The Golden Age of Christmas Music

The 1940s and 50s has been called the golden age of Christmas music, and for good reason.  White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland and Rudolph, The Red Nose Reindeer are just some of the treasures that came out of this period.

Following World War II people were ready for messages of hope and change, and song writers were only too eager to comply.   

Some of the greatest Christmas hits have fascinating and even funny stories behind them.  Silver Bells, written in 1950, is one of them. 

Inspired by the number of different kinds of bells heard at Christmas, the songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evan decided to write a song about them. 

They called the song Tinkle Bells.  After they finished writing the lyrics, they played it for Evan’s wife and were shocked then she almost fell off the couch laughing. 

She then explained that the song might make people think more of the bathroom than Christmas. The two men didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about until she explained that mothers used the word “tinkle” to get their youngsters to use the toilet.

The two men wisely changed the song title to Silver Bells.

Jay and Ray weren’t the only songwriters saved from making a mistake. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote Have yourself a Merry, Little Christmas for Judy Garland to sing on screen.

What they hadn’t counted on was Judy rejecting their song and threatening to walk off the set unless the lyrics were changed. In the original song, they’d written that the two lovers might never see each other again.  Have yourself a Merry Christmas/it may be your last/next year we’ll be living in the past.

Judy knew that wasn’t the message that people wanted to hear in times of war. She sent the song back for a rewrite. Though Martin and Blane were convinced it was a mistake, they gave the song more upbeat lyrics and scored a hit.

Another hit was inspired by a parade. Gene Autry had been invited to be a special guest at the Hollywood Christmas parade.

Fearing that his prewar career success was behind him, he was delighted to be greeted by thousands of screaming youngsters.  It seemed he had not been forgotten.

However, Gene soon learned his mistake. The children weren’t screaming for him. They were screaming for the man behind him.

“Look, Ma,” one boy yelled.  “Here comes Santa Claus.”

Gene Autry had been upstaged, and his worst fears had been realized. The screaming children had no idea who he was.  Later, he recounted the incident to his composer friend, Oakley Halderman.

Halderman laughed.  “Sounds like a song to me.”

The two men worked on the song together. Here Comes Santa Claus became Autry’s first hit in a decade, and helped to relaunch his career.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is The Little Drummer Boy.  What is your favorite?

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Margaret Brownley
Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.
Updated: December 15, 2018 — 8:51 am

5 Comments

  1. I love The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. Well all of those songs. There is something warm and wonderful about a lot of those older songs. So funny with tinkle bells. I loved your post today.

  2. I love all the old “classic” songs.

  3. I love theGene Autry songs I even still had my album I had from when I was a youngster at home but it got burnt upon 05 when our house burnt

  4. My favorite is MARY DID YOU KNOW? I think the first time I heard it was when the Pentatonix put their version out in 2014. Is is melancholy, haunting and beautiful.

  5. I love all the songs from that era. Any holiday song by Dean Martin are always favorites as well as Johnny Mathis. Happy New Years.

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