Saturday, December 8, 2018

5 x 5: Christmas Songs

Image result for elves singing

5 facts about 5 Christmas songs . . . 


Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: 

Front cover for the 10" single Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer by the artist Gene Autry and The Pinafores. 

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1. In 1939 Robert L. May created the character Rudolph for the retail stores of Montgomery Ward. The stores had bought and distributed colouring books every Christmas and saw writing their own story as a way to save money. Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of the Rudolph booklet in 1939. A total of 6 million copies had been given out by the end of 1946, even though wartime paper shortages restricted printing. 

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2. The bullying of the other reindeer reflects May's own childhood difficulties as the smallest boy in his class. He was taunted for being a frail, scrawny misfit. 

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3. May’s brother Johnny Marks turned the story into a song. The song earned Marks millions in royalties but by 1980, he was tired of being chained to Santa's sleigh. "This is not exactly what I hoped to be remembered for," he told People magazine of the enduring classic. "No matter what I write, they always say the same thing: 'It's just not 'Rudolph.'" 

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4. It didn’t become a hit until 1949 when singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded it. He didn’t like it but his wife convinced him to record it, proving she knew best: it has become the second biggest-selling Christmas song of all time, after Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." 

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5. Autry's version of the song also holds the distinction of being the only chart-topping hit to fall completely off the chart after reaching No. 1. Who wants to buy Christmas records after Christmas? The official date of its No. 1 status was for the week ending January 7, 1950, making it the first No. 1 song of the 1950s. 


Silent Night: 

Silent-Night-Chapel in Oberndorf, where the song was first performed 

1. Halfway through December 1818, the church organ in St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, 11 miles north of Salzburg in what is now Austria, broke (a popular version of the story claims that mice had eaten out the bellows). The curate, 26-year-old Josef Mohr, realised it couldn't be repaired in time to provide music on Christmas Eve. He told his friend, a headmaster and amateur composer named Franz Gruber, while giving him as a present a poem he had written two years earlier. Gruber was so taken by the rhythm of the poem that he set it to music. On Christmas Eve Mohr played his guitar while the pair sang the song. It was the first public performance of "Stille Nacht" or as we know it "Silent Night." 

Franz Xaver Gruber, painted by Sebastian Stief (1846) 

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2. When the organ builder finally did show up to repair the St. Nicholas organ, he was given a copy of the "Silent Night" composition and brought it home. From there, traveling folk singers got a hold of it and began incorporating the carol into their repertoire. It didn't make its way to America until 1839. 

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3. As the song gained traction throughout Europe, Franz Gruber composed several different orchestral arrangements. He donated all profits from the carol to local charities for children and the elderly, and eventually died penniless. 

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4. Bing Crosby's version became his best-seller of the 1930s. 

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5. Crosby, a devout Catholic, refused to record the religious song, arguing it would be "like cashing in on the church or the Bible." Crosby met with Father Richard Ranaghan, a priest trying to raise money for overseas missions, and decided to donate the royalties to the cause. But Ranaghan died in a car accident later that year, so the money went to several charities throughout the US and abroad. 


Jingle Bell Rock: 


1. Recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957, this is considered the first mainstream rock 'n' roll Christmas song. Helms was a new, relatively successful Country artist with two #1 country hits in 1957, "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel," both of which were crossover hits that made it into the pop Top 40. 

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2. Although this was released only two days before Christmas in 1957, the single still hit #6 on the pop chart. The song was re-released around Christmas in 1958 and again in 1960, making it back to the charts each time. 

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3. A Hall & Oates version, released in 1983, was accompanied by an awful video that received a lot of airplay on MTV, which launched in 1981. When asked why they covered the song,Hall said that he was in a rockabilly phase at the time and wanted to do a rockabilly Christmas song. 

See and hear it by clicking on the following link: 

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4. Helms' version has been used in several TV shows, including The Wonder Years, Chuck, House M.D., It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy and Once Upon A Time. It's also featured in the movies Lethal Weapon (1987), Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Jingle All The Way (1996), and Vanilla Sky (2001). 

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5. In a 1986 interview, Helms said he made significant changes to many of his songs, but never got credit. "Jingle Bell Rock," he said, originally didn't have a bridge so he wrote one ("What a bright time, it's the right time, to rock the night away..."). 


