Bob Hope & Marilyn Maxwell: Silver Bells
Bing Crosby & Carol Richards: Silver Bells
Kate Smith: Silver Bells
Vonda Shepard: Silver Bells
Over at the Any Major Dude With Half A Heart blog, I run a series on the lesser-known originals of big hits (in the service of unabashed self promotion, the nearly 200 originals so far covered, as it were, can be found HERE). One original I have not included yet is the yuletide perennial Silver Bells, which takes the feast to the streets where Santas ring their bells in the pursuit of raising funds for charitable causes.
Silver Bells has served to score several movie soundtracks, and it was in the movies that the song debuted, performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. Or it did so in a way...
The film was The Lemon Drop Kid, a crime caper in which good-natured eponymous hustler-on-the-run Hope disguises himself as a fundraising Santa Claus with the help of love interest Maxwell in the course of which our heroes sing Silver Bells (do not be alarmed by the plot outline; the story has a happy ending). The movie was filmed in July/August 1950, but wasn’t released until March 1951.
In the interim, the great yuletide crooner Bing Crosby recorded the song with Carol Richards (who got her break in a Bob Hope talent contest). Their version was issued in October 1950 and was so successful that Hope and Maxwell’s Silver Bells scene was reshot for a more elaborate scene. Billboard in their review thought Bing & Carol’s recording had promise, saying “it has a folksy flavour which could catch big”. The “simple and unaffected” performance “could score”, the trade mag predicted.
Written by the successful songwriting team of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who originally called it “Tinkle Bells”), Silver Bells did indeed catch big. It has been prodigiously covered – at least four new versions have been released this year alone.
A rather lovely version of the song appears in the wonderful Polar Express, in which Santa’s silver bell serves as a belated MacGuffin of sorts, recorded in 1966 by Kate Smith (who is perhaps best known for her 1943 rendition of Irving Berlin’s reworked version of God Bless America). Vonda Shepard, by dint of her residence on the Ally McBeal series something of a covers queen, also recorded it. Not having been a great fan of that festival of affected eccentricity, I don’t really know whether it ever appeared on the show, but it was included on the 2000 spin-off album A Very Ally Christmas. And quite lovely it is too.