I’ve been having fun on Facebook listing Christmas songs that are not overly-familiar and haven’t worn out their welcome.
For my final submission of alternative Christmas songs, I’d like to bend (my own) rules just a little.
You probably think it is unfair to introduce the best-known and most performed Christmas song in this list. However, many people have never heard the whole thing. In fact, not many know that there is more to the song than you hear in Walmart or on the radio.
“The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
I’ve never seen such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth
And I am longing to be up north”
The origins of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” are shrouded in legends. And if we can’t be sure of the facts from something this public less than a hundred years later, it makes one wonder how we can be so sure about legendary events of past millennia.
Back to topic — many versions were sung by Bing Crosby on radio, TV and in the movies and the recording in all versions is honored as the best-selling single of all time (spanning every recording format ever invented).
Estimated sales of Der Bingle’s versions exceed 100 million copies worldwide and add the many other versions recorded and you reach over 150 million copies.
The lack of certainty stems from the fact that the original recording was released before the first pop charts. However, counting includes royalty reports to ASCAP (the major songwriting rights accounting organization) of which Berlin was a founding member.
Where and how he wrote it is also lost in a swarm of legends. He may have worked on it as early as 1938. One story is that he wrote it in 1940 while warming his tootsies in La Quinta, a resort near Palm Springs, CA. However the Arizona Biltmore claims that he composed it while staying there.
Whatever the time and place, legend has it that Irving was excited by his new masterpiece. “Grab your pen and take down this song,” he reportedly told his secretary. “I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”
Berlin couldn’t write music. He hummed a tune or pecked it out on a piano and a musical copyist wrote the score.
Of course, the song was introduced by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. The recording was copied onto a 78 RPM disc (they called it a transcription) and is reportedly held by Crosby’s estate to this day. He did not sing the verse then.
Nor did Crosby sing the verse when he debuted “White Christmas” in the movie Holiday Inn in 1942. And he also didn’t sing it in the 1954 film with the same name as the song.
Even without the verse, Crosby knew it was a keeper. He reportedly told the composer, “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”
It didn’t sell all that well in 1941 (the world was rather occupied with Pearl Harbor that December and mobilization for war immediately afterward.) But by the next Christmas, “White Christmas” really took off. It stayed on the charts a long time (about 3 months) and became an annual best-seller (Billboard charts for record sales started in 1951).
“Holiday Inn” was a hit, and the song “White Christmas” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942. Crosby sang it as a duet with an actress whose voice was dubbed by a studio singer.
Another movie, the 1954 musical actually named “White Christmas,” became the highest-grossing film of 1954.
Yet Bing still never recorded the introductory verse, and he never sang it for the public until a TV show in the late 1960s.
Meanwhile, legends kept popping up that the song reflected “a satire on Hollywood types lolling around a pool, pretending to a nostalgia they didn’t really feel,” according to Wikipedia. That pool might have been at either the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Biltmore in Phoenix.
“The version most often heard today on radio during the Christmas season is the 1947 re-recording. The 1942 master was damaged due to frequent use,” Wikipedia reports, and it quotes a modest Crosby as saying, “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully.”
This is the one where he whistles the second time through.
The version I want to share with you to wind up our alternative Christmas song series is a beautiful rendition by The Divine Miss Bette Midler from her tribute album to Rosemary Clooney (and included on her album “Cool Yule”.)
Merry Christmas music lovers. Enjoy the season with music and hope that William Congreve was correct when he wrote, “Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast,” because it is pretty savage out there. And peace on Earth for all.
Dory Previn died on Valentine’s day. She was 86.
Known mostly for her work on songs for the movies, she also had some success in the pop field with records released in the 70s. She and her first husband, André Previn, were nominated several times for an Academy Award but never won.
Her six records were recorded after her divorce from Previn, her most successful being a live album.
Her songs were intelligent and insightful and most dealt with her personal life, which was a fertile field. Her abusive father was gassed in WWI and suffered severe mood swings which resulted in violent behavior. He deteriorated to the point where he boarded his family up in their home and held them at gunpoint for several months.
She broke into show business as Read more on Dory Previn — 1925 to 2012…
In the past month, I’ve probably seen a dozen local bands/performers and most of them pride themselves on writing their own material.
This is not always a good idea.
I’m the first one to encourage new talent and to urge budding songwriters to go for it. But being in the same ballpark as writing poetry, songwriting can get a little self-indulgent sometimes.
There are plenty of good songs out there — people have been writing them since forever. You can pick and choose among the best. You could really put together a dynamite set or a whole show and not play a single original.
If you are intending to entertain the public, your first consideration should be to entertain — not bore them to sleep. Or worse — annoy them.
If you are wanting to try some new material out to see how it’s going, by all means, sprinkle an original or two in your set. But don’t think that everybody came to hear you (they probably came to drink or pick up a one-night-stand) and don’t think anybody gives the lower portion of a rodent about what you think, feel or have to say.
Most songwriters go about the process intuitively. That means, they don’t study good songwriting structure, they aren’t concerned with a melody and sometimes don’t even have a reason for writing the song.
I mean, what’s the use of contributing one more “You left me and done me wrong” or “I’m feeling good, so let’s party” to the Great American Songbook?
When you get good enough to play only your own material, you will know it. People will actually ask you to do so. They might even pay you to do so.
Meanwhile — learn the craft and develop some artistic sense, and don’t forget to play songs people like when they come to hear you.
ASCAP features British composer Paul Leonard-Morgan — fresh off of his score for the hit movie Limitless, and he tells about the experience of scoring a major Hollywood movie.
He has scored various movies and TV series in the U.K. and worked with popular music bands, but nothing will blow your mind like a major motion picture.
Click here for unlimited access to Paul Leonard-Morgan’s website.
Congratulations to Corey Stewart — he’s in 7th Heaven because he signed a publishing deal with a music publishing company.
His conclusion — “Persistance does pay off in the end.”
Along the way you can sign up for his free report on how to beat writer’s block.
TAGS: Songwriter, publishing, songwriting, Corey Stewart
Record yourself and record everything.
I recently bought a small digital recorder, and it plugs in to my car stereo, awesome way to sing along with the rhythms you lay down as you are riding and thinking, turn off your radio ,let your thoughts roll, and pay attention to your inner conversations,listen for sentences that sounds like something you’ve never heard before, in a book or in a movie, always looking for unique thoughts and sentences. Listen to your friends as they gossip, or are telling you a story…
At this moment, you’re just a click away from discovering the Hit Songwriting Secrets of John Lennon… even if you’re starting from scratch.
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