One of the Most Popular Christmas Songs of All Time Was First Recorded by an Indiana Native
It's one of the iconic songs of the holiday season. One that's been covered countless times by artists from nearly every genre imaginable, and one you've probably heard so many times you could likely sing every word in your sleep. What you may not know is that the man who made it famous was born here in Indiana.
Bloomington, Indiana Man Was the First to Record "Jingle Bell Rock"
The year was 1957 and Bloomington, Indiana native, Bobby Helms was living in Nashville, Tennessee making a name for himself as a Country music singer. He released two singles early in the year, "Fraulein" and "My Special Angel," both of which made their way to number one on the country chart, with the latter even crossing over to the Billboard Pop Music chart where it reached the number seven spot.
But, in the fall of that year, he recorded the song that would cement him as a Christmas music staple for decades to come.
"Jingle Bell Rock" was an instant success for Helms. According to a 2012 article by David Lindquist of the Indianapolis Star, the song shot up the Billboard Top 40 chart where it peaked 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 was working with, Hank Garland didn't like it. So, they sat down, changed the words, added a bridge, and a couple of new verses, creating a completely new song, in their opinion. Unfortunately, they couldn't provide enough evidence to support the claim and never received songwriting royalties from the song. However, Helms did see some performance royalties since he was the one who sang it.
While neither is credited as the song's writer, both Helms and Garland claimed to be until they died in 1997 and 2004, respectively.
Jingle Bell Rock Covers
In the 65 years since its release, "Jingle Bell Rock" has been covered by a number of musicians from a wide variety of genres, including Country where both George Strait and Blake Shelton (in a duet with then-wife, Miranda Lambert) have put their own spin on the holiday classic.
Legendary pop-rock duo, Hall & Oates released their take on 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 starts out sticking close to the original before ripping into a chorus of heavy guitar riffs, thundering drums, and mix of melodic singing with a few raw screams thrown in, because why not?
The song has even been remixed into a banger for the club scene.
Regardless of what version you prefer, they may have never existed if it weren't for the Hoosier native who recorded it first.