Christmas Songs #3: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland (1944)

Number 3: Festive Christmas Songs
Good Housekeeping: Nov. 30, 2019

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Judy Garland (1944)

Judy Garland originally recorded this soft Christmas song for the musical Meet Me in St. Louis, about four daughters coming of age while getting ready to move to New York. 

In Meet Me In St. Louis, the Smith family is facing a move away from their beloved St. Louis to New York City, devastating daughters Esther (Garland) and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien). A sad scene, to be sure. So Hugh Martin sat down to write a sad song. Really sad.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last….

Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more.  
Judy Garland
The words were very dark, and Garland didn't feel comfortable singing them in the scene. Martin was asked to lighten it up. 

"They said, 'It's so dreadfully sad,'" Martin recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 2007. "'I said, 'I thought the girls were supposed to be sad in that scene.' They said, 'Well, not that sad.'  And Judy said, 'If I sing that to that sweet little Margaret O'Brien, they'll think I'm a monster!

And she was quite right, but it took me a long time to overcome my pride. Finally, Tom Drake [the young male lead], a friend, convinced me. He said, 'You stupid son of a b---h! You're gonna foul up your life if you don't write another verse of that song!'"

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Judy Garland

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 
The Pretenders (1987)

The song was revived again in 1987 when The Pretenders contributed their version to the 1987 charity album A Very Special Christmas, which featured many holiday classics recorded by some of the most famous artists of the time.

Chrissie Hynde

"I'm surprised our version is very popular at all," Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders told Entertainment Weekly. "I was in a particularly melancholy mood, so I don't think ours is a cheerful version. Singing it upset me; I was on the verge of tears. 

I was thinking about relationships, how things had changed, and the people I couldn't see and couldn't be with. But maybe that [sadness] is what most people feel at Christmas, and perhaps that's why people relate to it."

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 
The Pretenders

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 
Sam Smith (2014)

In 2014, English singer Sam Smith released their cover version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which debuted at number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first time a version of the song charted on Billboard. 

Sam Smith

The song reached the top ten on the US and Canadian adult contemporary charts and the US Holiday chart. It also peaked inside the top forty in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 
Sam Smith


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