Wednesday, December 25, 2013

White Christmas, a Song by Irving Berlin

"White Christmas" as recorded by Bing Crosby may be the highest selling single ever. Billboard and other charting services can only speculate because they had not begun tallying sales in 1942, the year that the original 78 RPM single was released by Decca Records. Crosby had sung the song the previous Christmas Day on his NBC radio show. His impression at the time was that "White Christmas" was just another holiday song, but it proved particularly popular with radio listeners, many of whom had family signing up to serve in the military. Its popularity was also helped by appearances in the films Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

In his book White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, author Jody Rosen reports that Irving Berlin had at first conceived of the song as a satire. He started the song with a verse describing a sunny day around a swimming pool in Southern California, but that verse is now seldom sung. Instead, the song starting with the second verse was embraced as a sincere expression of longing for Christmas tradition by someone far from home.

"White Christmas" may be one of the most often recorded songs. Bad Religion, Kelly Clarkson, and Leona Lewis are among the artists releasing new versions in 2013. My library has the following versions in its collection (ready for checkout, of course).

Bing Crosby Recordings

Bing Crosby. Merry Christmas. MCA Records, 1961.
Crosby is accompanied by a lush orchestra and a chorus. He sings with some vibrato as was popular at the time and whistles a bit. There is no date for the recording , but it might be the original. 3:03

Now That's What I Call Christmas. EMI/Universal, 2001.
This is Crosby's 1954 recording with a shorter intro, produced because the original master was wearing out. It is only slightly different from the previous version. 2:57

Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole. It's Christmas Time. LaserLight Digital, 1992.
Here is a short rendition from a radio broadcast with a chorus and orchestra. Crosby sings in a plainer style with no whistling. 1:33

Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Christmas Sing with Frank and Bing. LaserLight Digital, 1996.
This is a duet of Sinatra and Crosby singing a medley of "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas." Crosby starts the "White Christmas" part, and Frank joins in for the final verse. 3:52

Other Performers

Louis Armstrong & Friends. What a Wonderful Christmas. Hip-O Records, 1997.
Louis Armstrong performs "White Christmas" with Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra. He sings with gruff, jazzy vibrato. Sadly, there is no trumpet solo. 2:37

A Motown Christmas. Motown, 1999.
Diana Ross and the Supremes sing "White Christmas." Ross and the Supremes trade off singing lead and harmonizing in a traditional arrangement with a lush orchestra and a bit of tinkling piano. Sleigh bells are added at appropriate moments. 3:53

New Kids on the Block. Merry, Merry Christmas. Columbia Records, 1989.
Jonathan Knight sings lead vocal with lots of boy group harmonizing. There is a slow beating drum and synthesized accompaniment. 3:37

Chipmunks. Christmas with the Chipmunks. Capitol Record, 2010.
The album has recordings from 1962 and 1963. On the last track, David Seville sings lead and the Chipmunks never interrupt as we all expect. At the end, Alvin tells Dave that he has gotten his wish and it is snowing. 2:33

The Three Tenors Christmas. Sony Classical, 2000.
Carreras, Domingo, and Pavarotti take turns and harmonize with a full orchestra. Fans will know each by his voice as he takes his turn. 2:47

Kenny Rogers. Christmas. EMI America, 1987.
A very smooth rendition, not Rogers' usual country sound. 2:47

Glenn Miller. A Christmas Concert. LaserLight Digital, 1996.
Glenn Miller conducted a military orchestra during World War II. During a Christmas broadcast, the orchestra and vocal solo performed "White Christmas" at the end of a long medley.

Kenny G. Miracles: The Holiday Album. Aristra, 1994.
Kenny G's rendition is suited for late night as the fire is just burning down. Relax and have a happy holiday.


Judith said...

I very much enjoyed this post, especially considering that White Christmas with Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, and Rosemary Clooney may be my favorite Christmas movie.

I've had a Christmas Open House at my blog all December, and I'd just like you to know, I've posted a link to your post today.

Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

ricklibrarian said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you had a merry Christmas, Judith.