This beloved Christmas classic was written by light symphonic composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). As his widow Eleanor related in 2010:
Leroy conceived of Sleigh Ride one hot July day in 1946. He was digging trenches in an attempt to locate an abandoned pipe that might bring water to a dried-up well that served our small Connecticut cottage. He didn't find the pipe, but he came in saying he had the idea for a new composition. He thought he would begin it with rhythmic sleigh bells. So, he didn't find the pipe, but he found Sleigh Ride instead.
However, the work was not published until February, 1948. The Mitchell Parish lyrics appeared in 1950. A truly gifted musician, Anderson was also quite the linguist—fluent in English, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese.
In a December 24, 1995 piece, Hartford Courant music critic Steve Metcalf noted that: "Sleigh Ride almost certainly holds the distinction of having been recorded by a broader aesthetic range of performers than any other piece in the history of Western music."
Here is Metcalf's quick analysis of the work...
It is 162 bars long, and takes, under the written tempo marking ("allegro con ritmo") just under three minutes to perform, start to finish.
After an energetic intro, the song's jaunty main, or "A" theme, written in the key of B-flat major, is announced, and then repeated, in the customary way for pop tunes. The middle or "B" section modulates to the relatively distant key of D, and then to C, before the "A" section returns one more time.
Most popular songs would conclude at this point, but here Sleigh Ride slides into an entirely new "C" section. In the vocal version this is the section that begins, "There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray..."
This musical idea, in the even more remote key of G major, was actually the original motif that had come to Anderson on those first sultry days in 1946. But he thought the idea wasn't strong enough to qualify at the "head" of the tune, and so it was remanded to this secondary role.
"C" leads back to "A" once again, but because we've heard this twice already, Anderson now dresses it in a jazzy, syncopated feel. One more trip to the "B" section, then a final truncated "A," and then a small coda.
And at the very end, there is an Andersonesque touch that even today, after 50 years, sometimes brings forth titters from audiences: the first trumpet stands and makes a horse-whinny sound, signifying the end of the ride.
Although some years "Silent Night" is performed more frequently than Sleigh Ride, the latter is without question the performance champ of copyrighted works each Christmas season. The best version is probably the one recorded by Anderson himself in 1950.
There's also this nearly flawless piano duet version.
A simpler time, my friends...
Our cheeks are nice and rosy
And comfy cozy are we
We're snuggled up together like two
Birds of a feather would be
Let's take the road before us
And sing a chorus or two
Come on, it's lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you