One of America’s best-known modern composers is Burt Bacharach (born 1928). He has written hit songs for dozens of artists since 1958 and has collaborated with many lyricists, most notably Hal David, with whom he wrote most of Dionne Warwick’s 1960s hits. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 16 is one of those rare holiday songs Bacharach co-wrote.
In 1962, Bacharach still wrote with numerous others, though after the success of Gene Pitney’s version of “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance,” he wrote exclusively with Hal David until 1973. One of his collaborators in 1962 was a young lyricist named Larry Kusik. In 1961, Kusik wrote the words for Adam Wade’s hit song “As If I Didn’t Know.” Years later, Kusik would write the words to the love theme from Romeo and Juliet, otherwise known as “A Time for Us,” and the words to the love theme from The Godfather, also known as “Speak Softly Love.”
Kusik came up with a bizarre lyric about a bell missing its clapper. Only when Jack Frost froze a teardrop inside the empty bell could it play its proper role by jingling on Santa’s sleigh. This is the basic plot for “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle,” a mostly forgotten song recorded fairly often in the 1960s and well remembered by many people who grew up then.
The Bacharach-Kulik song was first recorded by Paul Evans, who is probably best known for his 1959 novelty “Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat.” He released it as a single for the Christmas season of 1962, arranged and conducted by Bacharach. It wasn’t a hit.
The next time “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle” was recorded was in 1964. Bobby Vinton did it for his album A Very Merry Christmas, and it was released as one side of a two-sided holiday single, coupled with the even more forgotten “Dearest Santa.” I’ve seen this version on a couple of Christmas CD compilations over the years, usually when Sony Music digs deep into its vast archives.
Bobby Helms of “Jingle Bell Rock” fame recorded “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle” as a single in 1965 for Kapp, with a new version of his 1957 standard on the other side, but it, too, failed to catch on.
Probably the most fondly remembered, especially because of the cult following many early artists on the A&M label have today, are two versions that Herb Alpert’s label released in 1968. One was an instrumental version by Alpert himself on his Christmas album; the other was credited to Burt Bacharach. Bacharach had a contract with A&M for a couple years, but he didn’t sing on the records with his name on it; instead, he produced easy-listening versions of some of his own songs using studio pros. Bacharach’s version of “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle” first appeared on the B.F. Goodrich promotional album Something Festive! in 1968, and as far as I know, it has made exactly one CD appearance in all the years since.
These are far from the only versions of “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle.” But these are the ones that people seem to recall the most.