This piece first appeared as a blog post on The Glimmerglass Festival’s website. Read it there.
The Sound of Music may very well be the most beloved musical in America thanks to the massive popularity of the 1965 film adaptation starring Julie Andrews. The film’s soundtrack spent 109 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart, making songs like “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “My Favorite Things” household tunes. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s final stage work produced songs that are magically both classic and malleable at the same time. The journey of “My Favorite Things” from showtune, to jazz standard, to Christmas song and then pop riff illustrates their music’s longevity and flexibility.
“My Favorite Things” first reached audiences as performed by Mary Martin in the original 1959 Broadway production. Archives at the Library of Congress suggest that Hammerstein once had a different song title in mind: “Good Things.” The deceptively simple song took Hammerstein a few days to write, and an early draft of the lyrics hints at the ultimate rhythm of the text, even though the words seem a little clunky:
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Curling my fingers in warm woolen mittens, Riding downhill on my big brother’s bike – These are a few of the things that I like.
Hammerstein eventually rewrote the lyrics to rhyme with his new title, “My Favorite Things,” but it was actually Rodgers’ melody that gave the song a life outside of the musical. Jazz musician John Coltrane recorded his own version as the title track of his 1960 album. His interpretation runs over 13 minutes long, but a shorter LP version sold 50,000 units in its first year – a significant achievement for a jazz album. Coltrane improvised over Rodgers’s melody on a soprano saxophone, and the LP’s success re-popularized that instrument in jazz music, where the tenor saxophone reigned supreme.
The following year, Julie Andrews performed “My Favorite Things” on a holiday episode of The Gary Moore Show, years before she was cast in the film and years before the song became associated with Christmastime. Pop crooner Jack Jones was the first artist to include “My Favorite Things” on a Christmas album in 1964, a few months ahead of the film’s 1965 release. Film executives feared the movie would flop without an advance radio hit, so they approached Jones’s record label for publicity. They pitched “My Favorite Things” for Jones’s album, suggesting, “Just add sleigh bells.”
The popularity of both Jones’s rendition and the film cemented “My Favorite Things” in the holiday canon. Major recording artists across genres and generations have recorded the song on their own Christmas albums, including The Supremes, Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Carole King, Kelly Clarkson and Mary J. Blige. Other respected names have put a non-festive spin on the song, like Rod Stewart during his American Songbook phase and OutKast remixing John Coltrane’s jazz masterpiece. Independent artists have also released their own versions; consider the covers by viral pop duo Pomplamoose or “TrapHouseJazz” artist Masego.
Earlier this year, pop princess Ariana Grande received permission from the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization to borrow the melody of “My Favorite Things” for her smash single “7 rings.” The music video for “7 rings” has over 637 million views (at press time). Though the original stage musical opened 60 years ago, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score to The Sound of Music remains an inspiration for musicians of all kinds and a favorite of listeners all year long.