20 November 2008

White Christmas

Bing’s White Christmas A Holiday Must
By Kristin Battestella

I still remember the first dozen CDs I got. They were so newfangled compared to cassettes and 45s! Certain essentials, however, immediately found their way to the new format. For me, no Christmas since the advent of the compact disc is complete with out Bing Crosby’s 1949 Staple White Christmas. We’re talking 78s now, folks!

Silent Night begins the album in proper caroling fashion. Although you would think this a better closing tune, Bing sets the tone for this set with his spiritual, crooning notes. It’s a little slow, but too short at the same time.

continues the carols with Adeste Fideles. The first verse is the Latin treat, then the second turn around is the traditional English O Come A Ye Faithful. Outside of the big voices, you don’t often hear this carol from today’s singers. It’s simple lyrics are full of religious reverence, and this is one of my favorite renditions. Very easy to understand and sing along to.
White Christmas
We know its Oscar winning debut in Holiday Inn and its titular film White Christmas, and until Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute Candle In The Wind gave it a run for its money, White Christmas was alone with its 50 million copies sold self. Everyone knows it, and Bing Crosby’s soft delivery says everything we love about a good old fashioned Christmas. This album itself has gone through dozens of prints and reissues and track changes, and Bing would in fact rerecord White Christmas after the initial print wore out. I can imagine there are folks out there who are sick and tired of this song-and perhaps better voices have taken the Irving Berlin classic to new levels-but love it or hate it, the spirit of White Christmas cannot be denied.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman is another one of my favorites, a very old tune that Bing again adds a bit of pop and singability to. Such somber but powerful words. Those who feel downtrodden during the holiday season should take the time to listen to the lyrics instead of the depressing beats- Gentleman is full of Christmas meaning.

Not necessarily a holiday hymn, Faith of Our Fathers is a surprising choice by Crosby. Nevertheless, this ode says more about where America was at the time-a paternal society going from the Great Depression and into World War II-then Dad’s role on Christmas morning. For the spiritual minded, this is a welcome reminder, even if we only hear it once a year.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas actually sounds more melancholy here than usual. Bing almost seems on the verge of cracking once or twice and the simple guitar opening lends a touch of pauper. It’s not depressing, but bittersweet and tugging at your holiday heart strings. Although one of the longer tracks here at three minutes, this entire album is short by today’s standards. A whopping thirty five minutes!

Even though I like swing and big band music, Jingle Bells is just too jazzy and annoying for me. The bells in the background, Crosby’s speedy delivery, and those jiving Andrews Sisters (who I normally like) put this one over the top for me. If you need a Jingle Bells, this version will certainly do, but its better if you alter it with the ‘Batman Smells’ adlib.

White Christmas’
need for something upbeat is also misplaced with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. For kids and fun, sure this standard can’t be beat. Some of the tongue twister lyrics are fun to sing, but The Andrews Sisters just sound so annoying behind Bing. The music and style is very dated, and really if you don’t have children under 10 in the house, this one’s a skipper.

Silver Bells, thankfully returns us to Crosby’s suave seasonal charm. We can sing along, and for busy parents stuck in the shopping humdrum, Silver Bells allows a moment to pause and reflect on the beauty of the holidays.

Likewise It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas reminds us of all the signs of the season. I’m not a big fan of the commercialized Christmas, but these songs are such a big part of our tradition. Besides, the heartwarming notions of red, green, toys, and decor come through in Crosby’s voice.

Christmas In Killarney is the second song on White Christmas I could take or leave, behind Santa Claus is Coming to Town. There’s something about Bing’s rhymes, rhythm, weird beats, and music that just feel off kilter to me. Only after I researched the titular Irish town was I able to appreciate Bing’s brisk delivery. And I like Celtic music, go figure.

If I feel pressed to name an utterly American Christmas song, Mele Kalikimaka is the first one I think of. I live nowhere near Hawaii, but its light luau sounds and lyrics of sunshiny winter fests represent everything good about the cultural melting pot in the US. Sure we didn’t acquire our fiftieth state under the best circumstances, but who doesn’t love Hawaii? And as much as we dream of sleighs and snow, there’s something about Bing’s tale of beaches and Christmas sunshine that warms even the cold heart of this February baby.

Even if you don’t like the swinging music of old, Bing Crosby’s stalwart White Christmas has been the soundtrack of the season for over sixty years. The CD is short and affordable enough for a spot on your Christmas music rotation. Enjoy this undeniable Christmas charmer this December.

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