some time, though I’m sure you wouldn’t believe it! This is one of our annual theme posts and it’s one of my favorites. I’ll give a shout-out today to Chris Willman—I hope you’re still reading!


A few days back, PC and I posted some sad Christmas songs. I’m going to call “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” the most depressing Christmas song ever written. It was originally even more somber than the version that we know today.


The song was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Judy Garland made the song famous in her 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland found the original lyrics too sad for a Christmas song. There is a fatalistic view on the world—there is talk of everyone being together, of muddling through, friends once gone who will come back. It reminds me a hymn almost, that promises a great reward in Heaven, where all friends and family will one day meet each other again.


In fact, the original version, which Hugh Martin didn’t want to rewrite, did include religious undertones.


Have yourself a merry little Christmas

It may be your last

Next year we may all be living in the past

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Pop that champagne cork

Next year we may all be living in New York.

No good times like the olden days,

Happy golden days of yore,

Faithful friends who were dear to us

Will be near to us no more.

But at least we all will be together

If the Lord allows.

From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Most versions that we hear today are a combination of these original lyrics. However, in 2001, Martin wrote a version called “Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas.” It is a much more sacred version. Also, it’s been noted that the chord progression to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is strikingly similar to “Blue Moon,” which had been written ten years earlier. The only difference is additional chord progressions at the ending and bridge.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland


Garland’s version, which we’ve saved for this post, probably has the most recognizable lyrics. There is a tender delicateness to this version—that quiet, music box-like introduction that draws the listener into the word. And her voice is heartbreaking and beautiful.


Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Let your heart be light

Next year,

All our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Make the yuletide gay

Next year all our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who were dear to us

Will be near to us once more

Someday soon we all will be together

If the fates allow.

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra


Ah, but there are even more versions. Frank Sinatra recorded a lighter version. It’s a bit happier with updated lyrics. Unfortunately, I don’t have this version of the song after a few years of searching (anyone out there care to help?). But I have another version by the Chairman. If Frank’s singing, it can’t be that bad, right? The violin at the beginning lightens into a warm, slightly jazz-like swing. Here are those lyrics that Sinatra tweaked a bit.


Christmas future is far away

Christmas past is past

Christmas present is here today

Bringing joy that may last

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Let your heart be light

From now on,

our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Make the Yule-tide gay,

From now on,

our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,

Happy golden days of yore.

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Gather near to us once more.

Through the years

We all will be together,

If the Fates allow

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Hem


Hem’s version was posted on The Late Greats a few years back (check them out, for a great Christmas mix, plus some other great songs as well). Driven by a piano, it’s a pretty straight forward.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – The Carpenters


The Carpenters have a great Christmas album. Their version features a nice little introduction by Karen Carpenter which I don’t believe is in other versions, though I might be mistaken.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – The Pretenders


This comes from the first volume of A Very Special Christmas.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Andre Gagnon


This is an artist that I know little about. Gagnon’s version is a surprisingly beautiful, all instrumental version of the song. Once again, a piano drives the song.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Nat King Cole


The King of Christmas songs in my book, Cole’s golden voice rises above the somewhat cheesy synthesizers here. Of all the versions, this one seems the most dated in terms of production values. But still, nothing compares with the man’s voice.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Sarah McLachlan


This version is melancholy beyond compare. The little instrumental flairs between verses are beautiful and the piano is beautiful when mixed with bells, strings, and the quiet cymbals.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Bright Eyes


A delicate and straight-forward version of the song. Stark and spare.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge


Doo-wop and without music—striking and in its harmonies.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Ruth Browne


Ruth Browne was one of the 50s best unsung R&B singers. This version is slow and haunting—you can hear that pain in her voice.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Aimee Mann


If Aimee Mann is singing, it’s probably not happy. This one sure ain’t.


Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Mel Torme


Judy Garland has the best version of the song, but this one is my favorite, originally featured in Home Alone. Torme was called The Velvet Fog, and for good reason—that voice is smooth. Fans of the television show Night Court might remember that Harry Anderson’s character loved Mel Torme—props to 30 Rock for the Night Court reference a few weeks back! For some reason, my father loved Nigh Court and Mel Torme. My mother and I saw Home Alone twice in December of 1990. My father had been dead for a few months by that point. It had been a hard year and we hadn’t laughed that much in a long time. Even though I had heard the song plenty of times, when Torme’s song played at the end, I actually listened to the lyrics for the first time. The promise that next year would be better, that someday everyone would be together, and that troubles would be out of sight—it stuck with me. Composer John Williams produced this version and adds his unmistakable instrumentation behind Torme’s warm and endearing vocals. Every time I watch Home Alone, I am reminded of sitting in a dark theater with my mother and laughing until it hurt.

2 comments:

Wonton Woman said...

Hi, Thanks for all the great shares, information & the heartfelt story about you and your mom at the flicks. It can be a tough time of year, too. I just wanted to point out a common mistake in the Garland version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas": have another listen and you'll hear that she actually sings "Faithful friends who were near to us will be dear to us once more", which sounds wrong, but it works with the movie's plot (they're moving away from their friends). Then again, I don't know if she just sang it 'wrong' and it's always stuck -- in her version. I don't think anyone else sings it that way...

JV said...

Very true! Nice post. I wonder if Judy did change it at the last moment? And could you imagine it any other way?