Monday, December 22, 2014

A Merry Little Christmas

Below is the first recording of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as seen in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, which was released in November 1944.

The bittersweet song was an enormous hit, perhaps because it struck a chord with a county weary after almost three years of war.  More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II; almost 300,000 died in combat, and more than 30,000 went missing.

The movie was a saddish one, and the song went through several revisions over the years.

In its first draft, the composers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote this verse:

      "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."

This was too depressing for the film's producers, and by the time Judy Garland sang it, the words went like this:

        "Once again as in olden days,
         Happy golden days of yore,
         Faithful friends who are dear to us
         Will be near to us once more."

There were other changes.  Here is what Judy Garland sang:

          "Someday soon we all will be together if the Fates allow,
          Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

Years later, when Frank Sinatra recorded his 1957 Christmas album, he wanted a more upbeat tone.  The "faithful friends" line became this:

           "Faithful friends who are dear to us
           Gather near to us once more."

And the "Someday soon" line was revised thusly:

            "Someday soon we all will be together if the Fates allow,
             Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."

The Sinatra version has survived, and just about every prominent singer has recorded it with the Sinatra lyrics.

But that wasn't the end.  Composer Martin, a religious man, rewrote the song as "Have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas" in 2001, when he was 86 years old.  Its final stanza is this:

            "Sing hosannas, hymns and hallelujahs
            As to Him we bow
            Make the music mighty as the heavens allow
             And have yourself a blessed little Christmas now."

Martin died in 2011 at the age of 96.  The song, whatever its lyrics, lives on.

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