Thursday, December 16, 2010

Best Christmas Album Evah'

I have been dubbing around with this blog post for so long that it's going to be Valentines Day before I post it. I had this image of drawing a picture of the record album under a snow covered Christmas tree with an image of Irving Berlin and Bing in the background.  OK. Just close your eyes and imagine it.

'Oiving Thinking White

In 1945, Bing Crosby invested $50,000 of his own money (probably after one of his horses actually paid off ) in a new company from a Germany rising out of the ashes of the recent collapse of the Third Reich.

It was called  Ampex and it was one of the first to produce magnetic tape and the recorders/playback machines that go with it.

Bing recognized this ground breaking technological advance in sound recording, and he was the first American artist to use tapes in the record making process.  He also purchased a tape machine and gave it to his friend, guitarist Les Paul. Les had accompanied Bing in a couple of sessions and "Der Bingle" appreciated his talent.  We all know what Les did with this new technology.

That's not what this blog is about.
Admit it. You have this CD.

It's about what Bing recorded on one of the magnetic tape machines shortly after his purchase of stock in said company; which is to say, the best Christmas album ever.

A probably apocryphal tales relates that when Irving Berlin wrote this timeless classic, he tossed it onto the desk of his secretary and, with breezy self assurance said. "This is the best song I have ever written." Best? Well, certainly close to the top.

 This album is considered the longest in-print disc of all times, with only The Original Cast Recording of Oklahoma beating it out, having been cut in 1943.

"Best" is purely subjective, of course. But I've heard enough songs over the past sixty-eight years, to fling a few titles around with some degree of authority. And right up there is "White Christmas".

My folks had a copy of it. Probably your folks did too. And your grandparents.

Bing Crosbys' White Christmas was recorded and released in 1945 as a five record, ten song set of 78 rpm plastic discs. It was eventually released as an 'album' in or around 1955 and as a CD in the mid 80's. Of course, the title song is the one we all remember. It was the song Bing sang at the beginning of  the movie of the same name right before Danny Kaye saved him from a collapsing brick wall. It was not the first time the song showed up in the movies, having been introduced in 1942 with Bing and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn.

Berlin was one of the finest composer of his time. And, according to some sources, (Gerald Mast "Can't Help Singin'" pub. Overlook Press, 1987)  he wrote his best ones specifically for individual performers. Like "Cheek to Cheek" for the aforementioned Fred, "Better Luck Next Time" for Judy Garland, "They Say it's Wonderful" for Ethel Merman (think of that first note she hits in the first syllable of the word "wonderful"!) And of course, "White Christmas" for Harry Lillis Crosby.

The whole album is a box of bright jumbled jeweled ornaments. Crazy, but cozy ( Sorry. I promise no more alliteration!) picture postcards (whoops!) of memories. The title song is taken from the point of view of a person who is not near ANY white Christmas (probably Beverly Hills) and all he can do is wish for that which he remembers.  Each note and word is perfect for the emotion it evokes.

The first line shows how Berlin uses words to sculpt a feeling. "I'm and "white" are stressed, rather then "Christmas." The drawn out vowels weave this sense of longing that the singer is trying to express. And who to do it better then Crosby with his mellow, almost oboe-like tones?

There's so much going on in this song. The whistling at the end, which I try every now and then, but am woeful at best. And the harmony Bing sings in the final part of the refrain with a bubbling  "....whi-i-i-ite" is the only way I can sing this annual classic.  I also take out my imaginary pipe and play bells on imaginary Christmas ornaments, 'ala "Holiday Inn" for corn sakes!

The rest of the album is like frosting on the cake and takes us from "Silver Bells" busy sidewalks to Hawaii (to this day I cannot pronounce the Hawaiian way to say "Merry Christmas") and then shoots over to "Christmas in Killarney", with Bing doing his best Father O'Malley "...with ahhlah the folks at home!"

Mixed in are several season standards, like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and, as a good ex-alter boy, a rendition of "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" with the Latin verse tossed in at the end. The music director of the church I attend has asked all of us to sing that last verse this year. Somehow, we have not been doing it..

I did have to repeat Latin II in high-school, but, heck, I'll give it a shot.

This album/disc/ MP3 is probably in every home in the country. And why not.

They don't make 'em like that any more.

© 2010 George Locke


  1. Actually, I don't have it. Now I realize that I should.

  2. Just for the record, he's not joking about that imaginary pipe thing. He just did it tonight at our annual screening of "White Christmas," the film. Crazy, crazy man.