December 25, 2013


JINGLE BELLS by James Pierpont (Mark Steyn, 11/22/10, excerpted from Mark's book A Song For The Season)

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way...

As well they might. Just in time for Thanksgiving, here comes, er, "Jingle Bells" - which was written not for the Yuletide season but, allegedly, for Thanksgiving. In Boston, in the fall of 1857, the city's leading music publisher, Oliver Ditson, introduced the world to a new song called "The One-Horse Open Sleigh". Before "White Christmas" and "Rudolph" came along in the Forties, before "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" in the Thirties, the most popular secular seasonal song in the American catalogue was "Jingle Bells", written before the Civil War but such a potent brand a century later that it was still spawning bizarre mutated progeny with every new musical trend - "Jingle Bell Boogie", "Jingle Bell Mambo" and, of course, "Jingle Bell Rock".

I notice a lot of album sleeves credit the writing of "Jingle Bells" to "Anon." And you can see why they'd think that. It doesn't seem the kind of song you'd need a professional to write, and it's hard to imagine, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein, sitting down to rattle it off:

"Okay, we'll start off with 'Jingle Bells'."


"And then for the second line, how about 'Jingle Bells'?"

"Same words, but different notes maybe?"

"Nah, why knock yourself out? And then for the third line we'll go with..."

"Let me guess. 'Jingle...'?"

"Right, but this time we pull the old switcheroo and go with 'Jingle all the way'."

"Great. By the way, when we say 'Jingle Bells', is that a type of bell? Or is it an injunction - 'Jingle', comma, 'Bells'?"

Yet the song is not the work of "Anon". Unlikely as it sounds, a real live songwriter did sit down one day and write "Jingle Bells". His name was James Lord Pierpont and he wrote and published many other songs in his lifetime, among them "The Colored Coquette" and others lost to posterity, but a few that have survived, such as "Our Battle Flag", a paean not to Old Glory but to the banner of the Confederacy. Every song but "Jingle Bells" was a flop.

But, if you're going to be a one-hit wonder, "Jingle Bells" is the one hit to have.

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[originally posted: 12/24/11]

Posted by at December 25, 2013 5:09 AM

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