This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most beautiful modern Christmas songs, and I’m delighted to present it as the Christmas Song of the Day for December 9.
In 1975, Emmylou Harris was just starting to make a name for herself in the music world, though she was already a veteran in the industry. In 1969, she had recorded Gliding Bird, one of the last albums ever issued on the Jubilee label. Not long thereafter, she met and collaborated with Gram Parsons, who became a mentor; Harris was his duet partner on the acclaimed album Grievous Angel. When Parsons died in 1973, Harris decided to follow in his footsteps by recording an eclectic assortment of music with one foot in country and the other foot wherever she chose to place it.
Harris signed as a solo artist with Reprise, not known as a country label, in 1975. Her second single, “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” got to #4 on the Billboard country charts that year, which started a string of Top 20 hits that lasted to 1981.
Early in that period of success, in 1975, she recorded a one-off Christmas song, “Light of the Stable,” written by Nova Scotia songwriters Steven and Elizabeth Rhymer. On the “Hallelujah” chorus of the record, she had help from Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young. This marked the first time Harris recorded with Parton and Ronstadt; the three would record together again frequently, both on their own projects and as a highly successful trio starting in the late 1980s.
Even though the original 45 only got to #99 on the Billboard country charts, it became part of the regular seasonal rotation at country radio stations. When Harris recorded an entire Christmas album in 1979, she named it after her 1975 single, and it has remained in print in various forms ever since.
What most people don’t know is that the original 45 was about 20 seconds longer than the version that appeared on LP. Frankly, the edit done for the album tightened the song up a bit and made it flow better, but there’s still something to be said about the original.
In 1994, CBS aired a TV special called Opryland Country Christmas, and as part of the program, Emmylou Harris lip-synced “Light of the Stable” at the Opryland Nativity scene. Perhaps because the producers had a three-minute spot to fill, they used the original, full-length version of the song. I remember it pleasantly surprised me back when I watched the show that Christmas season!
To this day, I don’t think the 1975 version of the song has been on a CD. So, for your listening enjoyment, here is that original version, dubbed from an original copy of the 45.