May your days be merry and bright

We’re a bit short on snow in my part of the world right now, which is not unusual–it’s still on the early side for the white stuff. Of course, the following song‘s rarely-performed opening verse begins “The sun is shining, the grass is green.”

“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, sung by The Three Tenors:

Video posted by congodfather. (I think the best bit is when the children’s choir joins in.)

Or, if you prefer, a 2008 cover by Jason:

Video posted by dare2dreamJC

The song was written for the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire vehicle Holiday Inn and became an instant classic. Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” is the best selling record of all time, the single selling at least 50 million copies; when all the various covers are taken into account, the song is estimated to have sold over 150 million copies. This despite–or perhaps because of?–the fact that it’s not so much about Christmas itself as an ideal or dream of what a Christmas should be.

[NOTE: Since the Crosby’s single was released before singles charts were a thing, I’m going by the conclusions of the researchers at the Guiness Book of World Records.]

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One songwriter, so many Christmas songs

Three examples:

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” by Johnny Marks, based on a poem by Robert L. May, as sung by Destiny’s Child (you heard me):

Video posted by DestinysChildVEVO

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by Johnny Marks, sung by Bill Haley:

Video posted by PEARLY

“A Holly Jolly Christmas,” by Johnny Marks, sung by Sufjan Stevens:

Video posted by Sufjan Stevens – topic (Provided to YouTube by BWSCD, Inc.)

There is a very interesting story behind the writing of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Robert May was an in-house copywriter for Montgomery Ward, and in 1939, as his wife was dying of cancer, they asked him to write a Christmas story that they could give away to shoppers to spur holiday sales. A little booklet titled “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was the result. Sometime in 1939, Johnny Marks became aware of the story and made a note in his idea notebook that it might make a good song. In 1947, Johnny Marks married May’s sister, and in 1949 he wrote the song based on his new brother-in-law’s poem. Gene Autry recorded the song as a B side in 1949 because his wife liked it (Autry didn’t), and it went on to sell 15 million copies.

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Here’s to making hearts grow three sizes in one day

“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Albert Hague and Theodor Geisel, sung by Thurl Ravenscroft:

Video courtesy of horgemlingurinn

And here’s a version by the Pickens High School Jazz Band (really quite good!):

Video posted by Jennifer Bryan

To quote from Albert Hague’s obituary in the The New York Times:

“When he played the song he wrote for the Grinch assignment to Theodore Geisel, Mr. Geisel (a k a Dr. Seuss) exclaimed, ‘Any man who slides an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.'”

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Now would be a good time…

“Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector, sung by Jon Bon Jovi:

Video posted by Doddie004

And sung by the original singer, Darlene Love (with Patti LaBelle), just a few days ago:

Video posted by The View

According to Rolling Stone (2010), if you’re looking for the best rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song, look no farther because you’ve just heard it. And if it reminds you of “Be My Baby” or “Da Doo Ron Ron” you have a good ear, because those were written by the same three (Jewish) songwriters.

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It’s Christmastime even where it’s not wintry

“Silver Bells” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, sung by Colbie Callait:

Video posted by Rita Spencer; audio posted by Colbie Caillat-Topic, “Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group International.”

And here is the same song as sung by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in the movie for which the song was written, The Lemon Drop Kid:

Video posted by TCBNS. (Clip comes complete with visual “jokes” based on ethnic stereotypes; the movie came out in 1951, which is no sort of an excuse but is an explanation of sorts, alas.)

“Silver Bells” was frequently referred to by Livingston as “our annuity.” The title, by the way, was originally “Tinkle Bells.”

[I pause while you take that in.]

Then Livingston went home and told his wife about their new song and she said, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know what the word ‘tinkle’ means to most people?” They changed the title (and lyrics) to “Silver Bells” forthwith.

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And who isn’t saying this right about now?

“We Need a Little Christmas” by Jerry Herman, sung by LeAnn Rimes

Video from leannrimesofficial

I have to say that while I never thought of it as a country song–it is, after all, from the Broadway musical Mame

(No, it is not from “Glee.” “Glee” did a very partial cover of it, but it was nonetheless written for and performed in Mame)

–it does seem to fit the genre. Still, no one sings it quite like the original Mame, Angela Lansbury, in the original cast album…

Video courtesy of CBEntr

…or ever after:

Video courtesy of James Christian Jr.

She just gets better and better, doesn’t she? No wonder that Jerry Herman famously coached her (secretly, of course, since that sort of thing is Not Done) before her audition!

(By the way, isn’t that line, “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week past Thanksgiving Day now!” quaint? No surprise that more recent productions change that line to “But, Auntie Mame, it’s one week from Thanksgiving Day now!”)

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It’s very nasty out tonight. Really very.

And while it is not below-freezing cold, it is also not really weather that makes the idea of going outside at all appealing…

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” by Frank Loesser, as sung by Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

Video courtesy of Dragon Blast

This is another one of those songs that everyone, but EVERYONE, has covered. Recent pairings include Sara Bareilles and Seth McFarland, Idina Menzel and Michael BublĂ© (which has a video I find more than slightly creepy), and Sheryl Crow and Darius Rucker. The one I brought in–from “Lady Gaga & The Muppet’s Holiday Spectacular”–I find especially charming. Don’t they seem to be having a blast? I love that!

And the role reversal helps pull the teeth of a bit of controversy that arose around the song over the years–the “wolf” and “mouse” aspects of the song bothers some people. And of course, if you just look at the lyrics (or listen to some of the recorded duets), it can certainly be read as a man pressuring a woman to submit to sex. It seems to me only fair to the songwriter, however to bear in mind that the song was originally written by Loesser to sing with his wife at parties as a signal that things were starting to wind down. (And indeed, if your hosts are singing that to each other in front of you, it does become clear that you are looking at two people who would very much rather you left…now!) His then-wife, Lynn Garland, in fact, was not in the least bit happy when he sold the song to MGM, Oscar or no Oscar (and it did win the Oscar for Best Original Song), since it was supposed to be “theirs.” And I think this Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Lady Gaga duet makes it just as clear as the Loesser’s duet must have done that there’s no coercion going on here, it’s all just flirtation.

Continue reading “It’s very nasty out tonight. Really very.”

Still no snow forecast for NYC.

But I don’t like to be parochial, and snow is being forecast for quite a number of places across the US (and no doubt elsewhere on the planet too), so this song will probably be an option for SOMEONE…

“Sleigh Ride,” by Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish, sung by The Ronettes:

Video from PhilSpectorVEVO

That’s a 1963 recording, and a classic, but if you prefer something a little more contemporary, here’s “Sleigh Ride” sung by Pentatonix (which includes the middle bits that pretty much everyone leaves out):

Video from PTXofficial

Continue reading “Still no snow forecast for NYC.”