When Judy Garland sang “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in the MGM musical Meet Me In St Louis, the song was a hymn of comfort to the narrator’s little sister – and, indeed, herself – in a situation of personal upheaval. It’s sweet and tender and fragile.
Over the years that meaning became roundly ignored in such ways that it assumed the dimension of a recyclable Christmas card. It is the equivalent of the tinselled “Season’s Greetings” banner in your local footwear store.
So if we need to take Judy’s quiet embrace of a song as the ubiquitous exuberant handshake of seasonal well-wishes it has become, we ought to be selective about whom we allow to convey the greetings. I might propose Luther Vandross’ quite lovely version, but if we are going to flip Judy’s intent upside down, we may as well go with the big band bombast of Lou Rawls, who delivers the song in big style on his 1989 album A Merry Christmas. In fact, I think I’d rather have Lou’s version.