While most pop Christmas songs—mostly novelty songs, children’s ditties, and seasonal love songs—may not still be appropriate, winter music that ends up on holiday play lists certainly is. By far the most popular orchestral piece in that category is Sleigh Ride. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most-performed seasonal songs written by ASCAP members and named Sleigh Ride the most popular piece of Christmas music in the U.S. in 2009–2012, based on performance data from over 2,500 radio stations.
|Images of sleigh rides like the 19th Century Currier & Ives engraving, and his own New England childhood memories inspired Leroy Anderson to write Sleigh Ride.|
Sleigh Ride is a popular light orchestra standard composed by Leroy Anderson who had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946 and finished the work in February 1948. It was first recorded by in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra and became the highlight of its annual Christmas concerts. Fiedler’s successors John Williams and Keith Lockhart have also made multiple recordings with the Pops.
|Leroy Anderson had a productive relationship with Arthur Feidler, conductor of the Boston Pops.|
Anderson was born in 1908 in Cambridge, Massachusetts to immigrant Swedish parents. In the late 1930’s he developed a relationship with Fiedler and there after provided the Pops with a steady stream of original compositions. John Williams described him as “one of the great American masters of light orchestral music.” Among Anderson other signature pieces were Jazz Pizzicato/ Jazz Legato, Blue Tango, The Syncopated Clock, and Plink, Plank, Plunk! Which was used as the theme for the CBS panel show I’ve Got a Secret. Starting in 1950 Anderson led his own studio orchestra for recordings while the Pops and other light orchestras premiered live performances.
In 1950 lyricist Mitchell Parish wrote words which were first recorded by the Andrews Sisters. Since then many artists have covered the vocal version. Johnny Mathis sang the most popular on his 1958 Christmas album. Parish’s original lyrics referred to a sleigh race to a “birthday party” but some performers including The Carpenters and Air Supply have altered that line to “Christmas party.” The Ronettes with producer’s Phil Specter’s wall of sound arrangement made a version on their 1963 album which has gone on to regular seasonal air play as well.
|Sheet music for the vocal version of Sleigh Ride with lyrics by Mitchell Parish.|
Parish went on to write lyrics for several of Anderson’s other orchestral creations.
Anderson himself with his own Pops Concert Orchestra recorded Sleigh Ride on Decca Records in 1950 which became reached Cashbox magazine’s bestsellers chart when re-released in 1952. Anderson’s version remains the most popular instrumental version based on holiday radio air play.