Phantom Songs: Bobby Helms – “Jingle Bell Rock”

Phantom Songs is an ongoing series of musical pieces that you can’t quite put your finger on. You have most definitely heard the song before, but are most likely not able to pinpoint who made it, when it was released, and/or what the song is really about. All of the artist’s history and biography was either stolen from wikipedia or made up entirely.

Ah yes, it’s that special time again. That special time where we remember that Mariah Carey exists, because every corner we turn has her listing off her short Christmas list. That special time when we all get a compilation of Silver Bells and Silent Night stuck in our heads. That special time when we wonder what the hell the point of putting a partridge in a pear tree would be. Wait, why would you give somebody a pear tree? And is a partridge an appropriate pet? Does Mariah Carey really want me or is it a figurative me? What’s the lyrical difference between Silent Night and Silver Bells? SO MUCH CONFUSION!

But there’s one song that confuses me the most. And it’s one that we don’t normally pay attention to.

Seriously, guys.

What is a Jingle Bell Rock?

Is it literally a rock that jingles like bells? Is it a rock shaped like a jingle bell? What’s the difference between a jingle bell and a regular bell? Is he referring to the rocking motion of a jingle bell? I need answers and I need them in a timely manner.

According to Wikipedia, the song was recorded in October of 1956 but not released until 1958. What Bobby Helms was doing in that time span is a mystery. He probably spent 80% of that time sitting on the couch, eating canned corn and contemplating what a jingle bell rock is. The song was written by two sleazy Atlantic City ad men that apparently wanted a completely different song. But Bobby Helms was like “screw you” and made a good song. But the joke is on him, the ad men still got sole writing credits and all Bobby got was a lifetime supply of canned corn.

The song has been covered over a thousand times. There could even be a cover version by you. Look it up. You might surprise yourself. If not, you should record a cover. It seems to be really easy, considering that even KD Lang did it. But none of these covers elaborate on my burning question. For that, let’s dissect the lyrics. You can sing along, I guess:

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring
Snowin’ and blowin’ up bushels of fun
Now the jingle hop has begun

First, he sees a jingle bell. Then another jingle bell. But then there’s a jingle bell rock? We get that a jingle bell will swing and ring, but what does this jingle bell rock do? Nothing, it seems. Unless he’s saying that the jingle bell rock is “snowin’ and blowin’ up bushels of fun”. Bushel of fun? Damn these old-timey measurements! It’s 64 pints. 64 pints of fun. That’s a whole lot of fun. That the jingle bell rock is blowing up. He’s ruining everything! With that in mind, it seems that the jingle hop is a festival where all fun goes to die. Because a whole bushel of it has been nuked to hell. Thanks, jingle bell rock, you ambiguous machine of precipitation and destruction!

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock
Jingle bells chime in jingle bell time
Dancin’ and prancin’ in jingle bell square
In the frosty air

Meanwhile, jingle bells are hanging out in jingle bell square. They’re having their own celebration to spite the ever-popular jingle hop. These jingle bells are actually having good ol’ fashioned fun, while the hoppers are just having a formal riot. Makes sense. Jingle bells are extremely basic.

What a bright time, it’s the right time
To rock the night away
Jingle bell time is a swell time
To go glidin’ in a one-horse sleigh

I was under the impression that this all took place at night. It must be bright from all the fire and explosions. Right, because they’re rocking the night away with the jingle bell rock as part of the jingle bell rock army. And they’re taking this show on the road. They know about those lame ass jingle bells having a fanciful spree. What a great time to get on the one-horse sleigh and ambush them!

Giddy-up jingle horse, pick up your feet
Jingle around the clock
Mix and a-mingle in the jinglin’ feet
That’s the jingle bell rock

The singer is clearly on the side of the jingle bell rock people. He wants the horse to go faster. He wants blood and he wants it now. But the horse is hesitant, because he is betraying his kind. You see, he’s a jingle horse, not a jingle horse rock. He was captured last Christmas and has since been brainwashed and enslaved. But he’s still a jingle horse at heart. The epic battle that culminates is vague. The jingle bells are discovered while they’re “jingling ’round the clock”. It says “mix and a-mingle in the jinglin’ feet”, but I think that might be a typo. It should read “mixin’ and manglin’ the jinglin’ feet”. All of their feet get mangled. The jingle bell rock army hit them where it hurts. Now the jingle bells can no longer “jingle”. Now they’re just bells. A revolution has been started. It’s a new dawn for everyone. Years from now, somebody will write a song about this fateful night. And nobody will understand. Because music is an imperfect medium for storytelling. But let it be known that blood was shed and the jingle bells are now extinct.

Now THAT is the Jingle Bell Rock.

Join me next time when I reveal that Grandma didn’t actually get run over by a reindeer.