Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Category: Christmas

Auld Lang Syne

First recorded by Emile Berliner (1898).
Popular version by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (1939).

From the wiki: “Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum (in 1788) with the remark, ‘The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.’ In 1855, different words were written for the Auld Lang Syne tune by Albert Laighton and titled, “Song of the Old Folks.” This song was included in the songbook, Father Kemp’s Old Folks Concert Tunes, published in Boston, Massachusetts in 1860. For many years it was the tradition of the Stoughton Musical Society to sing this version in memory of those who had died that year. Now, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is traditionally sung at the conclusion of New Year gatherings in Scotland and around the world, especially in English-speaking countries.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

First recorded by Margaret Whiting (1947).
Other popular versions by The Les Paul Trio (1947), The Orioles (R&B #9 1949), Billy Ward & The Dominoes (1953), Ella Fitzgerald (1960), Danté & The Evergreens (US #106 1960), Nancy Wilson (XMAS #17 1965 |XMAS #24 1967), The Carpenters (1985), Rufus Wainwright (2005), Zooey Dechanel & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (2011).

From the wiki: “‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ was written in 1947 by Frank Loesser as an ‘independent song’ — not written for a particular movie or musical. Loesser was an American songwriter who wrote the lyrics and music to the Broadway hits Guys and Dolls and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, among others. He won separate Tony Awards for the music and lyrics in both shows, as well as sharing the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the latter, and was nominated for five Academy Awards for best song, winning once, for ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside‘. Among Loesser’s other notable songs: ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’, ‘Heart and Soul’, ‘On a Slow Boat to China’, and ‘Luck Be a Lady Tonight’.”

Jingle Bells

First recorded (as “One Horse Open Sleigh”) by The Edison Male Quartette (1898).
Popular versions by The King Cole Trio (1938), Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (US #5 1941), Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (1943), Primo Scala & The Keynotes (US #10 1948), Les Paul (US #10 1951), The Hysterics (UK #44 1981).

From the wiki: “James Lord Pierpont’s 1857 composition ‘Jingle Bells’ became one of the most performed and most recognizable secular holiday songs ever written, not only in the United States, but around the world. In recognition of this achievement, James Lord Pierpont was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Pierpont wrote it in the 1850s in Medford, Massachusetts as ;The One-horse Open Sleigh’ for the choir of the First Unitarian Church, where his father was pastor. The choir introduced the new song during a Thanksgiving Day service; there was not a single reference to Christmas in the original lyrics. But, due to the public’s enthusiasm, the performance was renewed during that same year’s Christmas celebration. In 1857 the song was copyrighted as ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’. Two years later it was first published as ‘Jingle Bells’ in Savannah, GA, where Pierpont’s brother, John, was pastor. His Unitarian Universalist Church is locally known as ‘The Jingle Bells Church’.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

First performed by Judy Garland (1944).
Popular versions by Frank Sinatra (1957), Barbra Streisand (1967), The Pretenders (1987).

From the wiki: “‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ was introduced by Judy Garland in a poignant moment in the 1944 movie musical Meet Me In St. Louis. The filmmakers complained that the first version of the song’s lyrics was too depressing and commissioned a rewrite that became the most popular interpretation.”

Santa Baby

Originally recorded by Eartha Kitt (US #4 1953).
Other popular versions by Mae West (1960), Eartha Kitt (new arrangement, 1963), Madonna (1987).

From the wiki: “The song is a tongue-in-cheek look at a Christmas list sung by a woman who wants extravagant gifts such as sables, yachts, and decorations from Tiffany’s. It is one of the few hit Christmas songs written by a woman. “‘Santa Baby’ was originally recorded by Eartha Kitt with Henri René and his orchestra in New York City on October 6, 1953. The song was a huge hit for Kitt, and she later said that it was one of her favorite songs to record. Kitt reprised the original song in a 1963 re-recording for Kapp Records, with a more uptempo arrangement. Madonna’s popular rendition for the 1987 charity album A Very Special Christmas was based on this latter version.”

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

First recorded by The Royal Military Band (1904).
Also recorded by The Edison Carol Singers (1905).
Popular versions by Nat “King” Cole (1963), Mannheim Steamroller (1984).

