Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jingle Bells: Sleigh Ride

The Ronettes: Sleigh Ride


Last winter, I took my two little girls for a ride in a one horse open sleigh at our local 19th century reenactment village. Our driver, an old and familiar friend, pointed out the rows of jingle bells tied to the harness, and taught us that such bells were required by law in such old-time townships. It seems that, given the incredible speed which a well-build sleigh could attain as it sped its passengers through woods and field on their way from house to village and back again, the bells alerted others using the same well-worn trails of impending doom under hoof and runner, so that they might scurry into the underbrush at the first jingle, and be saved.

These days, the history of the jingle bell's origin may be forgotten, but the association of sleigh-rides with jingle bells lives on in several gleeful seasonal songs which call back to winters past, as seen through rosy glasses of historical romanticism, and always from the perspective of the riders, rather than the hapless pedestrians.

As an introductory sally in what will surely prove a fruitful survey of our favorite versions of several such songs this week here at Star Maker Machine, this evening, I offer this classic take on a song originally written as an orchestral piece, first recorded by The Boston Pops in 1949, and subsequently re-released by the Andrews Sisters in 1950 with newly written lyrics before becoming one of the most popular standards of the season.

The Ronettes 1963 version of Sleigh Ride is surely familiar, and hardly obscure; I heard it twice today, in fact, while spinning the dials on a long car ride with those same little girls, now one year older and a heck of a lot more demanding about which songs of the season are worth their attention. It wasn't the first recording of the song, and it won't be the last. But it is a standard worth sharing, one which speaks to the flexibility and power of that girl-group sound. And it stands out here because of the horsey intro, and the way the bells -- of both the glockenspiel and jingle variety -- each get their due before becoming almost buried in Phil Spector's infamous wall of sound.

As a bonus, here's a wonderfully gleeful alt-rock version from indie producer and musician Rob Cosh. It's got bells on, too.

Rob Cosh: Sleigh Ride


For an entirely different albeit similarly girl-voiced take on the same song from nasal folktrio The Roches, feel free to head over to Cover Lay Down, where once again I have been unable to resist cluttering the bloggiverse with holiday coverfolk.

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