It’s one of the iconic songs of the Christmas season. One that has been covered countless times by artists from almost every genre imaginable, and one that you’ve probably heard so many times you could probably sing every word in your sleep. What you may not know is that the man who made it famous was born right here in Indiana.
Bloomington, Indiana Man was the first to record “Jingle Bell Rock”.
The year is 1957 and a native of Bloomington, Indiana, Bobby Helms was living in Nashville, Tennessee, where he made his name as a country singer. Earlier in the year he released two singles, “Fraulein” and “My Special Angel,” both of which made it to number one on the country chart, with the latter even making its way onto the Billboard Pop Music chart, where it peaked at number seven.
But that fall, he recorded the song that would make him a staple of Christmas music for decades to come.
“Jingle Bell Rock” was an instant hit for Helms. According to a 2012 article by David Lindquist of the Indianapolis Star, the song rocketed onto the Billboard Top 40 chart, peaking at number six.
A sleigh full of controversy
The song was written by songwriters Joe Beal and Jim Boothe, but as John G. O’Leary wrote in a 2013 article for Business Lessons from Rock, Helms and the studio guitarist he worked with, Hank Garland didn’t like it. So they sat down, changed the words, added a bridge and a few new verses, and created what they thought was a whole new song. Unfortunately, they were unable to provide enough evidence to support the claim and never received any songwriting royalties for the song. However, Helms saw some royalties since he was the one singing it.
While neither is credited as the song’s author, both Helms and Garland claimed to be until their deaths in 1997 and 2004, respectively.
Jingle Bell Rock cover
In the 65 years since its release, “Jingle Bell Rock” has been covered by a range of musicians across a variety of genres, including country, where both George Strait and Blake Shelton (in a duet with his then-wife Miranda Lambert) have performed to lend the Holiday classics their own touch.
Legendary pop-rock duo Hall & Oates released their version of it in 1983.
The song has even been covered by the heavy metal community, with New Hampshire metal band Our Last Night releasing their own version in 2021, which initially stays close to the original before veering into a chorus of heavy guitar riffs, thundering drums and mixes of melodious singing with some raw screams because why not?
The song was even remixed into a hit for the club scene.
Whichever version you prefer, it might never have existed if the Hoosier native hadn’t recorded it first.
[Sources: Wikipedia / Indianapolis Star / Business Lessons From Rock]
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