‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’: Listen to Gene Autry’s Classic Song
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is easily one of the most classic Christmas songs of all-time, and you can listen to the legendary Gene Autry’s holiday tune below. Originally released in 1949, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was first sung by crooner Harry Brannon on New York City radio in November, with Autry’s version soaring to #1 on the radio charts the following month.
According to official Gene Autry biographer, Holly George-Warren — in the book Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry — the country singer wasn’t too keen on recording the song at first, but the song’s writer, Johnny Marks — who also wrote the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story in 1939 — talked Autry’s musical director, Carl Cotner, into convincing him. Cotner’s widow, Juanita, recalled the situation, saying that Marks Marks told Cotner he’d “give you a piece of the action if you will do it.” Cotner replied, “Well, I don’t want that.”
Juanita quipped that this “was not a good business [decision], but that was Carl.” Eventually, “Carl had told Gene, ‘I think it’s a good song for you,’ and Carl did the arrangement. When working out the material for the session, Gene said, ‘How about that song that you’re so crazy about?’ They threw it up on the stand, and did it in one take… [Later] a publicity man put it out that it was Ina that talked Gene into it.”
Notably, Marks always credited Autry for giving the song the life it took on, according to a letter he sent in 1961. “What I sent you in 1949 were ink dots on a piece of paper. You had to translate this into a sound, lyrically and musically, that people would like,” Marks told Autry. “How many great songs have been lost because of the wrong rendition? Many people have said: ‘Any one could have made a hit with Rudolph.’ My answer has always been: ‘We’ll never know. I only know that Gene Autry did do it, and that all the others followed.'”
In 1964, the story took on new life yet again, when Rankin/Bass Productions (formerly known as Videocraft International, Ltd.) created the classic stop-motion animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special, which featured Burl Ives as the narrator, voicing the character Sam the Snowman. Ives also sang the tune for the special. To this day, the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special remains to be a traditional holiday favorite for many.