A few days ago, I was asked if I had a favorite Christmas song. Not a particular version of a song, but a song that I love no matter who is doing it. I couldn’t pick one. There are too many to pick from. But when I was asked this question I instantly thought of my favorite particular version of a Christmas song. It’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Rowlf and John Denver.
First of all, the song itself is great. Beautiful melody. Satisfying lyrics. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane really outdid themselves. It’s been recorded dozens of times, by all sorts of artists, but Rowlf and John Denver bring it to an entirely new level.
They perform it in John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together from 1979. Rowlf has the rough voice and plays the piano. John Denver sings sweetly. The two voices blend perfectly. It’s filled with good humor. There’s the visual humor of seeing a dog play the piano with his ears flopping all over the place. And there’s the wistful optimism that bring out the song’s lyrics.
But the real secret to this version of the song is two asides from Rowlf. After John Denver sings, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” for the first time, Rowlf says, “Yeah.” Then after John Denver sings the line, “Faithful friends who are dear to us/gather near to us once more,” Rowlf says, “That’s nice.” They are basically two pieces of musical punctuation, like a James Brown grunt. And they’re every bit as good as The Godfather of Soul himself. The elevate the song in a way that’s impossible to explain. It’s brilliant.
I’ve been listening to the song on repeat the whole time I’ve been writing this. It never gets old. Give it a listen. I guarantee it will make your day, and your whole Christmas season, better.