Who Sang It Best? "Silver Bells"

Updated on September 4, 2019
FlourishAnyway profile image

Music enthusiast FlourishAnyway introduces some fun competition into the holidays by ranking cover versions of popular Christmas songs.

Some of the best known Christmas songs have been covered by a variety of artists. We look at the classic tune, "Silver Bells" by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer?
Some of the best known Christmas songs have been covered by a variety of artists. We look at the classic tune, "Silver Bells" by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards and rank 14 contenders. Who do you prefer? | Source

The Christmas Carol That Was Almost "Tinkle Bell"

"Silver Bells" is different from most Christmas carols in that it focuses on the festive cityscape: holiday shopping, decorations, and joyful preparations for the upcoming Christmas celebration. But did you know that if it weren't for the songwriter's wife, we'd be calling the song "Tinkle Bell" and making bathroom jokes about it like a bunch of second graders?

The song was originally written for actors Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell to sing in the 1951 motion picture, The Lemon Drop Kid. Jay Livingston composed the melody, and Ray Evans penned the lyrics. At the time, they were one of Hollywood's top songwriting duos who also wrote the Academy Award winning numbers, "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa," and "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)."

Tasked with writing a new Christmas song for the movie, the song creators were inspired by the silver bells of the Salvation Army donation collectors and the bell-ringing Santa Clauses (although some accounts mention the silver bell on a desk in their office). The duo drafted a ditty they named "Tinkle Bell," and Livingston took it home to play for his wife.

The missus responded that he had to be kidding. Using a word like "tinkle" had a double meaning involving urination. Livingston and Evans went back to the drawing board. Substituting "tinkle" for "silver," they averted embarrassment. Feedback can be a real gift!

"Who Sang It Best?": Here's How It Works

With so many artists singing the same Christmas tunes, the sleigh has become overloaded. Let's rank them and cross some versions off the list.

In the "Who Sang It Best?" series, we start with the original rendition of popular songs that have been covered multiple times. Then we present a set of contenders, artists who have released cover versions in any genre. Some cover versions honor the original artist's style while others are reinterpretations.

Since the original song version is typically considered "the standard," we don't include it in our overall rankings. Instead, we display it first for comparison, with up to 14 contenders presented next in ranked order. Vote on your preferences:

  • Do you prefer the original song or a cover version?

  • Of all the cover versions, which you prefer?

The Classic Song

"Silver Bells" by Bing Crosby & Carol Richards (featuring John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra and the Lee Gordon Singers) (1950)

Some classic songs are easily overshadowed by cover versions that follow. By no means is "Silver Bells" one of them.

Released in 1950, this original Christmas tune by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards employs lyrics that depart somewhat from those sung in The Lemondrop Kid, the motion picture for which this song was written. Thankfully, however, it was Crosby and Richard's rendition that became the standard version of "Silver Bells" that most people know.

This holiday carol features a heavenly vocal pairing. Crosby takes a gentleman's lead and Richards adeptly responds, her voice gliding elegantly up and down the scale. It's as if these two vocally waltz through the holiday tune while the orchestra plays on. The instrumentalists provide perfect support, accentuating the efforts of the primary vocalists without stealing their limelight. Not everyone can master such a feat.

By the time "Silver Bells" was released, Crosby was already an all-star entertainer. The crooner was America's top recording artist, an Academy Award-winning film star, and he led his own radio show. He had also hit it big with "White Christmas" (which is still the bestselling single of all time) and was just beginning his long series of television appearances. In contrast, Carol Richards was a relative unknown talent. In this song, she clocks a performance that equals Crosby's, and as a result, the duet became the work Richards was most known for. Throughout her later career, she worked with stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis.

This twosome masterfully captures the nostalgia and excitement of the Christmas season. Can any contender outdo their original version?

Reader Poll

Which version would you rather listen to -- Bing Crosby's original song or your favorite cover version?

