I’m sure I can remember hearing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” on our record player while I was growing up, and that’s entirely possible because the song is older than me — it has been a popular holiday song for almost eight decades. One reason for that popularity might be that parents loved the message it sent to kids that they’d better be on their best behavior because Santa was watching. In any case, it seems like a good choice for a holiday edition of our recurring special feature, Anatomy Of A Song.
The song made its first appearance on Eddie Cantor’s popular radio program late in 1934 and immediately spurred the sale of hundreds of thousands of copies of the sheet music for the song. (If you’re old enough, you might remember the days when almost everybody had sheet music around the house, especially if they had a piano.)
That success probably pleased songwriters John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie a lot, and they must have been even happier to see records being made of their song. The first came out just about the same time, an effort by vocalist Tom Stacks, backed by Harry Reser’s band. Not exactly household names now, but before long a swingin’ version was recorded by Tommy Dorsey’s big band and that gave it major national exposure.
The song has been recorded by an unbelievable number of performers in the years since — if you’re curious, just go to youtube and you’ll find page after page of them. Notable versions include those by Perry Como, Gene Autry, Bing Crosby (usually accompanied by the Andrews Sisters), Ella Fitzgerald, and the Ray Conniff Singers. In later years it has been tackled by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Jackson Five, and later still, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.