My 23rd Favorite Song of All-Time

…and my 23rd favorite song of all-time is:

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as sung by Judy Garland and written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane

I don’t just love this song around Christmas time.  I love it all year, and yes, I listen to it at many points throughout the year.  This is some fucking song!  Let me tell you all about it.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” started its life as just another song in a musical film called “Meet Me in St. Louis”, from 1944.  The movie is not a Christmas movie, there just happens to be a scene around Christmas time where Judy Garland–the film’s star–sings this song in a heartbreaking scene while staring out a window.  The song wouldn’t become a holiday staple until many years after the film’s release.

It is an incredibly sad song.  Most people don’t realize it.  You may never really stop to think about the lyrics, and on top of that, the lyrics that are positive are almost certainly meant ironically.  The tone of the song is practically unmistakable in its sadness.

So why do I like a song so much that I think is so sad?  Well, on one level, it is just an immense appreciation for the songcraft going on.  But on another level, the song speaks to me and affects me for reasons, and at a depth, that I’m almost afraid to explore.  I think it appeals to portions of my personality that are unattractive, or at the very least, not the most loving-cuddly parts of me.

The song is honest in its appraisal of the holidays.  Listen, I love Christmas and everything surrounding it, but the cynical core of me tends to waver toward the weary conclusions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  I seriously cannot count how many times this song has made my cry.

Other versions of the song—notably a true stinker by Sinatra that is pretty much more famous now than the original—change a few key lyrics to make things more positive, but at the expense of losing all emotional punch and creating a little bit of holiday hodgepodge nonsense, most notably changing the line “until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” to “hang a shining star upon the highest bough”…it may seem small to many, but I am far from alone in thinking this is a beastly, juvenile butcher job that serves only to appeal to the happy masses.

(starting right from the start, calling the holiday a “merry little Christmas” belittles its importance.  In light of small cues like this throughout, standard holiday treacle like “next year, all our troubles will be out of sight” has to be seen as a joke, a kind of satire of our culture’s over-senimentalization of the holidays…yes, this was already something that was happening in 1944. However, the song is not all piss and vinegar; it yearns for these ideas to be true, and is drenched in—thanks to Garland’s perfect delivery— a deep love for “faithful friends who were dear to us.”…but notice even there, the songwriters used the past tense…the friends were dear to us; here we can’t help but confront the inevitable breaking-down and fracturing of life)

Read the (original) lyrics below and then watch Judy Garland sing it in the video I’ve included, from “Meet Me in St. Louis”.  Don’t just think about the lyrics, but about Garland’s delivery and the tone of the music.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light.
Next year,
all our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the Yuletide gay.
Next year,
all our troubles will be miles away.

Once again as in olden days,
happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who were dear to us
will be near to us once more.

Someday soon, we all will be together
if the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

2 Responses to “My 23rd Favorite Song of All-Time”

  1. Great song. I seem to like a lot of the more secular Christmas songs. Heck, I even like Blue Christmas, which a lot of folks seem to dislike. Oh well!!

  2. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Very interesting. I wasn’t aware of the original lyrics ’til reading this. I agree with your analysis of them, although I have to admit having known the alternate version my whole life I can’t help but hear the original tone and spirit of the song. If I were to simply hear this version (not see Garland’s melancholy face) and not read your interpretation I would simply think, “oh these lyrics are different!”. I probably will never experience the song like you do, but it’s good to know about it’s origin.

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