My Christmas Song of the Day for December 19 is a joyous, uptempo celebration of the season that, as is true of so many of the songs I feature, deserves wider recognition.
I first heard “Ring Those Christmas Bells” at least several decades ago. I either bought or was given a copy of the album The Sounds of Christmas, a classic vocal-group LP by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. It has a cool concept: The Waring musicians are in a small town and greet passers-by with song. Sounds of trains coming and going from the local depot, cars moving about, and other non-musical sounds of hustle and bustle blend in with the music, though not to the point of distraction. The first full-length song on the album, which plays as two continuous sides and is not banded, is “Ring Those Christmas Bells,” a song I had not heard anywhere else. At the time, I assumed it was an original.
Years later, I found out, quite by accident, that it was not.
At this date, I can’t remember if I first heard it on a store’s PA or on a CD, probably the former. If anything, the version, sung by a female, was even more joyous than the already exciting Waring rendition. It didn’t take me long to find it.
The first to record “Ring Those Christmas Bells” was Peggy Lee, one of the great American vocalists. She made her first recordings with Benny Goodman’s orchestra in the early 1940s; after going solo, she recorded for Capitol in two stints, first from 1944-1951 and again from 1958 to the early 1970s. Among her most famous hits were “Mañana” from 1948, “Fever” from 1958, and “Is That All There Is?” from 1969. When at Capitol, she did a Christmas single in 1949, an entire Christmas album in 1960, and several more Christmas songs in 1965.
“Ring Those Christmas Bells,” recorded on September 14, 1953, comes from Lee’s years at Decca, during which she recorded a couple of concept albums and quite a few singles. Though it sounds as if she could have written it, the song was composed by tunesmiths Marvin Fisher and Gus Levene. Until the CD era, this song was completely forgotten, but it’s been on a few compilations in recent years.
Here’s Lee’s original toe-tapping version. Sing along if you like!