Picture this: it’s blistering hot, the middle of summer (1945). What do you do to stay cool? You think cool thoughts, of course. That’s what songwriters Bob Wells and Mel Tormé did, and that’s how The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) was born. Tormé said of the event:
“I saw a spiral pad on [Wells’] piano with four lines written in pencil. They started, ‘Chestnuts roasting . . . , Jack Frost nipping . . . , Yuletide carols . . . , Folks dressed up like Eskimos.’ Bob didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”
The Nat King Cole trio was the first to make a recording of this beloved Christmas song, and it became an instant hit. Cole made a few more recordings of the song over the next few years, including the orchestral one (above) in 1961.
Fun fact: Cole’s recording of The Christmas Song was the first holiday standard ever introduced to the public by a black American!
And check out this video of Tormé himself singing with Judy Garland:
*Another fun fact: Tormé was only 19 years old when he wrote The Christmas Song!
What makes The Christmas Song such a timeless classic? I think part of the reason is because the lyrics relate so well; they capture the excitement and love of the Christmas season. And the melody is simple, nostalgic, and easily recognizable.
So next time you hear The Christmas Song, I hope you are filled with the joy and love that listeners have felt from the beginning – on that hot summer day in 1945.
Also, please enjoy my little improvisatory piano arrangement of The Christmas Song: