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"Silver Bells" was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the motion picture The Lemon Drop Kid, filmed in July–August 1950 and released in March 1951. The first recorded version was by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards, released by Decca Records in October 1950. After the Crosby and Richards recording became popular, Hope and Maxwell were called back in late 1950 to refilm a more elaborate production of the song.
"Silver Bells" started out as the questionable "Tinkle Bells." Said Ray Evans, "We never thought that tinkle had a double meaning until Jay went home and his first wife said, 'Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word tinkle is?'" The word is slang for urination.
This song's inspiration has conflicting reports. Several periodicals and interviews cite the writer Jay Livingston stating that the song inspiration came from by the bells used by Santa Clauses and Salvation Army people on New York City street corners.  However, an interview with co-writer Ray Evans to NPR said that the song was inspired by a bell that sat on Ray and Jay's shared office desk.