Livingston & Evans, 1951
Livingston & Evans: The Last Of The Great Songwriters From The Golden-Age Of Hollywood
Coming off of their second Academy Award with Mona Lisa, Livingston & Evans were flying high. The boys had proven to themselves and everyone else they weren’t just one- hit wonders when it came to writing songs for both motion pictures or for the popular record market. Not only was Nat ‘King’ Cole’s version of Mona Lisa a bonafide smash hit record, numerous artists recorded it as well. Nat’s version of Mona Lisa has become his most famous recording. It has become his theme song.
But in this business you’re only as hot as your last three minutes, so Livingston & Evans were back on the job in 1951 writing 15 songs for 10 motion pictures that included: a Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis film titled THAT’S MY BOY, two songs for a Ray Milland, Jan Sterling film titled RHUBARB, a title song for the Sci-fi Thriller WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, one song for a Bob Hope, Hedy Lamarr film titled MY FAVORITE SPY, another title song for the Rhonda Fleming, John Payne film CROSSWINDS, another title song for the Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Shelley Winters film A PLACE IN THE SUN, three songs for the Bing Crosby, Jane Wyman film HERE COMES THE GROOM, one song for the famous film noir classic ACE IN THE HOLE starring Kirk Douglas and another film title song for the John Lund, Thelma Ritter, Gene Tierney film THE MATING SEASON. But none of these could compare to the film assignment that was about to come knocking on their door.
Bob Hope and director Sidney Lanfield came to the boys and asked them to write a couple of songs for their new film THE LEMON-DROP KID. This version was adapted from the Damon Runyon story which portrays Hope as a racetrack tout who owes big money to gangsters and must pay or else.
Jay & Ray did what they were asked and all was fine with the two songs as they pertained to the film and Hope’s character. However, at the last minute the suits came a-knocking again. This time they decided that the film needed something with which to end the film. So, as sometimes happens, fate raised its head and Jay & Ray were asked to write a Christmas song to help Hope complete the final scene in the film. Because by this time Livingston & Evans were the most successful songwriters on the Paramount Pictures lot, they decided to refuse the assignment. Their reasoning was that there hadn’t been a new hit Christmas song written in many years. Because every year the same old Christmas songs were recorded and played why should they write a new Christmas song? When the suits came back to Jay & Ray and said “you either write us a new Christmas song or else,” Jay & Ray grudgingly went to their office and wrote what they thought was a nice new Christmas song. However, before turning the song into the suits and to Hope and the director, Jay & Ray thought they would sit on it a day or two. That night when Jay went home his wife asked “what did you do in school today?” Jay responded that he and Ray had written a Christmas song for the new Bob Hope film. She asked what they titled it? Jay said “Tinkle Bells”. My mother in-law said “Tinkle Bells?, Don’t you know what Tinkle means to most people?” Jay said he did not. Their meaning was meant to accentuate the tinkling of the Salvation Army bells being rung by Hope and others in the film. Again Jay’s wife said “well you need to change the title.”
So, the next day, Jay mentioned what his wife had said about the title of their new Christmas song to Ray and they immediately threw the “Tinkle Bells” song in the trash. They then begun to write a new song, however, because they liked the melody of the verse they kept that. Then they began again on the chorus and found they liked that as well. Then they began again on the words and found they liked them as well. So after throwing away the original song “Tinkle Bells” they decided to keep everything except “Tinkle”. They changed “Tinkle” to “Silver”, which was the color of the tinkley bells Hope was using in the film. Silver Bells has been in the top 10 Christmas songs since its release in 1951. In the days of record sales it sold half a billion records. It has become a Christmas standard.
Jay & Ray always marveled at the fact that they almost gave that assignment away. They did not think a new hit Christmas song could be written.To their pleasure Silver Bells has become a very substantial annuity for their catalog.
Silver Bells is published by Sony/ATV Harmony. However, another Livingston & Evans song that was not from a film but has been recorded by Bing Crosby, the first person to record Silver Bells, is ’Round and ‘Round The Christmas Tree, published by Jay Livingston Music, Inc.
Please give a listen to ’Round and ‘Round The Christmas Tree and see if this song fits any of your upcoming new Christmas song requests.
Bing Crosby / ‘Round and ‘Round The Christmas Tree (Jay Livingston Music, Inc.)