From the wiki: “‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’, also known as ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’, and ‘God Rest You Merry People All’, is an English traditional Christmas carol. It was published by William B. Sandys in 1833, although the author is unknown. Like so many early Christmas songs, the carol was written as a direct reaction to the church music of the 15th century. However, in the earliest known publication of the carol, on a c. 1760 broadsheet, it is described as a ‘new Christmas carol’, suggesting its origin is actually in the mid-18th century. It is referred to in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: ‘…at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.'”

Adeste Fideles (O Come, All Ye Faithful)

First recorded by An Anonymous Bell Ringer (1899).
Popular versions by Associated Glee Clubs of America (1925), Bing Crosby (US #45 1960).

From the wiki: “‘Adeste Fideles’ is a Christmas carol which has been attributed to various authors. The English translation of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ by the English Catholic priest Frederick Oakeley, written in 1841, is widespread in most English speaking countries. The 1925 recording by the Associated Glee Clubs of America was the first electrically-recorded disc recording to create a popular impact, and featured the largest choir (according to Columbia Records) popular music has ever known: some 4,800 voices. Bing Crosby also charted with a version of the traditional hymn, which peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1960.”

Baby It’s Cold Outside

First performed by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban and Red Skelton & Betty Garrett (Neptune’s Daughter, 1949).
Hit versions by Dinah Shore & Buddy Clark (US #4 1949), Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer (US #4 1949), Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan (US #9 1949), Dean Martin (1959) and Blossom Dearie & Bob Dorough (1979), Dean Martin & Martina McBride (MOR #7/C&W 36 2006).

From the wiki: “Frank Loesser wrote the duet in 1944 and premiered the song with his wife, Lynn Garland, at their Navarro Hotel housewarming party, and performed it toward the end of the evening, signifying to guests that it was nearly time to end the party. Lynn considered it ‘their song’ and was furious when Loesser sold the song to MGM. The movie it appeared in, Neptune’s Daughter, featured two performances of the song: one by Ricardo Montalbán and Esther Williams, and the other by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett, the second of which has the roles of ‘wolf and mouse’ reversed. These performances earned Loesser an Academy Award for Best Original Song.”

Merry Christmas, Baby

Co-written and first recorded by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers (R&B #3 1947).
Other popular versions by Chuck Berry (1958), Elvis Presley (1971), Bruce Springsteen (1987), Bonnie Raitt & Charles Brown (1992), Cee Lo Green & Rod Stewart (2012).

From the wiki: “‘Merry Christmas Baby’ is an R&B Christmas standard written by Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore. The original 1947 version by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers is the definitive version of this song. Notable cover versions include those by Chuck Berry on his 1958 single and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band recorded live at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, and included on the Christmas album A Very Special Christmas, released in 1987. Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers was one of the hottest Blues attractions on the West Coast when their recording of ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ reached position #3 on Billboard’s R & B Juke Box chart during the Christmas of 1947. Guitarist Johnny Moore commandeered an impressive lineup of players for the recording session, including bassist Eddie Williams, guitarist Oscar Moore (then of the King Cole Trio) and, notably, singer/pianist Charles Brown (‘Please Come Home for Christmas‘).”

Sleigh Ride

First recorded by The Boston Pops Orchestra (1949).
Hit version by Leroy Anderon & His “Pops” Concert Orchestra (1950).

From the wiki: “Leroy Anderson had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946; he finished the work in February 1948. Lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter’s day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra.”

Blue Christmas

First recorded by Doye O’Dell (1948).
Hit versions by Ernest Tubb (C&W #1 1949), Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra with Choir (US #9 1949), Russ Morgan & His Orchestra (US #11 1949), Hugo Winterhalter & Billy Eckstine (US #20 1950), Elvis Presley (1957/UK #11 1964), Beach Boys (US #3 1964), Harry Connick Jr. (MOR #21 2004).

From the wiki: “‘Blue Christmas’ song was first recorded by Doye O’Dell in 1948. It was popularized the following year in three separate recordings: one by Country artist Ernest Tubb; one by instrumental bandleader Hugo Winterhalter and his orchestra; and one by bandleader Russ Morgan and his orchestra (the latter featuring lead vocals by Morgan and backing vocals by singers credited as the Morganaires). In 1950 Hugo Winterhalter released a new version, this time sung by Billy Eckstine, with shortened lyrics in a variation close to what is now the common standard for this song.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

First performed by Eddie Cantor (1934).
First recorded by Harry Reser (1934).
Popular versions by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters (1943), Perry Como (1951), The Four Seasons (US #23 1963), Bruce Springsteen (1975).

