Hot New Joint: "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" by Phoebe Bridgers
The mythology behind “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is not so much fascinating, but it is worth mentioning if you aren’t familiar with it.
Written in 1944, the song was always a dark one. The Wikipedia entry for it details some of the rejected song lyrics that writer Hugh Martin originally used—“Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last,” among them. Martin penned the song for use in the Judy Garland vehicle Meet Me in St. Louis—it was Garland herself, along with her co-star and director who asked Martin to revise the song before it was included in the film.
Over a decade later, Frank Sinatra selected the song for inclusion on his holiday recording, A Jolly Christmas—infamously asking Martin to ‘jolly up’ a specific line, changing “until then we’ll just have to muddle through somehow,” to “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” a line that, really, makes no sense within the context of the rest of the song.
Commonly, when performed throughout the history of popular music, the ‘jollied up’ version is what you will hear—though occasionally, someone will be true to the original, like, of all people, James Taylor.
So it should come as no surprise that Phoebe Bridgers, the young woman responsible for one of the finest and devastating albums of 2017, would opt to release a cover of this song—and opt to use the correct lyrics.
Bridgers, a self-described ‘emo kid atheist who loves Christmas’ does wonders with the source material, turning an already sad song even sadder—mournful, haunting, swooning, fragile, and dreamy.
Musically sparse, Bridgers structures the song around a spectral pedal steel, gently brushed percussion, low and rumbling bass, and the strum of a chorus pedal heavy guitar, creating a very stark and otherworldly atmosphere—all of it serving as the backdrop for Bridgers’ vocals—soft and delicate, sounding like they are on the verge of breaking at any moment as she carefully treads through the lyrics.
The holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people, and holiday music is truly an acquired taste—there’s not very much of it out there that I legitimately enjoy listening to . In the hands of Phoebe Bridgers, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” becomes a song that stares holiday induced ennui in the eyes, and should become essential listening during the month of December.