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‘Let It Snow’: Great Songwriting Any Time Of Year

In the summer of 1945 in Los Angeles, on one of the hottest days of the year, composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn, first generation Americans born of Jewish immigrants,  wrote a Christmas song.  Cahn started with the first line of the lyric, Styne responded with the beginning of a melody, they went back and forth for a while… and ‘Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow’ was written.

It’s not only one of most popular and successful songs of all time, it’s a model of good songwriting.  It illustrates some common approaches that are useable in almost any style of song. The joyous melody is great, but we’ll save that for another day.  Today we’ll be looking at Sammy Cahn’s lyric.

Like a lot of songs, ‘Let It Snow”s Title is a commonplace phrase that in itself is pretty meaningless.  The words ‘Let It Snow’ don’t tell us anything… or even suggest much (if you’re not Sammy Cahn).  So, as is true of most title-based songs, any feeling and resonance has to come from the way the Verses and Bridge lyrics set up the Title.

In this case, as with so many other good songs, the surrounding lyrics give the Title meaning by setting it up with a specific, clear story:

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

It doesn’t show signs of stopping
And I brought some corn for popping
The lights are turned way down low
Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

There’s also a rhyme (‘go/Snow’) to add emphasis and pop to the Title, another strategy that’s very common… because it’s usually effective.

Structurally it’s an AABA song.  As is common with that form, the Title is at the end of every ‘A’ section.  Here the Title is more like a Refrain than is typical in an AABA song (I define a refrain as a short mini-Chorus).  ‘Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow’ feels like a Chorus, even though it’s just a single line.

Another fun thing – back when Let It Snow was written, in popular culture any sexual content had to be snuck in with suggestion and inference.  So the second Verse slips in, ‘The lights are turned way down low’  (the first sign of hanky-panky)… and the Bridge declares…

When we finally kiss goodnight
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you’ll really hold me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

But then the last Verse tells us…

The fire is slowly dying
And my dear we’re still goodbye-ing
But as long as you love me so
Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

Yes, at the end of the song, they’re still fooling around (those crazy kids…).

All in all, a beautifully written song, by two master songwriters, that deserves its status as a Christmas classic (even though there’s no mention of Christmas in the song).

Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:


5 responses to “‘Let It Snow’: Great Songwriting Any Time Of Year”

  • Michael

    The 1993 Gloria Estefan big band version (produced by Phil Ramone) is smokin’ red hot!

  • Does this song mention Christmas? I don’t think so.

    To my mind, the title isn’t functioning as a mini-chorus. It’s the hook, pure and simple. It does what a hook does (and the title is usually the hook or one of the hooks). I agree, the title doesn’t sound very interesting. The coziness of the romance in the song and the wonderful melody made me want to find out why he wants to “Let It Snow.”

    As a kid, I was always confused by the line about “hold me tight” followed immediately by “all the way home, I’ll be warm.” Are they parting or is he taking her home and hugging her all the way there? As an adult, I understood it but it took a bit of thought because things are out of sequence. It sounds as though the singer is asking to be held tight all the way home, but they’re really asking to be held tight during the good night kiss. Not a big deal but it was a small lump in the road for me.

    This song beats Berlin’s “Snow” from “White Christmas” by a mile, but that’s another conversation altogether.

  • […] (For Part 1 on ‘Let It Snow, click here.) […]

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