From the wiki: “‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ was written in 1934 by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, and first performed on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in November 1934. The earliest-known recorded version of the song was by banjoist Harry Reser and his band. It became an instant hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music and more than 30,000 records sold within 24 hours. The 1951 version by Perry Como was the first measurable hit, and in 1963 the Four Seasons version charted at #23 on Billboard. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band recorded a live version in 1975 that was bootlegged to Rock radio stations until it saw its first release in 1982 as part of the Sesame Street compilation album In Harmony 2.”

Christmas Night in Harlem

First recorded by The Paul Whiteman Orchestra (1934).
Also recorded The Raymond Scott Quintette (instrumental, 1939).
Popular version by Louis Armstrong & The Benny Carter Orchestra (1955).

From the wiki: “‘Christmas Night in Harlem’ was written in 1934 by Raymond Scott, and the song was first recorded by The Paul Whiteman Orchestra the same year. ‘Christmas Night in Harlem’ has been covered by Perry Como, Benny Carter, Johnny Mercer, Banu Gibson, The Beau Hunks, Clarence Williams, Paul Whiteman, Maria Muldaur, and Jack Teagarden but the most celebrated recording was made by Louis Armstrong & The Benny Carter Orchestra.

Nut Rocker

First recorded by Jack B. Nimble & The Quicks (1961).
Hit versions by B. Bumble & The Stingers (US #23/UK #1 1962); Emerson, Lake & Palmer (US #70 1972).

From the wiki: “In late 1961, producer Kim Fowley secured the copyright to an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’ from the ballet The Nutcracker, and took this to local entrepreneur and pianist H. B. Barnum. Barnum recorded it as by ‘Jack B. Nimble & The Quicks’ for the small Del Rio label. However, when Rod Pierce of Rendezvous Records heard it, he convinced Fowley that his label could do a better version with their own band. A new recording was arranged, but on the day, Ernie Freeman, who had played piano on “Bumble Boogie”, did not appear, apparently due to heavy partying the night before. In his place, guitarist and arranger René Hall rushed pianist Al Hazan into the Rendezvous office, which was rigged up as an improvised studio. According to Hazan, ‘Rod decided to record the first take while I was still trying to practice the piece with the other musicians. Because I was so rushed to learn ‘Nut Rocker’, I was not happy at all with my performance on that first take. However, in spite of my asking Rod to let me do it over again, he said he liked it just fine the way it was.’ Released as ‘Nut Rocker’ in February 1962, the record went to #23 in the US and #1 in the UK.

Frosty the Snowman

First recorded by Gene Autry & The Cass County Boys (US #7/C&W #4 1950).
Other hit versions by Nat “King” Cole (US #9 1950), Jan & Dean (#11 (1963).

From the wiki: “‘Frosty the Snowman’ (originally titled ‘Frosty the Snow Man’) is a popular song written by Walter ‘Jack’ Rollins and Steve Nelson, and was first recorded by Gene Autry & The Cass County Boys in 1950. Rollins and Nelson wrote ‘Frosty’ after the success of Autry’s recording of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ the previous year; Rollins and Nelson shipped the new song to Autry, who recorded ‘Frosty’ in search of another seasonal hit. The song supposedly takes place in White Plains, New York, or Armonk, New York. Armonk has a parade dedicated to Frosty annually. The song recounts the fictional tale of a snowman that is magically brought to life through a silk hat that a group of children find and place on his head. Although Frosty enjoys roaming throughout town with the children who constructed him, he runs afoul of a traffic cop and leaves town, promising he will be back again someday.”

Please Come Home for Christmas

Co-written and originally recorded by Charles Brown (US #76 1960).
Hit version by Eagles (US #18 1978), Bon Jovi (UK #7 1994).

