Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly series showcasing an album, single, music video or performance of a bygone era and its personal and/or cultural significance.
Its roots buried in an old 1914 Ukrainian folk song called “Shchedryk,” penned by composer Mykold Leontovich (who later constructed a choir arrangement), “Carol of the Bells” is one of the most haunting holiday-themed compositions of all time. Originally intended as a celebration of impending rebirth and growth that only the spring months can bring, the lyrics were later brought to English, reconfiguring the tune as a gleeful observance of Christmas’ magical spark. “Hark how the bells / Sweet silver bells / All seem to say / Throw cares away / Christmas is here / Bringing good cheer / To young and old / Meek and the bold,” rings out the first verse.
Through the years, the song has been popularized and reworked by countless singers, songwriters and musicians, including a sterling reimagining by country music’s LeAnn Rimes. I remember the performance perfectly. I was nestled in a cozy seat somewhere in the mid-section of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for the annual CMA Country Christmas. The year was 2014. Fellow tomato Jennifer Nettles was the bubbly, adorable emcee for the evening, dressed in mistletoe red and glowing from head-to-toe. “To sing it tonight is a tremendous vocalist who has been a frequent party guest,” she introduced. “Here to perform [the song] as only she can, the beautiful LeAnn Rimes.”
Rimes was backed by choir of fine-tuned vocalists, airy cathedral-like bells and other shimmering instruments. She ripped through the snowy tale ⎯⎯ “one seems to hear words of good cheer from everywhere filling the air,” she sings ⎯⎯ and coasted across the melody effortlessly, perhaps cementing the moment as one of the greatest live performances of the song in history. When she soared into the song’s final stanza, the crowd erupted into uproarious applause, bestowing a much-deserved standing ovation onto the rose-lipped singer. I still have chills thinking about it.
Rimes recorded a version of the song on her One Christmas: Chapter One EP, containing gleaming versions of such other classics as “Blue Christmas” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”