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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

December 13, 2007

Song of the Week: White Christmas

The sun is shinning the grass is green. The cacti and palm trees sway...

Not exactly how the song goes. But the Tucson iteration of Beverly Hills & LA is pretty close and as frustrated ex-Northerners bemoan the lack of snow in warmer climes it becomes ever clear that Christmas is upon us.

With thoughts of home and snow fresh on the mind, the Pax Plena song of the week will be no stranger to the holiday musicphiles among us. Yet, the history of Irving Berlin's White Christmas may well be relegated to the dusty box of family ornaments and the ghosts of Christmas past. What follows is a brief primer on America's most popular Christmas song.

Interestingly, White Christmas actually has an Arizona connection which had previously escaped me. According to legend, Irving Berlin wrote the song poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa just up the road from here in Phoenix. As the song hit airwaves in 1942, America was well into a period of deep uncertainty. In November, of the same year the U.S. Navy suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Guadalcanal and gasoline rationing began as a result on the order's of President Franklin D. Roosevelt back home. Suffice it to say, the backdrop for the inaugural performance of White Christmas in the film Holiday Inn was anything but auspicious.

But there was something special about the song. Berlin's initial assessment of his work turned out to be quite prescient- it was indeed the best song he had ever written. White Christmas would strike uniquely at the core of the American psyche, bringing with it all the charm and romance of the Christmas season to a Nation in more perilous a position than ever it had been since its founding. Released (perhaps not serendipitously) during the height of World War II, the song became a smashing hit with the American Armed Forces stationed overseas. The lyrics easily bring images of hearth and home to mind some sixty-five years later. It is difficult to apprehend their effect on American servicemen stationed in North Africa and Guadalcanal as the song made its way over the Armed Forces Radio Network. Suffice it to say, its success was nigh instantaneous.

By all accounts, the most famous version of the song remains the original rendition done by Bing Crosby in 1942. Its release then was actually just prior to the Christmas season and the song would go on to spend some 11 weeks atop the charts. It would return to the top twice more becoming the sole song in American history to make #1 three different times. The Guinness Book of World Records honors its as the number one Christmas song of all time.

Notably, while the 1942 version of the song features (arguably) the grandfather of the crooner generation, it does not feature the initial stanza originally written by Irving Berlin in the early 1940s. Both on the recording and in the movie in which it was initially introduced to American audiences, Bing Crosby sings only the chorus and leaves out the initial stanza. To provide its full effect, the complete lyrics appear in below. Legend has it, the initial stanza was set to poke fun at displaced northerns living in SoCal, once again proving that it is never a bad thing to make fun of Californians.

Even so, whether home for you is Los Angelas, Boston or Walters, please enjoy the 1942 version of Bing Crosby's White Christmas courtesy of Songza.com.






White Christmas

The sun is shining
The grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway.
I've never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills LA.
But it's December the 24th
And I am longing to be up North.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the treetops glisten,
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright.
And may all your Christmases be white.
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