From the wiki: “‘Please Come Home for Christmas’ is a Christmas song, released in 1960, by the American blues singer and pianist Charles Brown. Hitting Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in December 1961, the tune Brown co-wrote with Gene Redd peaked at position #76. It appeared on the Christmas Singles chart for nine seasons, hitting #1 in 1972. In 1978, the rock band Eagles covered and released the song as a holiday single. Their version peaked at #18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the first Christmas song to reach the Top 20 on that chart since Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Paper’ in 1963.”

Little Drummer Boy

First recorded (as “Carol of the Drum”) by The Trapp Family Singers (1954).
Popular versions by The Harry Simone Chorale (1958), Lou Rawls (1967), Bing Crosby & David Bowie (1977).

From the wiki: “‘Little Drummer Boy’ – originally titled ‘Carol of the Drum’ – was written in 1941 by Katherine K. Davis. It was first recorded in 1954 by The Trapp Family Singers during sessions for their albums Christmas With The Trapp Family Singers and Yuletide Songs Of Many Lands, and further popularized by a 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. The original manuscript is headed ‘Czech Carol freely transcribed by K.K.D’, these initials then deleted and replaced with ‘C.R.W. Robinson’, a name under which Davis sometimes published. Although Davis did search far and wide for suitable material, the Czech original has never been identified, though the style is comparable with the Czech ‘Rocking Carol’. ‘Carol of the Drum’ appealed to the Austrian Trapp Family Singers, who first brought the song to wider prominence when they recorded it in 1955, shortly before they retired.”

This Christmas

Co-written and first recorded by Donny Hathaway (1970).
Other popular versions by Gladys Knight & The Pips (1980), Yutaka Yokokura (1988), Gloria Estefan (1993).

From the wiki: “‘This Christmas’ is a well-known Christmas song originally recorded by R&B singer-songwriter Donny Hathaway (under the stage name ‘Donny Pitts’) and released as a single in 1970, peaking that year at #11 on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart. In 1980, Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded ‘This Christmas’ for their holiday album That Special Time of Year. Japanese jazz artist Yutaka Yokokura’s recording was one of several Christmastime songs by various artists included on the 1988 holiday compilation album The GRP All Star Christmas Collection. Gloria Estefan, in 1993, included ‘This Christmas’ on her holiday album Christmas Through Your Eyes.”

Parade of the Wooden Soldiers

First US recording by The Vincent Lopez Orchestra (1922).
Popular versions by The Andrews Sisters (1950), The Crystals (1963).

From the wiki:”‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ (originally titled ‘Parade of the Tin Soldiers’) was composed in 1897 for solo piano by Leon Jessel who later published it for orchestra in 1905, as ‘Opus 123’. In 1911, Russian impresario Nikita Balieff chose Jessel’s whimsically rakish ‘Parade of the Tin Soldiers’ for a choreography routine in his ‘The Bat’ vaudeville revue, changing the title to ‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’. (A link below goes to a 1911 Berlin recording of ‘The Parade of the Tin Soldiers’ for Russian distribution.) Balieff’s wooden-soldier choreography referenced a legend regarding Tsar Paul I: that he left his parade grounds without issuing a ‘halt’ order to the marching soldiers, so they marched to Siberia before being remembered and ordered back.

“In December 1920 Nikita Balieff’s La Chauve-Souris (The Bat) revue reached Paris, to great acclaim, and in 1922 it was brought to Broadway. In 1922, the instrumental version of ‘The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ was a hit single performed by The Vincent Lopez Orchestra in 1922; A Betty Boop cartoon, Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, was created with the music in 1933. Also in 1933, The Rockettes began annually performing their own choreographed version of the piece, based on Balieff’s original, in their Radio City Christmas Spectacular.”

Silent Night

First recorded (as “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”) by Trompeter Quartett (1892).
First English-language recording by Edison Male Quartette (1905).
Popular versions by Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra (US #6 1928), Bing Crosby (US #16 1941), The Ravens (R&B #8 1948), Simon & Garfunkel (as “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night”, 1966).

From the wiki: “‘Silent Night’ (German: ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’) is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1818 by Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics by Joseph Mohr in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in March 2011. ‘Stille Nacht’ was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village on the Salzach river. In 1859, the Episcopal priest John Freeman Young, then serving at Trinity Church, New York City, published the English translation that is most frequently sung today.

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