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HomeNewsChristmas with the Melody Makers: Sleigh Ride

Christmas with the Melody Makers: Sleigh Ride

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This is the fourth in our series of Christmas songs by Jewish writers.

MOST of the songs featured in this series were written by lyricists and composers working together. (I find this an incomprehensible process – does the tune come first, or the words, or both at the same time? – but it happens.) This is different: the lyricist Mitchell Parish specialised in writing words to existing melodies.

Parish was born Michael Hyman Pashelinsky in 1900to Jewish parents in Lithuania. When he was seven months old the family emigrated     to America, arriving on February 3, 1901 on the SS Dresden. The family settled for a while in Louisiana and changed their name to Parish, moving to New York when Michael was four. Interested in literature and poetry from a young age, he studied at Columbia and New York University. He hoped for a career in medicine and was working at New York Hospital (I cannot find out in what capacity but I assume as something fairly lowly) when a doctor showed some of his poetry to Joe Morris, a music publisher. Morris offered Michael a job as a staff lyric writer and he accepted, changing his first name to Mitchell. He had his first hit in 1928 with Sweet Lorraine, originally written as an instrumental by pianist Cliff Burwell. Here is his version performed by Frank Sinatra in 1946.

His course was set. His next success was with Stardust, written and recorded as an instrumental by Hoagy Carmichael in 1927. Parish was asked to write lyrics for it in 1928. Here Carmichael sings and plays it.

This is probably the best-known version, by Nat King Cole.

In 1939 Parish wrote lyrics for Glenn Miller’s signature tune, Moonlight Serenade, but it was not until 1959 when the Rivieras recorded it that the vocal version became popular.

The American composer Leroy Anderson started writing Sleigh Ride as a light orchestral work during a heatwave in 1946 and finished it in 1948. It was an immediate hit when the Boston Pops recorded it in 1949.

Mitchell Parish wrote the lyrics in 1950:

Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring ting tingling too
Come on it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling, ‘Yoo hoo!’
Come on it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you

Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap, let’s go
Let’s look at the show, we’re riding in a wonderland of snow
Giddy yap, giddy yap, giddy yap, it’s grand just holding your hand
We’re gliding along with a song of a wintry fairyland

Our cheeks are nice and rosy and comfy cosy are we
We’ve snuggled close together like two birds of a feather would be
Let’s take that road before us and sing a chorus or two
Come on it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you

There’s a birthday party at the home of farmer Gray
It’ll be the perfect ending of a perfect day
We’ll be singing the songs we love to sing without a single stop
At the fireplace we will watch the chestnuts pop, pop, pop, pop

There’s a happy feeling nothing in this world can buy
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives
These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.

The first recording was made the same year by the Andrews Sisters.

This is Ella Fitzgerald from her 1960 album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. The clips are from Buffalo, New York State, during the Great Blizzard of 1947.

Here is a barbershop quartet-style rendition by Rhett Roberts:

I thought this performance by Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, was a lot of fun.

By far the best version in my opinion is this one by the Ronettes from the 1963 Phil Spector Christmas Album, originally released as A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records.

Mitchell Parish returned to college in middle age and graduated from New York University summa cum laude in 1950, when he was 50 (the year he wrote the Sleigh Ride lyrics). This is all I can find out about that period in his life. The last piece of work I can find a reference to is writing the English lyrics to the Italian song Volare in 1958. Parish died in 1993 in Manhattan at the age of 92.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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