Phil & Mel In The Afternoon

Phil & Mel In The Afternoon

In a Currier & Ives print titled 'American Homestead Winter,' a man with his dog carries firewood to his home as a couple in a horse-drawn sleigh pass him on the road, 1868. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It’s one of the first songs that comes to mind when anyone thinks of Christmas music, but it started out as something else. In this Throwback Threesome, we’re dashing through the history of “Jingle Bells,” which is a little murky. The classic holiday song was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) purportedly at Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts. Pierpont, who was the uncle of famous financier and industrialist J. P. Morgan, originally copyrighted the song with the title “The One Horse Open Sleigh” on September 16, 1857.

“Jingle Bells” didn’t become a Christmas song until decades after it was first performed. In the 1850s, Pierpont was the music director for a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, where his song was introduce to the congregation during a Thanksgiving service. However, as a somewhat racy-for-its-time drinking song, it was a bit inappropriate for church. The lyrics describe reckless, alcohol-fueled sleigh racing. “Jingle Bells” became associated with winter and Christmas music in the 1860s and 1870s.

Did you know “Jingle Bells” was the first song played in outer space? According to Songfacts, Gemini 6 astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford played it for Mission Control on their smuggled harmonica and bells, respectively, on December 16, 1965. Both of the instruments are on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Throwback Threesome: ‘Jingle Bells’

  • 'Jingle Bells' - Frank Sinatra (1946)

    Frank Sinatra released a couple of versions of “Jingle Bells,” including this one recorded on a hot August night in 1946. An official video was released in 2019. In the animated clip, the Ol’ Blue Eyes hitches a ride on Santa’s sleigh for his Christmas Eve flight. Along the way, they see the iconic Capitol Records building, London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and, finally, the Las Vegas Strip.

  • 'Jingle Bells' - The Singing Dogs (1955)

    While recording the sounds of birds in the 1950s, Danish ornithologist Carl Weismann ended up with many recordings that were spoiled by dogs barking. He found a new use for these tainted takes by splicing together the dog barks into song patterns. He teamed up with Don Charles, a record producer working in Copenhagen, to create the Singing Dogs. Their stirring rendition of “Jingle Bells” was originally on the B-side of the group’s first single, “Oh! Susanna,” in 1955. In 1971, RCA reissued “Jingle Bells” as a single and it went all the way to number one on the Billboard Christmas Singles chart in 1972. Unfortunately, there isn’t any video footage of the canine quartet but we can all still enjoy the musical stylings of Dolly (poodle), Pearl (terrier), Caesar (shepherd), and King (shepherd).

  • 'Jingle Bells' - The Brian Setzer Orchestra (1996)

    Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer recorded a raucous rockabilly version with his Brian Setzer Orchestra in 1996 for the Christmas comedy Jingle All the Way, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It later showed up on Setzer’s 2002 album, Boogie Woogie Christmas, and in the 2018 animated version of The Grinch.

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