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Mel Torme and Bob Wells were songwriting partners, and used to take turns going over to each others homes to write songs. One particularly hot July day, Mel drove over to Bob's house in Teluca Lake, California, and when he got there he walked into the house, couldn't find Bob, but found a spiral note pad of paper with some words on it - "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, Yuletide Carols being sung by a choir, folks dressed up like Eskimos." When Mel found Bob, he asked him "What's this?", and Bob said "it's so blistering hot here,and thought it would be fun to see if I could write something about a totally different season, the winter season, Christmas season, and see if I could mentally, virtually cool off." Mel said "not only have you also cooled me off, but I think you've got a song here!" And the duo wrote the rest of the song in about 35 minutes.
Nat King Cole recorded this for the first time in 1946 with his group The Nat King Cole Trio. They were the big act on Columbia Records, who had them re-record the song with a string section - the first time the trio used strings on a record. The no-strings version was shelved (later released in 1989 on a Rhino compilation called Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits 1935-1954
), and the strings version issued - it made #3 in the US and hung around the charts even after Christmas. Cole recorded it again in 1953 with Nelson Riddle, who was an ace arranger at Capitol famous for his sessions with Frank Sinatra. Capitol Records released it again in December of 1960 as part of Cole's Christmas album The Magic of Christmas
. Cole recorded another version (this time in stereo) in 1961, and this one was issued as a single in 1962, making #65 in the US. In the UK, the song was released several times, reaching its peak chart position of #69 in 1991.
The song became more popular than ever in the '00s, as radio stations in a variety of formats added it to their holiday playlists every year. In 2006, ASCAP announced that it was the most-played holiday song of the previous five years, and while many artists had recorded it, Cole's version was still by far the most popular. In 2011, ASCAP announced that the song was the third most played holiday song that year, behind "Sleigh Ride
" and "Winter Wonderland
This was featured on the soundtrack of the 2002 movie Catch Me If You Can, which was directed by Steven Spielberg. In the film, the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks end up speaking with each other every Christmas Eve.
Justin Bieber recorded a new version of this festive tune as a duet with Usher for his Under The Mistletoe album. It was premiered on Ryan Seacrest's radio show on October 24, 2011. "Justin and I did the classic record 'Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.' This record is going to be remembered for years to come," Usher told Seacrest. "It's a record that has always been one of my favorites, and I'm happy that I was able to share it with Justin, and for us to put it out."
Bieber's cover peaked at #58, marking the third time the festive song entered the Hot 100. The re-release of Nat King Cole's rendition reached #65 the week of December 29, 1962, and Christina Aguilera's dance remix peaked at #18 on January 1, 2000.
Mark Arm of Mudhoney
When he was asked to write a song for the Singles
soundtrack, Mark thought the Seattle grunge scene was already overblown, so that's what he wrote about.
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