Christmas Songs Post: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy or James?

I was listening to my Great Christmas Playlist Shuffle and this question popped into my mind. Let’s groupsource it! I’m curious what other people think. And if nothing else, you get to listen to two shockingly beautiful simple musical recordings.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written in 1944 in the middle of one of the worst years of WWII. It’s a song for depressed people who are trying not to be depressed. It’s not about that feeling of “I’m super super sad and wallowing in it”, it’s about that feeling of “I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other and somehow keep going.”

Judy introduced it, and the combination of the gentle sadness of the lyrics with Judy’s “sob in her throat” voice is something really magical, an immediate Christmas classic.

And then there’s James Taylor’s version, which includes the intro lyrics that Judy did not use, and which give a little more of a “try to appreciate what we have this moment” message. Two very unusual things about this recording, first that Taylor usually writes his own songs so to have him do a cover of an decades old song is odd. Second, it wasn’t from a Christmas album, it was from a regular album released in August and is the only Christmas song on it. It was released in 2002 and worked on in 2001, and I believe in my heart, although I can’t find confirmation of it, that he must have decided to add this song after the September 11 attacks.

Okay, which version is more meaningful to you????

I think I’ve gotta go with Judy’s version. Which is strange, because usually I am all about the lyrics, and Taylor does more lyrics. But Judy really makes the song her own for me, and I can relate more to her sort of full throated sorrow than Taylor’s gentler sadness.

15 thoughts on “Christmas Songs Post: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy or James?

  1. I am the perfect person to answer this question. Judy is an icon of course but my love for James Taylor is only slightly eclipsed by my love for Shahrukh. I have seen him in concert so many times that I’ve lost count including three times on one tour where I traveled to a different city to see him the third time. His version of have yourself a Merry Little Christmas was indeed released early because of the 9/11 attacks, and a number of news outlets reported him releasing the song with the caption ‘James Taylor is a calming presence in a chaotic world’.

    Interestingly, he has become the king of covers as his discography continues to grow. He’s done two official covers albums and one full Christmas album which included the release of this song and also my favorite sad, wistful Christmas song of all time. Now try to decide who’s version you like better? I am in the car so I can’t grab a link to post but I’m talking about RIVER. Joni Mitchell versus James Taylor. You decide.

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  2. Thank you Ticket for posting videos! I have a special place in my heart for James’ voice and how he uses it for songs that have deep pain and longing in them. Note: Traveling Star, It’s Enough to be On Your Way, Don’t Let me be Lonely Tonight, Long Ago and Far Away, You can Close Your Eyes, The Frozen Man. But I think Joni’s version of River is iconic and like have yourself by Judy, is about a pain that perhaps only other women can understand. That’s not an answer, more of an analysis.

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    • Yeah, I’ve got a few more of these posts scheduled, and it is interesting how Christmas songs in particular have different meanings with a male or female voice. Something about songs about family, nostalgia, pain, hope, it feels different male to female.

      On Sat, Nov 28, 2020 at 5:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I also have a soft spot for James Taylor (one of the most beautiful male voices) and I’ll confess that this is not one of my top Christmas songs. But I wonder if you’re responding to the arrangement too? I love James’s voice, and the arrangement behind him is lovely with the trickling piano, but it’s also got an easy listening jazz feel because of the percussion that takes away a bit of the melancholy feel of the original. Whereas behind Judy it’s pure violins, swelling and falling strings all the way through. Personally, I don’t love the way she sings it, but it’s Judy Garland and what do I know. But my brain is trained enough on classic musicals that the violins give me feelings.

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    • I think the Judy arrangement only works because it’s Judy. Any other singer, and the strings would be too strong and sweet and it would lose the pathos. But Judy’s voice dominates them and brings the sadness back in. James Taylor is softer and easier, really anyone could sing that arrangement, so long as you have the phrasing right so we get the full feel of the words.

      On Sat, Nov 28, 2020 at 11:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Besides it being poor Judy who always invests the most frivolous songs with delicious tragedy, her version makes me think of all the people listening to it during WW2 and how special that song is in history.

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    • There are so many Christmas classics from the WWII era. The idea of hope in darkness, the need for family and tradition, really comes through again and again. I like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” the best, but “White Christmas”, “Christmas Eve in My Hometown”, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, there are so many of them!!!!

      On Sun, Nov 29, 2020 at 2:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. This Cat Power version just came up on the playlist. It’s nice and stripped down, but her voice has some of the same throatiness as Judy’s.

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