See results

The Contenders

Cover Versions in Ranked Order

1. "Silver Bells" by Martina McBride (1998)

Martina McBride has been called the "Céline Dion of Country Music" for good reason, and in this 1998 rendition of "Silver Bells," the soprano songstress graces us with her cherubic voice, full and joyful. She conveys such a sweetness with her resplendent vocals, spreading an authentic and thoughtful message regarding reminiscing and seasonal togetherness.

McBride has been nominated 14 times for Grammy Awards over the years. Although she has won many other awards, surprisingly, she has failed to snag a Grammy so far. However, the songbird doesn't hold the record for most nominations without a win. (That unfortunate record goes to sound engineer Morten Lindberg at 26 nominations, followed by Snoop Dogg and Brian McKnight, with 17 nominations each.)

2. "Silver Bells" by Anne Murray (1981)

Anne Murray paved the way for Canadian female vocalists in the American music market like Shania Twain or Céline Dion. Rolling Stone magazine named Murray one of the "50 Biggest Adult Contemporary Artists Ever."

In this 1981 holiday song, her voice is rich and emotional. Murray doesn't allow herself to be overshadowed by a flamboyant musical accompaniment. Instead, the background music stays in the background. Although Murray isn't particularly creative with this song, the Grammy Award-winning singer solidly delivers the right combination of wistfulness and holiday celebration, and you may notice that the mood of her version relays less "urgency" than others.

3. "Silver Bells" by Johnny Mathis (featuring Percy Faith & His Orchestra) (1958)

When you combine Johnny Mathis' mellow vocals and the light, airy orchestra music of Percy Faith and company, what you get is pure holiday magic. This 1958 version of "Silver Bells" has a dream-like quality, thanks to Mathis' silky-smooth voice and a musical crew that is blissfully heavy on the strings. Faith was a conductor known for popularizing "easy listening" or mood music, and Mathis is such a pop legend that he was honored with the Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award in 2003.

In this otherwise splendid version, the only thing I didn't care for was Mathis' deletion of the stanza that starts:

Strings of street lights, even stoplights
Blinkin' bright red and green… .

He replaces the usual lyrics with a few lines absent from other versions, thus making it hard for listeners to sing along unless they know the following modified lyrics:

Christmas makes you feel so emotional

It may bring parties or thoughts devotional

Whatever happens or what may be

Here is what Christmastime means to me... .

In so doing, he stays true to the version of the song that appears in the 1950 movie, The Lemondrop Kid for which the song was originally written. The distraction of these word changes are easily forgiven by the focusing on Mathis' voice quality.

4. "Silver Bells" by Alan Jackson (2002)

Informal and unpretentious. That's what you get in this 2002 cover version by Alan Jackson as he presents a decidedly country twist on this favorite seasonal tune. Jackson's version offers familiarity and comfort like a cozy sweater.

Although he didn't take any creative chances here, many listeners appreciate a singer who just plays it straight with no new fancy stuff. The Grammy Award-winner sticks to his classic roots and uses the power of his voice to paint a picture. He puts you right in the middle of the snowy holiday rush, even if you live in a climate where you haven't seen a frost in years.

5. "Silver Bells" by John Legend (2018)

Who would imagine dancing to "Silver Bells?" This one's a total jam session. You'll either love it or hate it. Legend completely reimagines this Christmas classic by speeding up the tempo and altering its rhythm. He brings forth a dazzling and altogether artistic performance in this 2018 cover, giving the tune a retro soul feel.

If you prefer that holiday songs stick to their traditional roots, then you'll dislike Legend's 1970s flair, but if you're more adventurous and openminded, this could become a new seasonal favorite. This rendition of the "Silver Bells" grew on me significantly after playing it several times.

6. "Silver Bells" by Elvis Presley (featuring The Imperials) (1971)

The King of Rock and Roll delivers this uncomplicated pop cover of "Silver Bells" with the help of The Imperials, a southern gospel quartet. The 1971 tune appeared on his album, Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas and features gentle ukulele strumming, understated background music, and Elvis looking forward to "chrizz-mus." The King may be gone, but he'll live forever in his music.

