A rock nyc Christmas: The Greatest Of All Time: Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynold’s “White Christmas” Reviewed
In 1939, England declared war on Germany, in 1940 a man of the Jewish faith composed a song for the birthday of a man-God of the same faith, while people of the same faith were being slaughtered by their millions. On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and FDR declared war on Japan, and Germany declared war on the US. On December 25th, also in 1941, Bing Crosby performed “White Christmas” on his radio show to a country in shock.
In 1942, Bing performed the song again in the wonderful “Holiday Inn” featuring Bing, Fred Astaire, and actress Marjorie Reynolds. On March 4th, 1943, Berlin won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It might have been so tied to WWII that after the war it could have disappeared but it didn’t, according to the 2009 Guinness Book Of Records, it is the best selling song of all time, with over 100 Million copies, Bing’s original version sold 50 Million copies alone -Elton John came in second at 33M with “Candle In The Wind”. It jumped out of its movie (two movies, actually: don’t forget the 1954 “White Christmas”… snow, snow snow…) and into the world’s arms as a true perennial.
The song is set in California on a first verse very rarely performed:
The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North
It sets a place for Berlin’s deeply agnostic, secular carol and as America’s youth went off to war the instant nostalgia for the immediate past became an inverted “Over There”. During “Holiday Inn” it is performed twice, the second time a heartbreaker. In “Holiday Inn” Bing, his soon to be wife, and Fred Astaire, their dance partner, celebrate Christmas Eve by Fred stealing her and Bing retiring to Connecticut and opening “Holiday Inn” -a dinner and musical performance venue that only opens on national holidays. Into this world steps Marjorie Reynolds as his youthful, new dance partner, Bing performs “White Christmas” for her and she joins in. Later, Fred doesn’t really steal but Bing abdicates his role in Marjorie, and Bing is alone again. It ends on Christmas Eve, with Bing traveling to Hollywood to win her back.
This is easily the best version of the song, “White Christmas” sings itself, I don’t think it even needs the orchestration but it absolutely does not need Ken Darby Singers getting in the way. There is no reason to add lashings of schmaltz to a song that breathes true feeling and concludes with a benediction for people everywhere. The limited in time “May your days be merry and bright” puts a full stop to life lifted with “and may all your Christmases be white”.
Of course, Bing goes beyond what you consider a good vocal. Da Bing is a little lost in time for us, it is hard to remember how he taught us to use a microphone, the Bing-Hope movies are from another era, and then, to make things really terrible for the great man’s memory, his sons outed him as a violent, ill tempered father who beat them into submission.
But here he lives on for us as he tempers sorry with hope, calls to the boys at war and the families waiting, and hoping for merriness and brightness where none is immediately visible.
That is exactly what I want from Christmas, it is precisely why the holy day became a secular holy day, brought people together despite faith and not because of it.
I haven’t mentioned Jesus Christ once among these Christmas song reviews, yet I remain a huge fan of Christ’s preaching, and of the hope he gave to the Jewish people under the yolk of Rome. And the hope, the impossibility yet true, that Jesus actually became more important than his religion, Jesus let us all in and so did Irving Berlin.
Merry Christmas and may all your Christmases be white…