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SoundTRAX: "Meet Me in St. Louis"

Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien and Tom Drake are featured on the soundtrack cover.
Decca Records

SoundTRAX is a dive into notable music from iconic films and TV shows every Monday-Thursday at 8:10.

Oh, we are going way back for today's SoundTRAX segment. How far? 79 years!

It was on this day in 1944 when the classic Meet Me in St. Louis was released.

And while not technically a Christmas movie, as all four seasons are featured in charming ways, it has become a holiday staple.

The movie starts in the summer of 1903 and centers on the Smith family— their romantic aspirations, the excitement at the St. Louis Exposition coming to town, and eventually, the possibility of being forced to move to New York.

Full disclosure: I love it and will watch it multiple times in the next several weeks if given the opportunity. I'm a sucker for an MGM musical, especially one with the spectacular Judy Garland.

And she didn't even want to do the movie. Garland was nearly 22 and tired of playing young ingenues, but was convinced to get on board by producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli, the latter of whom she would marry after the film's release before collaborating on another future production named Liza Minnelli just a couple of years later.

The supporting cast is outstanding, especially Margaret O'Brien as the scene-stealing little sister Tootie. (O'Brien by the way is the last surviving main cast member and will turn 87 in January.)

The music is pure joy.

From the 1904 title song and other older tunes like "Skip to My Lou" and "Under the Bamboo Tree," to the classics written specifically for the film by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane like "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," which was nominated for an Oscar.

But I think we all know there is only one song that could possibly be today's SoundTRAX selection, a song that started out a little dark and downright depressing.

Garland was appalled at the thought of singing such maudlin lyrics to little Margaret O'Brien and told Martin and Blane people would think she was a "monster" if she did. But the songwriters dug in their heels and refused. That's when Garland's co-star Tom Drake, knowing Garland was right, approached Martin, who told NPR in 2006:

'Hugh, you've got to finish it. It's really a great song potentially, and I think you'll be sorry if you don't do it.' So I went home and I wrote the version that's in the movie."

So now no one has to endure the lines "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" but can instead enjoy "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight".

For the 79th anniversary of Meet Me in St. Louis, it's the inimitable Judy Garland with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Mel is the WFPK morning host. Email Mel at mfisher@lpm.org.

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