Wherever the Road Leads

Christmas songs

Mazel Tov!

As we age, we tend to look backwards rather than forwards. I remember my fiftieth birthday hitting me very hard. It struck me that my life was half over, probably more-than-half when taking my misspent youth into consideration.

Current music – Top Forty – had lost me a few years earlier and I jumped onto the ‘Oldies’ radio bandwagon. I did a few years with Sirius/XM, tuned into the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s channels but technology advanced and for the last decade I have been able to create my own radio station, of sorts, by recording songs onto a USB drive and plugging that into my truck stereo.

Currently I listen to an internet radio station that plays tunes written long before I was born, many recognizable as the radio was always on in our house(s) as I was growing up. Many I had never heard before and looked them up to see who was singing and who had written them. I began to realize that so many of the American Standard songs -fantastic music – had been written by a handful of exceptionally talented Jewish composers and lyricists.

All men are created equal? No, I don’t think so.

The following list of Christmas songs written by Jewish composers is from an article I read on Foxnews.com. Some of the descriptions are the columnist’s, some of the background research is mine.

10.  “We Need a Little Christmas” (1966)

It’s from the Broadway musical “Mame,” with a score by Jerry Herman. The original production closed in 1970, but the song has become a perennial.

Raised in Jersey City, New Jersey by musically inclined middle-class Jewish parents, Jerry Herman composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles.

9.  “The Christmas Song” (1945)

By Mel Torme and Bob Wells, this generically titled number is perhaps better known for its opening line that begins “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….” Though Torme was a famous singer, the most popular version was recorded by Nat King Cole.

Melvin Howard Tormé was born in Chicago, Illinois, to immigrant Russian Jewish parents whose surname had been Torma.

8.  “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958)

By Johnny Marks, whose specialty was Christmas songs. In fact, he’s got three on this list. Rock ‘n’ roll was the hot new music of the 1950s, so Marks took advantage of it. Brenda Lee had the biggest hit recording.

Although he was Jewish, he specialized in Christmas songs and wrote many holiday standards, including “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (a hit for Gene Autry and others), “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (a hit for Brenda Lee), “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (recorded by the Quinto Sisters and later by Burl Ives), “Silver and Gold” (for Burl Ives), and “Run Rudolph Run” (recorded by Chuck Berry).

7. “Silver Bells” (1950)

Written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, the public got to know it when sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in “The Lemon Drop Kid” (1951).

Livingston was born Jacob Harold Levison in McDonald, Pennsylvania; he was born to a Jewish mother and father. He is best known as half of a songwriting duo with Ray Evans that specialized in songs composed for films. Livingston wrote music and words along with Evans the lyrics.

6.  “My Favorite Things” (1959)

It’s from the score of “The Sound of Music” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It’s not officially a Christmas song, but it’s become associated with the season.

Rodgers and Hammerstein together were an influential, innovative and successful American musical theater writing team. They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the “golden age” of musical theater. Their Broadway shows included Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music.

5.  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1949)

Johnny Marks’ most successful song, it was also cowboy singer Gene Autry’s biggest hit. It starts “You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen….” After this song became a #1 hit, we sure did.

4.  “White Christmas” (1941)

The best-selling song of all time, written by Irving Berlin, who’s probably the most successful songwriter of all time. It was introduced to the public at large by Bing Crosby in the movie “Holiday Inn” (1942). It was so big that Crosby sang it again in “Blue Skies” (1946) and “White Christmas” (1954).

Irving Berlin (born Israel Beilin) was an American composer and lyricist, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history.

3.  “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (1964)

Maybe the happiest of Christmas songs, this is another classic from Johnny Marks. It was popularized by Burl Ives in the 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

2. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (1945)

Words and music by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Another one of those snow songs written in Hollywood during a heat wave. It makes being snowed in sound so cozy that I almost miss those long winters I grew up with in the Midwest. Recorded by a lot of artists, but the biggest hit came from Vaughn Monroe. You’ve probably heard that version, since it plays at the end of that great Christmas movie “Die Hard.”

Cahn was born Samuel Cohen in the Lower East Side of New York City. A prolific songwriter, his Academy Award winners are “Three Coins In the Fountain”, ” All the Way”, “High Hopes” and “Call Me Irresponsible”. He was nominated for “The Tender Trap”, “A Pocketful of Miracles” and “My Kind of Town”.

1.  “Sleigh Ride” (1948)

Actually, the tune is written by a gentile, Leroy Anderson, famous for oddball instrumentals such as “The Syncopated Clock” and “The Typewriter.” But the words were added by Jewish lyricist Mitchell Parish and are delightfully evocative:

“It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives

These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.”

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkuh and may you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve.

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