Santa Claus is Comin' to Town song: Who wrote the Christmas classic and what are the lyrics?

15 December 2018, 22:37

Santa Claus
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

"You better watch out, you better not cry..."

It's one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, even if does make Father Christmas sound like a horror movie villain in the lyrics.

But who wrote it and where did it come from? Here are all the fascinating facts:

  1. Who wrote 'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town'?

    It was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie.

    Gillespie was a prolific songwriter, and wrote the lyrics of the song, while Coots wrote the music.

    In 1934, when Gillespie brought Coots the lyrics, Coots came up with the main melody in just ten minutes. Coots then took the song to his publisher, Leo Feist Inc, who liked it but thought it was "a kids' song" and didn't expect much success.

    Gillespie also wrote 'You Go To my Head' among many others, and died in 1975, aged 87. Coots composed over a dozen Broadway shows, and passed away in 1985, also aged 87.

  2. Who recorded it first?

    Coots offered the song to American entertainment giant Eddie Cantor, who used it on his radio show in November 1934, and it became an instant hit.

    The morning after the radio show, there were orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music and by Christmas, sales had passed 400,000.

    The earliest known recorded version of the song was by banjoist Harry Reser on October 24, 1934, featuring Tom Stacks on vocals.

    The song was also recorded in 1935 by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, with vocals by Cliff Weston and Edythe Wright.

  3. Who else has covered it?

    In 1947, Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters scored a hit with a cover, and it has since been recorded and performed countless times.

    Among more famous covers include:

    - The Four Seasons
    - Frank Sinatra
    - The Crystals
    - The Jackson 5
    - Carpenters
    - Fred Astaire (in the 1970 animated movie of the same name)
    - Bruce Springsteen
    - Mariah Carey
    - James Taylor
    - Michael Bublé
    - Pentatonix

  4. 'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town' lyrics:

    You better watch out, you better not cry
    Better not pout, I'm telling you why
    Santa Claus is comin' to town

    He's making a list and checking it twice
    Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
    Santa Claus is comin' to town

    He sees you when you're sleepin'
    He knows when you're a wake
    He knows if you've been bad or good
    So be good for goodness sake

    Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry
    Better not pout, I'm telling you why
    Santa Claus is comin' to town

    With little tin horns and little toy drums
    Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums
    Santa Claus is comin' to town

    And curly head dolls that toddle and coo
    Elephants, boats, and kiddie cars too
    Santa Claus is comin' to town

    Then kids in Girl and Boy land will have a jubilee
    They're gonna build a Toyland all around the Christmas tree

    So! You better watch out, you better not cry
    Better not pout, I'm telling you why
    Santa Claus is comin' to town