One of the things that makes the holiday season so great is the music. Whether it’s playful, somber, or fun, music this time of year seems to have a magical quality that has people listening eagerly (unless you work in retail). In 2020, the greatest of all those songs turned 78. The Bing Crosby classic, White Christmas, is not only a Christmas classic, but the highest-selling single of all time.
Originally written in 1940 in sunny California, the Irving Berlin tune was first performed publicly by Crosby in 1941. It wasn’t until the following May that it was recorded as part of the album accompanying the film Holiday Inn. It was even originally overshadowed by another song on the album, Be Careful, It’s My Heart. It wasn’t until October 1942 that the song became a roaring success, topping the charts for 11 weeks and returning to the peak each year.
So, what makes White Christmas so special? It may be its connection to two beloved holiday musicals. It could be Crosby’s reputation as the voice of Christmas. Our money is on the song’s masterful mix of melancholy and hope. The song is a yearning call to your childhood memories of home and the Christmases “you used to know.” Even if white Christmases are exceedingly rare, the song paints an idyllic winter landscape that makes even the fiercest snowbird dream of glistening treetops. Counterbalancing this is the dreamlike accompaniment to Crosby’s smooth croon, which gives the song a light, twinkling atmosphere. The simplicity of the song, which is, in reality, two repeated verses, drives home the message of longing for home and a desire for a simpler time.
The importance of this song cannot be overstated. Before White Christmas, the concept of a secular Christmas song didn’t exist. In all its years, this song has touched the hearts of everyone who has listened and dreamed of a snowy Christmas morning.
Today, we’re going to celebrate this holiday classic by picking our three favorite classic Christmas songs.
Let It Snow!
Standing in stark contrast to the quiet longing of White Christmas is the bright merriment of Let It Snow. In a genre packed with happy songs, there are few as optimistic as Let It Snow. The song takes a laissez-faire approach to terrible weather, joyously proclaiming that “we’ve got no place to go. Let it snow!” The song tells of a person so in love that even a blizzard can’t dampen their happiness. After all, “as long as you love me so, let it snow.” While not specifically a Christmas song, it fits right in with the winter holiday celebration genre.
We chose to focus on the Dean Martin cover of the song. Of all the members of the Rat Pack, he seems to fit the “oh shucks, oh well” attitude of the song. Accompanied by strings and a flittering, playful flute section, Dino dances around the track, the intonation of his voice constantly hiding a laugh. Perhaps the happiest of Christmas songs, Dean is perfectly cast to bring it to life.
The Christmas Song
The Christmas Song is the perfect song for sitting around the fire with a warm mug of hot chocolate as the Christmas Eve celebrations wind down. The song has a longing quality, ready for Christmas, but is also quietly, contemplatively joyful. Entirely lacking the sadness of White Christmas, but with all the desire, the Christmas Song conjures memories of the best that Christmas represents. Celebrations, childlike excitement for Santa and gifts, and family gathered together all “help to make the season bright.”
Nat King Cole’s 1961 rendition of The Christmas Song is the definitive version of the song. Between the sighing string quartet, the tinkling piano, and the light use of a clean electric guitar, the song is built to perfectly match the sentiments of the lyrics.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is the only song that can make a claim to White Christmas’s throne. Originally written for Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, the song has much of the melancholy of White Christmas. Despite this, there is a defiant hope and an irrepressible spirit that’s so touching. With lyrics like “from now on your troubles will be out of sight,” the song presents Christmas as a respite from a year’s worth of struggle. The string accompaniment is less soaring or sighing as it is pleading the listener. Keep believing, keep hoping.
Judy Garland may have made the song well known, but Frank Sinatra made it a Christmas classic. Old Blue Eyes reworked the lyrics to “jolly them up” a bit (the original lyrics were bleak). It struck the perfect balance between gloom and joy. This is magnified by the deep reverb on Sinatra’s opening vocals. Initially, without backing music, the song takes on a deep, lonely quality. But once the accompaniment enters, there is a comforting, reassuring warmth. There is a certain sadness hidden behind Sinatra’s golden voice, however, with the chorus displaying a haunting quality that implies that all is not well. Despite this, the sweeping, near-crescendo movement of “hang a shining star upon the highest bough” reasserts that the pervading emotion of hope.
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Perhaps it is the melancholy, and the happiness hidden behind that, that makes White Christmas and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas so powerful. They implore the listeners to be merry at this time of year. Even if the weather outside is frightful, family and friends will be around to make everything better. It’s funny that Christmas songs do truly run the gamut of emotions, but almost always end up with this unifying conclusion that now is the time to be happy.
With that thought, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from everyone here at Medicareful Living!