And finally . . . a happy twenty-first
21 Jingle Bells Bing Crosby
More than ten years ago now, I wrote a long piece about Christmas — facts mostly. Facts like the fact that there are 140 towns and cities in the USA that have the word Christmas in their names. And the fact that, back then anyway, Britain’s top five best loved Christmas carols were Silent Night, Away In A Manger, Little Donkey, Good King Wenceslas and . . . Jingle Bells.
Which is kind of odd as it began life as a Thanksgiving song, entitled The One Horse Open Sleigh. Published in 1857, it was written by James Pierpont, uncle of the famous financier JP Morgan, whose business is still around under a similar name. The legend says Pierpont first played Jingle Bells in Simpson’s Tavern, Medford, Massachusetts — an hour or so’s walk up the Mystic River from downtown Boston. There’s a plaque to that effect on the building that’s replaced the ale house.
(I looked up Mystic River, too. It has nothing to do with the supernatural. It’s an Anglicising of its Wampanoag name. It’s also an extremely short river, just seven miles long. The things I’ve learned getting this stuff ready.)
Pierpont’s song became such a favourite at his church that they kept playing it right through till Christmas. The lyrics have changed somewhat since the original version. There are several verses, too, though no one sings them much anymore.
I’ve got a dozen or so versions of it, including a hi-energy instrumental by the Pet Shop Boys — a Christmas gift to their fanclub members. Camp as Christmas? Oh, yes.
I think this is my favourite, though. It has the Andrews Sisters on it — the flip side of the original 78 was Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. It really swings. It has that pause thing when they all stop and stay silent for a beat. They do the same trick on their version of the country murder rocker Pistol Packin Mama. And it reminds me of my childhood. My father was a big, big Bing Crosby fan. And Bing is, after all, Mr White Christmas to Charles Brown’s Mr Black I’ve no idea how many Christmas songs Crosby recorded. I’ve certainly got more than a dozen.
A grammatical (or syntactical, perhaps) point. According to James J Fuld, in The Book of World-Famous Music, the word ‘jingle’ is here being used not as an adjective, as you probably thought — I certainly did. Rather, it is an imperative verb — ie it’s telling sleigh drivers to jingle their bells, as a way of reducing the seasonal sleigh accident rate (and insurance premiums — see Rudolph, above). I’m sure he’s right, too. It makes far better sense of that ‘jingle all the way’ line.
Next Normal non-seasonal service will finally be resumed