Good King Wenceslas: 

1. "Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol, in which King Wenceslas is blessed for giving money to a poor peasant on St. Stephen's Day (26th December). Unusual for a Christmas carol, the words do not refer to the Nativity. 

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2. In the middle of the 19th century, John Mason Neale (Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex), a prolific reader and author came across a long narrative German poem about Wenceslas. A section in which the king walked out into the snow to rescue a poor swineherd particularly struck him. He adapted the poem into English and borrowed the tune to go with it from "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Spring has unwrapped her flowers"), a 13th century spring carol. "Good King Wenceslas" was included in a 1853 publication Carols for Christmas-tide, by Neale and the Rev. Thomas Helmore (vice-Principal of St. Mark's College, Chelsea). 

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3. The tale of King Wenceslas is based on a real person, Wenceslaus, the Duke of Bohemia, who in 935 gained control of Bohemia. Renowned for his piety, he took a vow of celibacy, founded many churches in Prague and elsewhere in the principality and spent much of his time in prayer and carrying out acts of piety. So great was his devotion that it is said he helped sow the corn and gather the grapes from which the bread and wine used at Mass was made. However, his brother Coleslaw Boleslaw and his supporters murdered the good Wenceslaus on his way to Mass by hacking him to death at the church door. That, no doubt,put a downer on the family Christmas dinner. His people were outraged and regarded the martyred Duke as a saint. Neale in his adaptation upgraded Wenceslas to a king. 

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4. Neale was so touched by the quality of mercy in the tale he read that he founded the Society of St. Margaret, which still offers care to the poor in their homes. 

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5. Hear some Beatles’ versions by clicking on: 




Jingle Bells: 


1. The words and music were written by James S. Pierpont, a popular American composer in 1857, with the title of "One Horse Open Sleigh." Pierpont was a member of a staunch Unitarian Church family, and his father was a minister. It was originally written for a local Sunday school entertainment on Thanksgiving Day in Savannah, Georgia. Its catchy tune was soon taken up by Christmas revellers. 

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2. There are those who dispute that it was written as a Sunday school song, pointing out that the rest of the verses (not sung today) refer to gambling, racing and picking up girls: 

A day or two ago 
I thought I'd take a ride 
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright 
Was seated by my side, 
The horse was lean and lank 
Misfortune seemed his lot 
He got into a drifted bank 
And then we got upsot.* 

* a poetic way of saying “upset” 

A day or two ago, 
The story I must tell 
I went out on the snow, 
And on my back I fell; 
A gent was riding by 
In a one-horse open sleigh, 
He laughed as there I sprawling lie, 
But quickly drove away. 

Now the ground is white 
Go it while you're young, 
Take the girls tonight 
and sing this sleighing song; 
Just get a bobtailed bay 
Two forty as his speed** 
Hitch him to an open sleigh 
And crack! you'll take the lead. 

** Two forty refers to a mile in two minutes and forty seconds at the trot, or 22.5 miles per hour. 

Those persons maintain it was written as a sleighing song. 

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3. Mrs. Otis Waterman, one of Pierpoint's friends, described the song as a "merry little jingle", which became part of its new name when published in 1859 under the revised title of "Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh" 

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4. Music historian James Fuld notes that "the word jingle in the title and opening phrase is apparently an imperative verb." In the winter in New England in pre-automobile days, it was common to adorn horses' harnesses with straps bearing bells as a way to avoid collisions at blind intersections, since a horse-drawn sleigh in snow makes almost no noise. The rhythm of the tune mimics that of a trotting horse's bells. However, "jingle bells" is commonly taken to mean a certain kind of bell. 

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5. "Jingle Bells" was the first song broadcast from space, in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra. While in space on December 16, 1965, they sent this report to Mission Control: 
Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He's in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a ... Very low. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one ... You might just let me try to pick up that thing. 
The astronauts then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleigh bells and broadcast a rendition of "Jingle Bells". The harmonica, shown to the press upon their return, was a Hohner "Little Lady", a tiny harmonica approximately one inch (2.5 cm) long, by 3/8 of an inch (1 cm) wide. 



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