There are few songs more emblematic of the season than The Christmas Song. Earlier today I heard the deep baritone of Nat King Cole begin in my car and I could feel the Christmas tingle spreading all the way to my toes.
When the writers of this well-known classic began working on lyrics, they were merely trying to cool off in the midst of an overwhelmingly hot day in July. Jack Frost sounds amazing when you can’t cool off, after all. And Bob Wells and Mel Tormé say that forty minutes later they had the lyrics to a song.
However, it would not be until a year later when the Nat King Cole Trio recorded the very first version of this song in the summer of 1946 that the quintessential paragon of Christmas music was truly born. It is that original version that is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, even if the 1961 is considered “definitive” by fans.
The story the song tells is of everything Christmas. The ways the season tantalizes every single sense and revives memories of the past long gone. It is likely all of these reasons that this song remains a central piece each year.
For me, just hearing Cole’s voice brings me back to my childhood. Honestly, so does the piano and bass of his trio, too. Mainly because my parents (and I guess me too once I arrived) used to follow around a trio in St. Louis who sounded so much like them it was a little uncanny. We all knew each other well and Mr. Miller, the pianist, actually played not only as the guest star of one of my birthday parties, but also at my father’s funeral when I was a little girl. But I can also still hear Mr. Eaton’s voice, too. And there are always songs for which Cole’s versions will always be my favorite. This being one.
So, to everyone, from one to ninety-two, Merry Christmas, to you…