I picked this one partly because it sounds so doggone American: it’s got a bunch of jazz chords, evokes Christmas in New York City (hello, chestnuts), and the lyrics tap into American traditions of Christmas. It seems that the idea of Santa as we know him now was pushed along in large part by the popularity of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Provided Moore is the actual author of this poem most commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas” (its authorship is disputed), at least some of this magical, plump, sleigh-driving stuff came from Moore’s imagination when he combined the legend of St. Nicholas with his bearded Dutch friend who drove a sleigh around in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Truly.
“The Christmas Song” takes that image of Santa as a given by the time it was written in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells. It was written because it was hot. Not the song, the day. It was a terribly hot summer in California, and Wells was trying to think of wintry things to cool himself off. He jotted down “Chestnuts roasting…, Jack Frost nipping…, Yuletide carols…, Folks dressed up like Eskimos.” Tormé saw the list, thought it could make a great song, and within an hour, the now-classic Christmas song was born. This version is the chart-topping recording by Nat King Cole. It worked its way up the Billboard chart on four different years.