Some of the popular Christmas songs we know and love have fallen into the public domain, which means permission is not needed for use of the song. However there are a number of Christmas songs that, while popular and popularly thought of as public domain, are in fact copyrighted works. Here is a list of ten popular Christmas songs you may have thought were public domain, but actually are not.
“Winter Wonderland” is a winter song that has been appropriated as a Christmas song despite its lack of a reference to the holiday. The song was co-written by Felix Bernard, Lon Smith, and Richard Smith in 1934 and was inspired by Richard Smith’s view of a snow-covered park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania. “Winter Wonderland” is published by Warner Chappell Music Co and according to the ASCAP website is the most-played ASCAP-member-written holiday song of the previous five years.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane in 1944 and first appeared in the musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” starring Judy Garland. The song originally had a somber tone, as it appeared in a scene in which a family is distraught over being forced from their home in St. Louis. After resisting pressure from Garland and her co-stars, Martin and Blane agreed to alter the lyrics to make the song more upbeat. The lyrics were altered in several other versions but the Judy Garland version is by far the most commonly recorded version. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is published by EMI Music Publishing.
Though it is known that Irving Berlin wrote the original version of “White Christmas”, the exact year that he wrote it is unclear. It is most commonly believed that he wrote it sitting poolside at the Biltmore hotel in Phoenix, Arizona in 1942, which is fitting given the lyrics of the song. The version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time with over fifty million copies sold worldwide. “White Christmas” is published by Imagem Music.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Written in 1943, one year after “White Christmas”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” sailed to the top of the charts due in large part to the original version sung once again by Bing Crosby. The song was written by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon, and Walter Kent, who got the idea from soldiers in World War I and II. The soldiers originally thought that the wars would be over quickly and that they would be home for Christmastime. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is controlled by Gannon & Kent Music Company and the Piedmont Music Company.
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
“The Christmas Song”, more commonly known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, was written in 1944 by vocalist Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. The song is said to have inspired by Tormé’s desire to keep cool during an unusually hot summer and was first recorded in 1946 by The Nat King Cole Trio. “The Christmas Song” is published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
In the same vein as “The Christmas Song”, “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” was written in 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne during one of the hottest days on record in Los Angeles, California in hopes of creating a “cooler” mindset. Vaughn Monroe recorded the first version, which reached number one on the Billboard charts the following year. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” is published by Warner-Chappell.
Jingle Bell Rock
“Jingle Bell Rock” was written by by two men who were not known primarily as musicians. Joseph Beal, a public relations executive, and James Boothe, a Texan in the advertising business, wrote the song in 1957 and it appeared for the first time that year in a release by Bobby Helms. The song is a mixture of the classic “Jingle Bells” and one of the most popular songs of the 1950’s, “Rock Around the Clock”. “Jingle Bell Rock” is published by Warner-Chappell as well.
Frosty The Snowman
Another one of the most popular Christmas songs incorrectly classified as public domain is “Frosty the Snowman”. Written in 1950 by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the song was first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys. Autry was chosen to be the first to record the song following the success of recording of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. “Frosty the Snowman” is published by Warner-Chappell as well.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” was written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934 and was first sung on Eddie Cantor’s Radio Show in November of the same year. By Christmastime of that year over 100,000 copies of sheet music and 400,000 copies of the single had been sold in the United States. “Santa Clause is Coming to Town is published by EMI Music Publishing.
The Little Drummer Boy
“The Little Drummer Boy” endured many lyrical changes before it became the most commonly used version that we hear today. Originally written by Katherine Davis in 1941, the song was entitled “Carol of the Drum” and was based on a Czech carol. In 1957 the song was re-arranged by Henry Onorati and once again in 1958 by Harry Simeone. The culmination of these arrangements birthed the current version of “Little Drummer Boy”, an arrangement which is also published by EMI.
- By Nathaniel Patchner
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