|The not terribly Christmasy|
original 1944 sheet music
When the song was first written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for the movie, some of the lyrics were very not quite as heartwarming as the ones that we are most familiar with now, so they were rewritten. As you can see, there is quite a difference in meaning and sentiment:
Why the change? Well, the world was still at war and, according to *Ace Collins, Judy Garland had spent a lot of time entertaining the troops during the past three years as well as visiting, talking and reading their fan mail. She had a pretty good idea that a depressing song wasn't what was wanted or needed by these courageous soldiers and so, with support from the movie's director (and her future husband), Vincent Minnelli, she sent the song back to Martin and Blaine and asked for a rewrite. The new version was certainly more hopeful than the original.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"was released as a single in time for Christmas 1944, and Collins writes, when Judy Garland "sang in to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."
In 1957, Frank Sinatra recorded it for an album called A Jolly Christmas. Thinking the line "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow" wasn't very jolly, he asked Martin to revise that lyric and so it became "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough," which may the the lyric you are most familiar with, although both are still recorded by singers today.
Of the approximately 150 different versions that have been recorded since 1944, all by different recording artists, I think my favorites are the ones by Rosemary Clooney (1976) and Diana Krall (2001).
Do you have a favorite version of this beloved Christmas song?
*Collins, Ace. Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.