Our top songs are definitely the cream of the Christmas crop. This week is the super powerhouse, White Christmas. This endearing song of reminiscence takes us back to an old-fashioned CHristmas. Irving Berlin penned the classic in the summer of 1940 (amazing how many Christmas classics were written in the heat of the summer). There is a little controversy about where the song was written. It might have been at the Biltmore in Arizona, but more likely in La Quinta, CA at the La Quinta Hotel. Regardless of where it was written, it is forever linked to the singer who sang it first- Bing Crosby. Crosby made the first public performance on the radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day in 1941. It would then be recorded in May 1942, taking only 18 minutes to get the track finalized! It was released as part of a collection of 78s for the film Holiday Inn. The song wasn’t initially popular, more people loved the tune Be Careful, It’s My Heart. But soon the public started to love White Christmas leading it to become a #1 hit on the charts. It is the only single to be a #1 hit as part of three separate cycles over three different years. This isn’t the only record, award or distinction for the song.
White Christmas won the 1942 Academy Award for Best Song. It was the inspiration for the 1954 film of the same name. It is on most lists named as the #1 Christmas song of all time. NPR names it as #2 on the list Songs of the Century, just behind Over the Rainbow. The Crosby album Merry Christmas, including his version of the song, was released in 1949 and has never been out of print since. Most remarkably is the status in holds in the Guinness Book of World Records- the Best-selling Single of All Time. The Crosby version has sold over 50 million copies world-wide. If you include the more than 500 different recorded versions the sales total reaches over 100 million copies of the song sold world-wide. 100 million!! The tune also holds a unique place in American History outside of Christmas and songs. The radio broadcast of the song in April 1975 was the pre-arranged signal to begin the American evacuation from the city of Saigon in Vietnam.
The current Crosby recording is actually a 1947 re-recording due to the wear and tear on the 1942 original. It still includes the clever lyrics of the opening, “The sun is shining, the grass is green…”. So many newer versions skip right to the first verse and leave the introduction out completely. Check out a few versions we found for you:
This week our song is one of my favorites, Do You Hear What I Hear?. The song was penned in October of 1962. As I looked into the origins of this piece of music I was struck by the many historical connections beyond Christmas. 1962 was a year of much strife. The US was bogged down with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the world sat on edge at the thought of a nuclear war. The song was written as a plea for peace. The lyrics tell the tale of how the word spread about the birth of Jesus. From the night wind, to the little lamb, to the shepherd boy and then to the king who told it to the people everywhere. The two writers of the song were married but had a history all their own also. Lyricist, Noel Regney, was a Frenchman from Alsace that was drafted into the Nazi Army during WWII. He turned double agent for the French Resistance and helped with the Allied effort until breaking his arm in an attack. Composer, Gloria Shayne, was an American who grew up next to Rose & Joe Kennedy, and their son, future president Kennedy. She would find her way to New York City as a pianist where she worked with legends like Sondheim and Berlin. The song was tremendously personal to them and they wrote that the originally could not sing the whole song without emotion taking over.
The original recording was made in 1962 by Harry Simone Chorale (also known for an original version of the Little Drummer Boy) and was played often. But it was in 1963 that the song became a true hit. Bing Crosby released his recording in October of that year, not long before the Kennedy assassination. When he sang it in December on the Bob Hope television Christmas Special. The song brought some deep emotional response to the nation and everyone wanted a copy. Today there have been tens of millions copies and over 100 recordings. Classic versions come from the expected standards- Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and even Kate Smith. Listen to some of our interesting choices here:
Silver Bells is another great holiday song. This is another tune that is all about the season and not at all about Christmas, the holiday, itself. Not a hymn or carol, just a great timeless holiday classic. The song was written in 1950 by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. These writers also wrote Mona Lisa, Que Sera Sera, and the theme songs for Bonanza and Mr. Ed. The song was first used in a movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. The film follows a down on his luck con-man who decides to dress as a store front Santa and ring his bell to gain some much-needed money. In addition to the version from Hope and Maxwell in the film, Bing Crosby and Carol Richards made the first recorded version also out in 1950. This was so well liked by the public that the movie version was re-recorded to be a greater spectacle before its release in 1951. Originally the song was titled “Tinkle Bell”. Livingston quickly realized this had to be changed when he got home and told his wife about the song. She reminded him that tinkle has another meaning! The re-titled Silver Bells has gone on to become one of the most highly covered Christmas songs with nearly 500 versions made over the years. Check out some of the more interesting I found in my search, just click the links below:
Today in history, Ed Sullivan was born in 1901. Interesting facts about Sullivan: he was born a twin, but his brother, Daniel, did not survive but a few months.
Sullivan was a journalist first and a performer on the radio. Then, he began hosting a show, The Toast of the Town, in 1948. In 1955, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1967, CBS renamed the Billy Rose Theater, from which Sullivan broadcast his show, the Ed Sullivan Theater. The show was cancelled in 1971, after 10,000 individual guest performances and 23 years. Since 1993, David Letterman’s show has broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Ed Sullivan is remembered for dominating the limited television offerings in the 1950’s and 60’s, establishing America’s taste. The guests who appeared at Christmastime are many, including Bing Crosby and the Muppets. (The Muppets performed 25 times on his show.) I’ve included YouTube videos of the Muppets performance and Gayla Peevey’s “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” in the early 1950’s. (The song was released in 1953.)
Ed Sullivan was known for supporting African American performers, and The Supremes were on his show 16 times. They performed “My Favorite Things” in 1966.
This week we start our new song of the week addition to our Yule Log offering. For week one we have Away in a Manger. There are TONS of different versions of this song, and there are definitely more than one tune that it can be sung to (more on that another day). The song tells the story of the baby Jesus and his nights in the stable so long ago, a prayer really . Listed below are some links to a variety of versions I dug up to share with our readers. Please let us know what you think about these. We will be narrowing in on which version we recommend from the YL 365, and more importantly the versions that need to be removed from the annual playlist. Listen to them all…
Organ Recording– For some reason carols can all sound a little more sacred when played on the organ I believe.
Today we take a look at one of the most well-known songs of the Christmas season, Jingle Bells! This timeless favorite of children is not just one of the most recorded Christmas songs. It is one of the tope 25 most recorded songs ever! There are many unique facts about Jingle Bells. Did you know it was written before the Civil War and for Thanksgiving? Did you know there’s a connection between dogs “singing” Jingle Bells and Nazi technology? Did you know which singing legend’s version of Jingle Bells makes Natalie cringe? We reveal all this and much, much more- like who hit #1 on the charts with a version of this classic tune.
This week we start with a little overview and look at past info. Our actual topic focuses on Christmas movies and songs that won awards. There are surprisingly few. No Best Actor, Best Actress, or Best Film. Only one Academy Award winner- Best Song, 1942 (have to listen to find out the song!). No Grammy winners in the major categories. Only a single nomination ever for record of the year and that was 1959’s The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)! I bet no one would guess that the Chipmunks were the last Christmas song to reach #1 on the charts. 50 years is too long- we need a new Christmas Song to sweep these awards. (Be sure to click the links to hear those chipmunks)