7. "Silver Bells" by Michael Bublé (featuring Naturally 7) (2011)

Michael Bublé sounds like a man who stepped straight out of the 1940s. As a youth, the Grammy Award-winning star was inspired by Bing Crosby and jazz musicians, and you can hear their influence in this 2011 version of "Silver Bells." Bublé's performance is classy, emotionally controlled, and pleasant (but sorry, I won't go further than that).

It's your father's version—or even your grandfather's—and a good option for the holiday office party. Overall, Bublé is talented and has pizzazz, but if I wanted "Silver Bells" to sound like Bing Crosby or the artists of a bygone era, I'd opt for the original.

8. "Silver Bells" by Twisted Sister (2006)

You might eye roll at the thought of a metal version of "Silver Bells," but I say, "Why not?" Don't be so quick to discount this one. This song by heavy metal group Twisted Sister totally works for the right environment and crowd. It's full of energy, demonstrates imagination, and features a chorus of what sounds like slightly drunk guys echoing the lead singer. You might also notice that the guitar riff is based on AC/DC's classic song "Problem Child." Although one of the least "Christmas-sy" versions on this list of contenders, this 2006 metal version provides welcome diversity.

The carol is from an entire Christmas album by the heavy metal group. Twisted Sister peaked in popularity in the 1980s and is considered a one-hit wonder for their song, "We're Not Gonna Take It," although they had other tunes that didn't quite reach Billboard's Top 40 pop charts.

9. "Silver Bells" by BeBe & CeCe Winans (1993)

Brother and sister gospel duo BeBe and CeCe Winans offer up this 1993 R&B version featuring a tempo significantly slower than most other covers of "Silver Bells." CeCe Winans uses the higher notes of her impeccable voice, conveying wispiness and reflection. Specifically, the reverential manner in which she sings "soon it will be Christmas Day" helps to add a different layer of meaning when contrasted to the hustle and bustle on the city sidewalks. This secular tune thus resonates with spirituality.

The pair was first "discovered" by disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, and they performed on The PTL Club for five years. CeCe Winans has become both the best selling and most awarded female artist in gospel music.

10. "Silver Bells" by Meaghan Smith (2011)

We all have that family member or friend who can sorta sing but their confidence outshines their actual talent. That's what's going on here as Canadian songstress Meaghan Smith carries her holiday tune a slightly leaky bucket. She makes her vocals the focal point of this 2011 song by minimizing background music and varying both the song's tempo and emphasis on words. The result is a folk pop version that is quirky, light-hearted, and youthful.

11. "Silver Bells" by Tony Bennett (featuring The Count Basie Big Band) (2008)

Although not particularly seasonal, this jazzy number from 2008 lends itself to finger snapping if that's your vibe. It's the type of holiday music you'd find in Bloomingdale's and other upscale department stores. The piano solo was impressive, but it lasted so long that I nearly forgot what the point of the song was.

Although Bennett registers a respectable performance, the song was a bit vanilla when it came to holiday spirit. Bennett was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. His career has spanned nearly seven decades.

12. "Silver Bells" by Lady Antebellum (2012)

In this low energy country version from 2012, there are a couple of bars of unChristmaslike background music that play on repeat. Distracting? You bet. They are the first thing you hear, and unfortunately, you hear them throughout the entirety of this understated rendition of "Silver Bells."

I would have preferred to hear a stronger duet with more emotion and energy, featuring Hillary Scott on lead vocals. What we have instead is an okayish effort by a notable group. Lady Antebellum has experienced crossover success on the pop charts with songs like "Need You Now" and "Just a Kiss."

13. "Silver Bells" by The Temptations (1970)

The harmony begins flatly and doesn't get much better in this uninspired 1970 version of "Silver Bells." It's as if someone took a wet blanket and tossed it over The Temptations' holiday spirit. Then there's the out-of-place deep bass intonations of the group member who speak-sings his part of the lyrics (starting at 1:29). (Insert slow headshake here.)

