(Part of a series on Xmas songs) By Alan L. Chrisman
White Christmas is one of the most recorded songs in popular music and written by one of the best songwriters in the 20th century, Irving Berlin. Originally, it was composed for the 1942 movie, Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire and Bing Cosby, who sings it during the film and it became a big hit. The song’s name became the title to the later film, White Christmas, in 1954, starring Danny Kaye and with again, Bing Crosby, singing it in the film. The theme of both movies was the main characters putting on a show over the holidays. Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt) was also in the 1954 movie, and would have another big hit of it with her version. Holiday Inn, the earlier one, is actually a better film, and the scene where Crosby sings the song for the first time near the end, to Marjorie Reynolds is, I think, one of the most romantic in cinema. “White Christmas”, sung by Bing Crosby, is the biggest selling single in history, selling over 50 million copies.
Since then, virtually every singer has tried to cover it. But another, controversial version at the time, was Elvis’s, because his interpretation was more like the black group, The Drifters’ version. Berlin had tried to have it stopped as he thought it demeaned his original intention for the song. It’s on Elvis’ 1st Christmas Album, originally released in 1957, but re-issued many times. The album also contained “Silent Night”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” (by Gene Autry), “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (‘if only in my dreams’) and other traditional holiday standards. Elvis, always a big fan of gospel, also included four spirituals on the original album, including his previous hit, “Peace in The Valley”. He’s accompanied by The Jordanaires. A later re-issue replaced the spirituals with, “If Every Day Was like Christmas” and “Mama Liked the Roses”.
Then Elvis asked his often-song writers, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (who had written his hits, “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock”, as well as many other songs for the Coasters, etc.) to come up with an original Xmas song. Elvis starts the album with their R&B tune, “Santa Claus Is Back in Town”, and it sets the mood for the album. Also Elvis does a re-make of the 1945 Ernest Tubb song, “Blue Christmas” (‘it’ll be a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas without you’) and it too would become identifiable with Elvis and become a holiday classic. In 1971, Elvis would put out another Christmas album, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas (with more standards and the bluesy hit, “Merry Xmas, Baby”), with Elvis’ magnificent voice, re-interpreting the standards.
ELVIS performing his classic Xmas song, “Blue Christmas”, from his 1968 TV special:
Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas to Marjorie Reynolds in the original 1942 film, Holiday Inn:
Elvis did “Merry Christmas Baby, with bluesy guitar by legendary James Burton, on his 2nd, 1971 Xmas Album: