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.)
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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!”)
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.
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):
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