Your Daily Dose of Christmas

Time for another one that I feature most years, but there’s a reason. This song, and this performance, are so sublime that just about all performances of the song ever since have left me cold, for a very big reason.

The song is, of course, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and this is its first performance, by Judy Garland in the film Meet Me In St. Louis. In the film, Garland’s family is preparing to move from St. Louis to New York City, and thus the film is about all the emotional baggage that comes with leaving home, quite possibly forever. Entire chapters of life are ending, which is what makes the song such a masterpiece of what’s so often bittersweet about Christmas.

Here’s the song:

And here, below the fold, is what bugs me about the song ever since Judy Garland recorded it….

First was Judy Garland, for the movie.

And then…Frank Sinatra went to record the song for an album called something like Frank’s Jolly Christmas.

Sinatra got to one spot in the song’s lyric and objected:

Through the years, we all will be together,
If the fates allow;
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through

Remember what the song is about, and why the lyrics are what they are…but then Sinatra decides that the “We’ll have to muddle through” line isn’t “jolly” enough for a Christmas album with the word “Jolly” in the title, so he requested a line change. Now the song has this intrusive line in it — “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” — which makes zero sense, has nothing to do with anything else in the song, and only has the merit of fitting the rhyme scheme and being vaguely Christmas-y.

Yeah, I hate that line. I love Frank Sinatra and always have, but nobody’s right all the time, and in this case, he was mastadonically wrong.

And, even worse, the awful Sinatra lyric is the one that has perpetuated, the one that is remembered, the one that everybody sings now. Every year I hear gorgeous rendition after gorgeous rendition of this amazing song, and yet, every year, all of those renditions end up wrong in my ears.

I know that art can often change, and this bit of dedication to the original may seem a bit out-of-place from me, given my general acceptance of the changes made to things like Star Wars. But at least those changes were made by the guy who made the thing in the first place, because he wanted them, for good or ill. This was a heavy-weight singer asking for a lyric change. Not the same thing. Every time I hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with the wrong lyric — and to me, it will always be the wrong lyric, no matter how many people sing it that way — I get the same feeling that I got a few years ago when I attended a Buffalo Philharmonic concert to discover that they were playing the awful cut version of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.


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1 Response to Your Daily Dose of Christmas

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    This is a sad song. I'll Be Home for Christmas is a REALLY sad song, which I heard perform several years ago and actually made me cry.

    It's not all "jolly" at Christmas.

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