"Sleigh Ride" performed instrumentally by the United States Navy Band in December 2012
"Sleigh Ride" is a popular light orchestra standard composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946 and finished the work in February 1948. It was originally instrumental; the lyrics, in which someone asks another to join them for a ride in a sleigh, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. "Sleigh Ride" was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become one of the orchestra's signature songs. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. The Pops has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor.
"Sleigh Ride"'s main melody was used (with no credit for Anderson) as the main theme of Victor Young's score for the 1949 western Streets of Laredo. Mitchell Parish worked with Young around this time, writing the lyrics for Young's version of Hoagy Carmichael's previously instrumental "Stardust". In 1950 The Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal version of "Sleigh Ride", using lyrics written by Parish.
Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas and appears on Christmas compilation albums, its lyrics mention no holiday (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). The song is noted for the sounds of a horse clip-clopping, and a whip used to get the horse moving. In most performances, a percussionist provides these sounds on temple blocks and a slapstick (or occasionally, drum rim shots), respectively. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet imitates the sound of a horse whinnying.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most-performed songs written by ASCAP members. ASCAP named "Sleigh Ride" the most popular piece of Christmas music in the U.S. in 2009-2012, based on performance data from over 2,500 radio stations. Anderson's recording remains the most popular instrumental version, while Johnny Mathis's has become the most popular vocal version.
In his book Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography [Praeger 2004], Steve Metcalf says "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."
"Sleigh Ride" is in rondo form. The second section utilizes an unusual, unprepared modulation to III, then II. The difficulty of singing this has caused several recordings to alter the harmonies or omit this section altogether, as in the Phil Spector / Ronettes version.
|Single by the Ronettes|
|from the album A Christmas Gift for You|
|Released||22 November 1963|
"Sleigh Ride" was covered by American girl group the Ronettes. The Phil Spector-produced recording has become the most popular version outside the traditional pop standard genre, charting yearly in Billboard's Top Ten U.S. Holiday 100 and was #26 in 2018 in the Hot 100. It features the well-known "Ring-a-ling-a-ling, ding-dong-ding" background vocals, and the clip-clop and whinny of a horse at its beginning and end.
|Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)||30|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||75|
|Hungary (Stream Top 40)||17|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||38|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||22|
|Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)||23|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||49|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||58|
|US Billboard Hot 100||26|
|US Holiday 100 (Billboard)||10|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||200,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
"Die Schlittenfahrt" ("Sleigh Ride") is also the popular name of one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Three German Dances. It is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Wolfgang's father, Leopold Mozart, whose own Divertimento in F major is popularly known as "Musical Sleigh Ride".
The "Winter Night" segment of Frederick Delius's Three Small Tonepoems is also commonly known as "Sleigh Ride".
The "Troika" movement of Lieutenant Kijé by Sergei Prokofiev is also a musical sleigh ride, referring to a three-horse team drawing a carriage (troika means "group of three"). Christmas carol expert William Studwell wrote that Prokofiev's work was "even better" than "Sleigh Ride", having a more "exhilarating" style and imagery.