The holiday favorite that puts a romantic glow on a season when folks dress up “like Eskimos” was written in the middle of a heat wave.
Also (and more popularly) known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” the song was written during a sweltering stretch of summer in 1944. The music was written by Mel “The Velvet Fog” Tormé—he was inspired by a few lines he saw jotted down by his friend and lyricist Bob Wells. They began writing the song as a way to distract themselves from the heat. Their was a temporary relief—the song was completed in 45 minutes.
Nat King Cole was the first to record the tune. He did four different recordings (with his trio and as a solo performer) between 1946 and 1961—the final version is the likely the one you’re most familiar with. A talented singer in his own right, Tormé didn’t sell a lot of records featuring him singing his own work. And while he ended up with some understandably ambivalent feeling about the song, he did recognize the monetary value of owning the publishing rights, occasionally referring to the song as his “annuity.”
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