"Sleigh Ride" is a popular light orchestral Christmas music standard composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946 and finished the work in February 1948. It was originally an instrumental piece; the lyrics, about someone asking another to join them for a ride in a sleigh, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950. The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Sleigh Ride was a hit record on RCA Victor Red Seal 49-0515 (45 rpm) / 10-1484 (78 rpm), and has become a signature song for the orchestra. The 45 rpm version was originally issued on red vinyl. The Pops has also recorded the song with John Williams, their conductor from 1979 to 1995, and Keith Lockhart, their current conductor.
The melody of the main strain of the tune was used (with no credit for Anderson) as the main theme of Victor Young's score for the 1949 western Streets of Laredo; Mitchell Parrish had worked with Young around this time, having recently written lyrics for Young's version of Hoagy Carmichael's previously instrumental number "Stardust".
"Sleigh Ride" performed instrumentally by the United States Navy Band in December 2012
Leroy Anderson recorded his own version of "Sleigh Ride" in 1950 on Decca 9-16000 (45 rpm) / 16000 (78 rpm). The recording hit the Cashbox magazine best-sellers chart when re-released in 1952.
In 1950 The Andrews Sisters recorded the first vocal version.
Although "Sleigh Ride" is often associated with Christmas, and appears on Christmas compilation albums, the song's lyrics mention no holiday or religion (apart from certain recordings, such as those by the Carpenters, Walter Schumann and Air Supply, that substitute "Christmas party" for "birthday party" in the song's bridge). The song is noted for the sound of the horses' clip-clopping, as well as the sound of the whips used to get the horses moving. Toward the end of the piece, a trumpet makes the sound of the horse whinnying. The Ronettes' version makes use of the clip-clopping as well as the sound of a recorded horse whinnying, heard at the beginning and end of the song.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) review of Christmas music, "Sleigh Ride" consistently ranks in the top 10 list of most-performed songs written by ASCAP members during the Christmas season worldwide.
ASCAP named "Sleigh Ride" the most popular piece of Christmas music in the U.S. for the four consecutive years 2009 through 2012, based on performance data tracked by airplay monitoring service, Mediaguide, from over 2,500 radio stations nationwide. Anderson's recording remains the most popular instrumental version, while Johnny Mathis's recording has become the most popular vocal version.
According to author Steve Metcalf, in his book, Leroy Anderson: A Bio-Bibliography [Praeger 2004], "'Sleigh Ride' ... has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music."
The piece is in rondo form. The middle section utilizes an unusual, unprepared modulation to III, then to II. The difficulty of singing this has caused several recordings to alter the harmonies or omit the section altogether, as in the Phil Spector/Ronettes version.