There's Something About "Merry" (revisited)
December 25, 2017 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last When Hugh Martin wrote the original words for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for Meet Me In St. Louis, the lyrics were "so depressingly sad." Judy Garland said, "If I sing that to that sweet little Margaret O’Brien, they’ll think I’m a monster" so Martin did a rewrite for Garland to sing in the movie.

The original lyrics:
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now
"That’s not just melancholy or bittersweet; that’s bleak, more 'A Raymond Carver Christmas' than 'A Charlie Brown Christmas.'"

Martin changed the lines "It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past" to "Let your heart be light/Next year all our troubles will be out of sight".

Judy Garland's 1st Live Radio Performance

In 1957, Frank Sinatra told Martin "The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?" Martin changed "until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" to "hang a shining star upon the highest bough" and did some more jollification. (Sinatra recorded the original movie lyrics on his 1948 Christmas Songs by Sinatra album.)

Judy Garland sang the song with Sinatra's revised lyrics to her kids in her 1963 Christmas special.

The 1963 movie The Victors was based on the execution of Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier executed for desertion in World War II (out of over 21,000 deserters) and uses a Sinatra version during the execution scene.

Sinatra live on the 1967 Christmas edition of The Dean Martin Show.

Martin on an unusual cover: "Twisted Sisters, is that the group's name? Ha ha ha. That's a hoot!"

Other notable covers: Ella Fitzgerald, John Denver & The Muppets, Michael Bublé, Sam Smith.

1989 Fresh Air interview with Hugh Martin and co-author Ralph Blane

Previously on MetaFilter
posted by kirkaracha (10 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
This is my favorite classic Christmas song, and I learned many years ago that the lyrics were changed (through wikipedia, obvs), and it's always fun to retell the tale of why it was changed and sing the original as morbidly as I can.
posted by numaner at 2:43 PM on December 25, 2017

The original lyrics are actually honest about Christmas as a holiday. I've always appreciated that.
posted by hippybear at 2:59 PM on December 25, 2017 [17 favorites]

Those were great, thank you.

The two kids she's mauling in the Xmas special really are her kids, Lorna and Joey Luft.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:58 PM on December 25, 2017

Wonderful movie, wonderful song, wonderful singer. That's all I've got.
posted by Beholder at 5:08 PM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

To be fair, even Happy Birthday would sound absolutely tragic if Judy Garland sang it. She just had that heartbreaking quality in her voice that made every line sound like she only had three hours to live, but was trying to make the best of it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:41 PM on December 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Karen Carpenter had that quality of voice that you ascribe to Judy Garland. I can see that in Garland's voice, too, but it is like a knife when it comes from Karen. I suspect others have other voices that do that. It's probably very specific.
posted by hippybear at 8:43 PM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just sang this last night to express some personal heartbreak. Like so many songs, it exists in my head as this fuzzy cloud, with single lines floating alone in a confused muddle of emotion.

I remember music by the feeling it evokes in me, not so much by any lyrics. Discovering the original version has resolved a conflict in the experience of the song which I've felt but been unable to articulate. The tune is painfully bittersweet and hopeless, and the lyrics as delivered by Garland carry such an obvious tone of sadness and sympathetic recognition of moment and ephemerality, but the words somehow fail to acknowledge the despair with which the melody is imbued.

So now I hear the original version as an echo in my head, a second voice singing at the same time as Garland, and in her performance the words she sings carry both meanings, and the revisionist denial of the song's bleakness only makes it more poignant.
posted by allium cepa at 9:11 PM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is the perfect version of this song for 2017.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:50 PM on December 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

Rachel McElroy did a section on this in the latest episode of Wonderful!. Section starts at about 29 minutes in.
posted by howfar at 12:57 AM on December 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Music-education vlogger extraordinaire Adam Neely created this moody arrangement for a contemporary recording with the original lyrics.
posted by layceepee at 12:52 PM on December 26, 2017

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