Xmas Crooners: The Stories Behind Some of Your Favorite Holiday Tunes

The creative processes of some of the most memorable Christmas songs include a mix of happenstance, lots of editing, sweat, and a little bit of sexy.
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The creative processes of some of the most memorable Christmas songs include a mix of happenstance, lots of editing, sweat, and a little bit of sexy.

It’s been said that the best Christmas songs are those that are both heartwarming and depressing. And no one has hit those notes quite the way Judy Garland did in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It’s the season’s perfect background music, whether you’re shopping for reasonably priced stocking stuffers at the mall, or sitting alone during the wee hours of your office Christmas party, wondering where your life went so wrong. 

Americans first heard this song in the 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, in a famous scene where Garland and her little sister console each other before moving away from the home that they love. Unbelievably, the original lyrics were even more Zoloft-worthy. In fact, Garland was so taken aback by the early drafts that she asked the songwriters to change the lyrics for the film. Thank goodness, otherwise we would have been stuck with these gems: Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last.... Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more. Want to hear it for yourself? Take a look and check out more stories about holiday crooners below.

'The Little Drummer Boy/ Peace on Earth' - David Bowie and Bing Crosby

Fact: There are some strange combinations that, despite being bizarre, over time seem totally natural: Han Solo and Chewbacca. Peanut butter and jelly. And, of course, David Bowie and Bing Crosby. When writers for the 1977 TV special Bing Crosby's A Merrie Olde Christmas first asked Bowie to do the duet with Crosby, Ziggy Stardust wasn’t impressed. “I hate that song,” he said. “If I have to sing that song, I can’t do the show.” Undeterred, the writers scrambled to make some ch-ch-changes to the song, adding a counter-melody and a new bridge. Bowie eventually caved in — citing that he was only doing the show because his mum was a huge Bing Crosby fan.

'The Christmas Song' - Mel Tormé

Nat King Cole may be the reigning champion of "The Christmas Song," but Mel Tormé’s version is also a legendary holiday standard — and, after all, he wrote it. In fact, Tormé was only 20 when he penned the tune. It was a hot July day in Los Angeles, and the native Bostonian wanted to write about Christmas and cold weather to cool himself off. It only took him and his writing partner 45 minutes to complete the instant classic. You can see him performing the song below. His 1963 harmonies with Judy Garland are almost beautiful enough to hide his slight annoyance at Dorothy for flubbing the lyrics:

'Blue Christmas' - Elvis Presley

In the pantheon of holiday classics, rock-and-roll stalwarts abound. There’s Brenda Lee’s "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree," Chuck Berry’s "Run Rudolph Run," and who can forget the rendition of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" by Twisted Sister? But the most classic of all rock-and-roll yule tunes has to be Elvis Presley’s "Blue Christmas." The song started off as a staid tune about unrequited love and then became a country hit in the late 1940s. When Elvis heard one of his musical heroes, Ernest Tubb, perform what was his favorite Christmas song, he was hooked. But it wasn’t until Elvis the Pelvis put his unique spin on it in 1957, the song became an instant rock classic.

'Santa Baby' - Eartha Kitt

Ever hear a Christmas song and think, 'This isn’t sultry enough. I bet it’d be sexier if Catwoman sang it'? Well, that was the idea behind Eartha Kitt’s 1953 recording of "Santa Baby." This gem features a grown woman using a baby voice to ask Santa for a long list of extravagant gifts. Either that or it’s a singing baby with some very age-inappropriate tastes. The items include a fur, a car, and a yacht. Throughout her career, Kitt never grew tired of performing the song. She even recorded a sequel, "This Year’s Santa Baby," which never quite measured up against the original.

From the Bio Archives: This article was originally published in December 2014.