Saturday, December 24, 2011

Song Of The Day #741 Special Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas from Ranch Radio.  See my post here for the background on Montgomery Ward,  Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and the author of the 1939 booklet, Robert L. May.

May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, was a songwriter most famous for his Christmas songs.   Some of his titles were Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree, I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, A Holly Jolly Christmas and today's song, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Marks says the original version he wrote was "easily one of the worst songs ever written."  Almost a year later Marks was walking down the street "when a new melody came to me."  He said that was "the first time that had ever happened and I have to admit, it's a great melody."

Marks then sent the song to RCA recording artist Perry Como. Como turned it down when the composer wouldn't let him change any of the lyrics. Years later, Marks confessed to Autry that the song had also been rejected by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.

Marks then took the song to Autry's musical director, Carl Cotner. Cotner told Autry, "I think the song is good for you." Problem was, Autry wasn't particularly fond of  it.  However Gene's wife, Ina Autry, was and encouraged him to record it.  During his 1949 recording session Autry decided to give it a try, and did the song in one take.   It sold 2 million copies that year.

The song would go on to become a perennial Christmas favorite and has been recorded by over 500 artists. Marks always liked Autry's version the best, writing to him the next year, "The great success of the Rudolph record was your perfect rendition of this song...Two bar intro, ad lib verse, solo chorus in tempo, thirty-two bar instrumental, and the last chorus with the Pinafores."  And years later (1961) Marks wrote to Autry, "What I sent you in 1949 were ink dots on a piece of paper.  You had to translate this into a sound, lyrically and musically, that people would like.  How many great songs have been lost because of the wrong rendition?  Many people have said: 'Any one could have made a hit with Rudolph'  My answer has always been: 'We'll never know. I only know that Gene Autry did do it, and that all the others followed."

So there you have the story of how a Jewish copywriter at Montgomery Ward and his Jewish brother-in-law who liked to write Christmas songs, combined with a singing cowboy from Tioga, Texas to produce one of the greatest loved songs of all time.  To me, a demonstration of what's great about America.  No central planner needed, thank you.

Merry Christmas!