Old Hollywood Songs: The Trolley Song

Today's song is The Trolley Song performed by Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

The bouncy tune and clever lyrics of The Trolley Song have made it a favorite musical number among old Hollywood fans. However, it took a lot of trial and error for the timeless tune to make it to the silver screen.

The Trolley Song is one of three original numbers that Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin wrote for Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), an MGM musical about the life of a close-knit Midwestern family at the turn of the century. Blane and Martin had already written a tender ballad, "The Boy Next Door", about the budding relationship between teenager Esther Smith (Judy Garland) and her neighbor, John Truett (Tom Drake), but producer Arthur Freed wanted an up-tempo love song for the scene where Esther takes her first ride on a newfangled trolley car.

Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
Freed wanted the song to be about the trolley ride in some way, but Blane and Martin rejected that idea as too on-the-nose. Instead, they wrote what Martin described as a "sophisticated" number that Freed soundly rejected. The duo tried four more times, but Freed still wasn't satisfied with any of their efforts. In desperation, Blane, who wrote the duo's lyrics, decided to visit the library to do some research. He encountered a vintage photo of a St. Louis trolley car that was captioned, "clang, clang, clang went the trolley."  The light bulb immediately went on in Blane's mind, and he rushed back to the studio where he and Martin completed the song in 15 minutes.

Freed immediately loved The Trolley Song -- "That's the song for Judy," he shouted -- and his instincts proved correct. The song's unusual structure, which Martin based on 19th century tunes, was a showcase for Garland's soaring voice, and it was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song (The Trolley Song lost to "Swinging on a Star" from Going My Way).

The Trolley Song was recorded as a single by Garland and big band leader Vaughn Monroe, but the most popular version was recorded by The Pied Pipers and Jo Stafford (clip below).

The Trolley Song was always a highlight of Garland's concerts. Here she is performing it with Mel Torme on The Judy Garland Show.

The Trolley Song has continued to be a popular standard. Carol Burnett and Jane Lynch performed it on the final season of Glee.

Blane and Martin's recollections of writing The Trolley Song come from The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson.

Meet Me in St. Louis will air at 11:45 p.m. Friday (April 15) and 8 p.m. June 11 on TCM. It is also available on DVD, Blu-ray, and video on demand.

Next week, I'll look at "Get Happy" from Summer Stock (1950). You can also read last week's article on "Over the Rainbow."


  1. "Swinging on a Star" over "Trolley Song"??? What were they smoking?

    1. LOL. I think all of the songs in Meet Me in St. Louis are better than Swinging on a Star, but I guess the Academy couldn't resist Bing's crooning.


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