The Christmas Song

Album: Christmas Legends (1946)
Charted: 51 3
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Songfacts®:

  • This song is often known by its first line, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," as "The Christmas Song" doesn't appear in the lyric.
  • Here's the story of how this song was written:

    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. When he got there he walked into the house, couldn't find Bob, but found a spiral notepad 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."
  • Most popular Christmas are either fun singalongs ("Jingle Bells"), or downtempo songs that evoke melancholy or longing ("White Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas"). "The Christmas Song" stands out as a slow song with no chorus that takes a very cheerful view of the holiday season, ending with a traditional greeting: "Merry Christmas to you."

    Like many Christmas classics, its writers are Jewish, but had no trouble filling the lyric with symbols of the season.
  • Capitol wanted Nat King Cole to stand and sing during the recording session, but Cole insisted on sitting and playing the piano himself.
  • Like riding a one-horse open sleigh, roasting chestnuts on an open fire is a Christmas activity done only for nostalgia. If you've ever had a roasted chestnut, you'll know why: they taste like an old shoe. They're also a lot of work, especially if you want to cook them over an open fire.
  • The Simpsons take a poke at this song in their first Christmas episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (1989).
  • The original recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.
  • 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.

    A fourth version released by contemporary Christian music singer Lauren Daigle peaked at #55 on the Hot 100 dated January 5, 2019.
  • Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello recorded a duet version, which they dropped on December 5, 2020. Their take of the cozy Christmas ballad is included on the holiday deluxe edition of Mendes' Wonder album.

    Cabello revealed that their rendition of the classic festive tune will double as a charity single, with every stream supporting "those in need right now." The songstress added that she and Mendes are donating $100,000 to Feeding America.
  • London soul singer Olivia Dean recorded an exclusive version of "The Christmas Song" for Amazon that peak at #19 on the UK singles chart. Her rendition is part of the company's 2021 exclusive lineup of covers of classic festive songs, which in the past included Jess Glynne's interpretation of "This Christmas" and Ellie Goulding's rendition of "River." Back in April 2021, Amazon Music selected Olivia Dean as their breakthrough artist of the year.
  • This is one of the few holiday songs to earn entry on the National Recording Registry, where it took its place in 2022 along with 24 other historically significant recordings, including Hank Aaron's 715th Career Home Run call and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Comments: 4

  • Seventh Mist from EarthBob Rivers parodied both this classic and the Chipmunk Song with "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire."
  • Pedre from Bangor, MeThe Christmas song was released by Nat King Cole in 1946. It's the song that made him a popular vocalist.
  • Rich from Elkins, Wv110 words (give or take) put together in less than an hour. Everyone knows this one ...the songwriters made a good living because of this one song..a Christmas classic..I'd like to write something enduring like this someday...
  • Fred from Summit, NeNat "King" Cole recorded and released four separate and distinctive versions of the song, beginning in 1949, as by the King Cole Trio (Capitol F-90036). The second version came along in 1954 (Capitol F2955).
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