Print Shortlink

Jingle Bells

(James Lord Pierpoint)

James Pierpoint wrote this song about sleighing around 1857 as “One Horse Open Sleigh” either in Savannah, Georgia, or Boston, Massachusetts, and contrary to popular opinion it has no link to Thanksgiving, when it was possibly written, or Christmas. It became an instant success and became one of the most popular songs to be heard during Christmas throughout the world and sung in many languages.

Copyrighted and published in 1857 and with the name change to “Jingle Bells” happening in 1859, the lyrics were not quite the same as today, although not too dissimilar in their happy bouncy style, and they describe a young sleigh rider who had an accident when he took his girlfriend out in the first verse, he fell over and a rival of his was laughing at him in the second and in the third he goes all out, gets a healthy horse, gets a few more girls and carries on with his sleigh riding.

The music was also different to what we know today in that the chorus was more classical in its sound and has even been likened to Mozart.  There has been dispute over which state and town the song was composed in and one version is that he was writing about the “cutters” that used to race between the squares of Medford and Malden in Massachusetts, and another is that he was in Savannah and wrote it while missing his home in Massachusetts.  It has even been suggested that it was written in Savannah for a children’s choir but this was doubtful with it touching on the matter of a courting couple.

Often used by classical orchestras and popular artists alike it has charted on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart at No. 5 for Diana Krall in 2005 and No. 1 for Kimberley Locke in 2006 and there are other numerous recordings of it. It has also been heard in nearly 100 movies and television programmes.  Making it’s place in history it became the first song ever to be heard from outer space when the astronauts Toms Stafford and Wally Schirra played a prank on Mission Control, claiming to have seen an unknown object with eight smaller ones, and then launched into their rendition of it.

Regularly parodied it has been used by Bobby Helms in his “Jingle Bell Rock”, Ray Stevens in “Santa Claus Is Watching You”, Elmo & Patsy in “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, Da Yoopers in “Rusty Chevrolet” and has also appeared in The Simpsons.  The music has also been taken by composers on mainland Europe and made into songs such as “Vive le Vent” in France and “Christkindl” in Germany.

The impact that this song has had on the world was recognised when there was a plaque put up in Medford, Massachusetts, as the “birthplace of Jingle Bells”.

Black Dyke Mills Band recordings
Chandos 4541 (CD: A Christmas Fantasy)

Boston Pops recordings
Philips 416 287 – 2 (CD:  We Wish You a Merry Christmas)
Conductor – John Williams

DG 419 414-2 (CD: White Christmas)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

RCA 09026-61685-2 (CD: Pops Christmas Party)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler

Sony SK 48232 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – John Williams
Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Chicago Symphony Low Brass Ensemble recordings
VOX 7501 (CD: Christmas with the Symphony Brass of Chicago)
Conductor – Barry Faldner

Robert DeCormier Singers and Ensemble recordings
(as “One Horse Open Sleigh”)
Arabesque 6526 (A Victorian Christmas)
Soloist – David Dusing
Soloist – Maureen Haley
Soloist – Richard Scott
Soloist – Sandra Arida

The London Cello Sound recordings
Cala 55003 (A Cello Christmas)
The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
Conductor – Geoffrey Simon

Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra recordings
Naxos 8.990005 (CD: Joy to the World)
Conductor – Richard Hayman

Rochester Pops Orchestra
Koch CHD 1531 (CD: Joy to the World  Carols for Orchestra and Chorus)

St Louis Philharmonic Orchestra recordings
Sonari records – 7 55724 00272 3 (CD: Christmas with the Philharmonic)
Conductor – Robert Hart Baker