Song 359: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (1990)Posted: December 25, 2013
Like most people my age, I saw Home Alone too many times as a child. It came out around my 11th birthday, and my dad bravely took me and a group of my friends to see it. It was, of course, ridiculous in every way, but I always liked it for the family Christmas stuff, and for none of the silly burglar stuff. I actually think it’s a pretty good movie without Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern mugging for the camera.
I was also obsessed with the Home Alone soundtrack, which remains surprisingly good. The score, with its theme “Somewhere In My Memory,” is much better than a movie like Home Alone requires (how director Chris Columbus convinced John Williams to compose the score, I’d love to know). The album became one of the things I’d listen to constantly at Christmas, and one of the reasons is Mel Tormé’s version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” which, to me, is the only version there is.
I actually know nothing about Mel Tormé, other than his best-in-the-business nickname (the goddamn Velvet Fog) and his indelible appearance on Seinfield. But I love his smooth and subtle approach to this song, because “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is best sung with subtlety. Sure, it gets a little lofty by the time you hang a shining star upon the highest bough, but its power is generally in its sense of peace and quiet.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” first appeared in another movie: Meet Me In St. Louis. The movie’s star, Judy Garland, didn’t like some of songwriter Hugh Martin’s lyrics—specifically, the big bummer “Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last/ Next year we may all be living in the past / Have yourself a merry little Christmas / Pop that champagne cork / Next year we may all be living in New York.” He wisely listened to Garland’s criticism and came up with some more lyrics that don’t refer to your possible imminent demise. (On second thought, maybe Garland was the wise one here.)
Despite there being so dang many of them, Christmas songs are hard to get right. For the traditional kind, you need to be heartwarming and sweet without being overly saccharine. I think “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” balances those two extremes perfectly. It’s so good, and so appropriate for every occasion, that it closes a movie about a pre-pubescent foiling two burglars with household objects. That’s pretty amazing.