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W hen James Taylor announced that his first post-Sept. 11 release would be a holiday song — in fact, a 57-year-old melody that one critic dubbed “the most melancholy Christmas carol ever written” — music industry executives questioned Taylor’s rationality. But Taylor insisted that “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which he released this month online, is a song for our time. And indeed, it is.

No song has ever boasted a more auspicious debut. Sung by a young and luminously lovely Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” premiered in December 1944, the centerpiece of MGM’s classic musical, Meet Me in St. Louis. That month also marked America’s third year of war.

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