Sadly, this doesn't sound like the same group that sang "My Girl," "Just My Imagination," or "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." Out of fairness, however, I guess even the best artists can't nail every song. The group was undergoing a shift during this time from an early soul sound to a psychadelic soul groove, and this holiday song must have gotten lost in the experimental mix. The Temptations were named to Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Artists of All Time," and in 2013 they were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

14. "Silver Bells" by Gloria Estefan (1994)

Zoinks! This is a hot Christmas mess if I've ever heard one. Believe it or not, this 1994 tune launches with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" followed by the music from "Joy to the World." Then it segues into "Silver Bells" with a distinctive Latin vibe. It's bewildering to process what's going on. Esteban's jazzy intonations are just "off," and her mood is markedly buoyant—too intense for a holiday song that is meant to be more nostalgic. Unfortunately, this offering of "Silver Bells" is about as desirable as those ugly holiday sweaters and gifts to return.

Readers Weigh In

Reader Poll: Your Favorite Cover Version

So which CONTENDER do YOU think sang it best?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 FlourishAnyway

    Comments

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      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Cynthia - Thanks for chiming in with your favorite version. A lot of people do prefer the first version they heard (or basically the one they grew up with) so that's why I don't include it in the rankings. I'm sometimes surprised by the version readers generally prefer. Christmas will be here before we know it!

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        2 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Hi...

        I definitely enjoyed the old Bing & Carol original the most. Perhaps because that was the one that I heard first, that had a profound effect on my imaginings of the perfect Christmas, not sure. I believe it was the one that we skated to at our local rink and the one we mimicked when we sang it at school or in Glee Club. As for the contenders, I appreciate your notes and chuckled through them. I liked Alan Jackson, but perhaps because of the nostalgic visuals of small Pioneer villages and the snow? Anyhow, now I feel like I'm sliding and skidding towards Christmas a little prematurely.

        Good idea, this.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Jo - Thank you for stopping by. Thanks for chiming in on your favorite.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Devika - Thank you for dropping by. I hope you are doing well. Christmas will be here before we know it.

      • profile image

        Devika Primic 

        2 months ago

        Lovely songs and I hear this song on the festival celebrations.

      • jo miller profile image

        Jo Miller 

        2 months ago from Tennessee

        My favorite rendition of this song would be the one playing while I'm shopping at the mall each Christmas. No other song quite puts me in the mood like this one.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        KT Dunn - Thank you for chiming in!

      • KT Dunn profile image

        KT Dunn 

        2 months ago from United States

        I had no idea so many people had recorded "Silver Bells," but I guess I'll always think of it as Bing Crosby's song. Fun article!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dianna - Glad you enjoyed this and the various versions. Thanks for weighing in on your favorite.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        2 months ago

        I am pleased to see others enjoy Johnny Mathis singing this wonderful song. I am also glad it was not "tinkle bell". I do sing this song every Christmas as it brings the season in for me.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Mona - There are many versions. I've tried to pick from among the most popular artists and versions and also tried to sample a variety of genres. I think there were about 100, however. I appreciate your stopping by!

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

        2 months ago from Philippines

        This was an interesting list to go through. Never knew there were so many versions of this song.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Chitrangada - Thank you for taking a look. I hope you found a few other versions you enjoyed as well. The original is my favorite, too. Have a wonderful weekend.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Dora - I am so glad that the worst of the hurricane skipped over you. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. Christmas will be here before we know it.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        2 months ago from New Delhi, India

        Wonderful collection of songs. It’s difficult to decide one favourite. But, I believe the original is original. May be I am a little biased about it. There is no end to how many versions can be inspired by the original.

        Thanks for sharing these excellent videos.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 months ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks for the interesting history of the song title. I'm voting for an oldie but the bells in all of them make them sound happy.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        George - Thank you for sharing your perspective. I really enjoy Martina McBride's voice as well and agree with you on Gloria Estefan. She didn't do that well on this one! Have a wonderful weekend!

