Ring Out, Solstice Bells

Album: Songs from the Wood (1977)
Charted: 28
Play Video


  • There are plenty of Christmas songs, including one by Jethro Tull, but few about the winter solstice, which takes place on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - either December 21st or 22nd. The song describes a solstice celebration in medieval times, with dancing druids and ringing bells.

    In a Songfacts interview with frontman Ian Anderson, he said it is one of just a few songs he wrote simply looking for a hit song. He told us: "I deliberately attempted to write, if not a pop song, at least a song that was catchy enough to be getting radio play and achieve something in the singles charts."
  • This is also a rare example of a tune that references mistletoe outside of a romantic context. Songs like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" refer to the well-known tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, a trend popularized by servants in Victorian England. But other rituals exist surrounding the plant, such as the ancient Celtic Ritual of Oak and Mistletoe. Anderson sings of the maids and lads congregating "beneath the mistletoe, by the holy oak whereon it grows." A druid priest would climb the tree, cut down the plant, and - after sacrificing two bulls - would create an elixir to cure infertility and defend against poisons. (Don't try this at home: The berries and other parts of the plant contain toxic compounds.)
  • The band's record label, Chrysalis, wanted to market the pagan carol as a Christmas song, so Anderson sent it to Mike Batt of The Wombles to add a dose of Yuletide cheer. The new arrangement fell flat with the band, so the label rolled out the original version in early December - too late to make any Top 10 holiday lists. "That was somewhat sad for me," Anderson told Louder's Classic Rock imprint. "It would have been rather nice to have had a Top 10 hit and been on the Christmas edition of Top Of The Pops. Also, though the band at that time was probably at its best, the seeds were being sown of musical discontent and personal differences between certain people. Within a year or two it began to feel to me as if that cohesiveness we had was getting lost. That was partly, I guess, because of the pressures and frequency of our touring. Things were quite stressful back then. It felt as if I was in charge of a juggernaut that could very easily run off the road."

Comments: 2

  • Twinfinity Musician from Twin Cities One of my absolute favorites
    Love Ian Anderson
    very cool well written song
  • Zabadak from London, EnglandThis was he lead track of a four-song EP which reached #30 in the UK.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Songs About Movies

Songs About MoviesSong Writing

Iron Maiden, Adele, Toto, Eminem and Earth, Wind & Fire are just some of the artists with songs directly inspired by movies - and not always good ones.

Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica)

Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica)Songwriter Interviews

The former Metallica bassist talks about his first time writing a song with James Hetfield, and how a hand-me-down iPad has changed his songwriting.

Al Jourgensen of Ministry

Al Jourgensen of MinistrySongwriter Interviews

In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17

Martyn Ware of Heaven 17Songwriter Interviews

Martyn talks about producing Tina Turner, some Heaven 17 hits, and his work with the British Electric Foundation.

Boy Bands

Boy BandsFact or Fiction

From NKOTB to 1D, how well do you know your boy bands?

History Of Rock

History Of RockSong Writing

An interview with Dr. John Covach, music professor at the University of Rochester whose free online courses have become wildly popular.