The Christmas Song AKA Chestnuts Roasting
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
“The Christmas Song” aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” was written by pianist Mel Tormé and lyricist Bob Wells. It quickly became a standard when it was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946. It has been covered by all the greats and Cole himself recorded it four times. His 1961 recording using a full orchestra is the version that is commonly heard.
THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC
The song's genesis had an unlikely origin...it was written during a blistering hot summer July in Toluca Lake, CA. Tormé and Wells had been hired to write two songs for a musical movie.
Here's how Torme tells it;
"When Bob and I wrote it, he was living in Toluca Lake. I went over to his house because we wrote at each other's house one day, my house one day at his, I went over to his house on one of the hottest days I can ever remember in July of 45. And that's when we wrote the song. I walked in, he was nowhere to be seen, but on his piano was a spiral pad with the words in pencil, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire", "Jack Frost, nipping at your nose", "Yuletide carols being sung by a choir", "Folks dressed up like Eskimos".
So when he showed up, I said, what is, what is this? He said, I'll tell you it was so hot today that this was like an experiment, a project. I thought I'm going to write something to cool myself off. Honest to God. And I said, gee, this could maybe be a song 35 minutes later that song was written honest to God."
The song was a tough sell at the time with record companies showing very little interest in a song that would only be played for one month out of the year. A year later, Tormé visited Nat “King” Cole at his Los Angeles home to play him “The Christmas Song.” Cole loved it immediately and insisted that Torme not take the song to anyone else fearful that if Bing Crosby or Dinah Shore heard the song first, they would beat him to the punch.
The song met further resistance when Cole's record label, Capitol Records rejected Cole’s holiday tune because they did not think Americans would want to buy a Christmas song by a black artist. It took the massive success of Cole's “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” to give him the leverage to release "The Christmas Song" and the rest is history. There are now hundreds of versions of "The Christmas Song". You can hear a small sample at this link.
MARK EVANIER'S CLASSIC MEL TORME'S STORY
This is one of those stories that you might say is too good to be true. Well folks, the good news here is that it is 100% sure and worth your time to read not only this very minute...but every year around the holidays.
According to Wikipedia, Mark Stephen Evanier is an American comic book and television writer, known for his work on the animated TV series Garfield and Friends and on the comic book Groo the Wanderer. He is also known for his columns and blog News from Me, and for his work as a historian and biographer of the comics industry, such as his award-winning Jack Kirby biography, Kirby: King of Comics.
According to Vinnie Favale, Mark is a great producer, writer and digital raconteur whose "News From Me" blog is a must read every day. Here is the link to his classic Mel Torme story that will make you feel good all over this and every holiday season. It's the Hallmark Christmas version of a blog post.
NPR STORY ON THE MAKING OF A CLASSIC
NPR's Noel King spoke with Mel Tormé's youngest son, James — an accomplished jazz singer himself — to get the story behind the creation of this Christmas classic.