      • GeorgeXu profile image

        George Xu 

        2 months ago from Philippines

        I didn't know there are so many different versions. I first listened to Martina McBride. And hers remian to be my favourite. It is angelic and gives the modern city Christmas shopping feel. I also like the original but gives me an old 1960s feel. It's good nevertheless.

        All are good except Gloria Estefan. :( Can't bear to listen. Sorry

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        John - I'm glad somebody is standing up for ole' Elvis (at least from the cover versions). Thanks for listening along and reading. I know it's early but I'm trying to get a number of these out before the holiday season.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Peggy - It is hard to beat. She's every bit his equal, too, in spite of being a relative unknown at the time. Thanks for stopping by!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Linda - I'm glad you found a favorite. Hope you enjoyed listening to the variety of approaches to singing the song.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Liz - Thanks for listening and reading along. Hope you had fun with it.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        2 months ago from Houston, Texas

        I had to vote with the original. It is hard to beat Bing Crosby, and the blending of Carol's voice with his is simply beautiful.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        2 months ago from Queensland Australia

        None can beat the original by Bing and Carol Richards, in my opinion. I opted for Ellis from the covers but always like anything by Ann Murray.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        It was enjoyable to listen to the different versions of the songs, but I had no problem deciding that the Johnny Mathis one was my favourite. I loved it.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        2 months ago from Chicago Area

        Followup comment to my first one...

        Thanks to YouTube, I found the exact album I was thinking about. It was from Goodyear Tire Company in 1965. These albums were produced by Columbia Special Products and the title is Great Songs of Christmas Album 5 1965. It had the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Doris Day (which is why I even remember her rendition of Silver Bells), Dinah Shore and Maurice Chevalier. Plus some classical artists (which is why my dad was all over it). Weird what you remember, eh?

        Anyway, thanks for stirring up some childhood Christmas memories!

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        2 months ago from Chicago Area

        For me, it's Doris Day's rendition of Silver Bells that I remember most. Interestingly, she's also well known for another Livingston and Evans tune, Que Sera Sera.

        I remember her rendition of it was on some Christmas promo album for, of all things if I remember right, a tire company??? Played that record year after year. And it was LP vinyl from back in the day. If I find a copy of it at a thrift store, I'm buyin' it.

        Looks like you've got quite a collection of "Who Sang It Best?" ready for the holidays! Thanks for getting us into the holiday spirit. Only 112 shopping days 'til Christmas! :)

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        I hadn't realised that there were so many versions. I'm traditional and think that you can't beat the first one.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Pamela - Yes, I agree. This is one where it's just really hard to beat the original.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Linda - He does have a lovely voice. Glad you stopped by. Hope all is well with you.

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        James - Interesting that you enjoyed the movie version of the song! Johnny Mathis was the only one I knew who honored the movie lyrics. Thanks for stopping by!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Kaili - Thanks for registering your favorite!

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Bill - Now there's something about you we didn't know.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I enjoyed reading the history of this song, and I tend to likje the older versions of this song. Thank ou for this wealth of information.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        2 months ago from Washington State, USA

        The original is usually the best, but I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Johnny Mathis, always have, always will.

      • justthemessenger profile image

        James C Moore 

        2 months ago from The Great Midwest

        I'll read this again and listen to the other renditions. I've heard Bing Crosby's already. However,as of now I voted for Bob Hope's version. The difference for me was the way 'Lemon Kid's plot set up the song.

      • Kaili Bisson profile image

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 months ago from Canada

        Der Bingle all the way, with Johnny Mathis a close second :-)

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Sorry, but old Bing wins this in a runaway! Never mess with perfection. There was no reason to ever "re-do it." :) I used to play this on the organ at Christmas recitals.....thirteen years old.....BORING! lol

      • FlourishAnyway profile imageAUTHOR

        FlourishAnyway 

        2 months ago from USA

        Mary - She's a wonderful singer, isn't she? Thanks for stopping by! Hope you have a wonderful week.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        2 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        Thank you for the introduction to Anne Murray. Her voice is full. I love it.

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