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15 Great Oscar-Winning Songs!: “White Christmas”

“Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” – Irving Berlin

Well, at least that’s one story about what he told his secretary after dreaming up “White Christmas” during a late night session. Two different hotels have staked a claim to being the location where he penned what has since become the top selling single recording of all time. One is the La Quinta Hotel in La Quinta, California which is a standard retreat for Hollywood types while the other is pretty far from there at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona. Another story has Berlin humming the melody to Fred Astaire and director Mark Sandwich on the set of Top Hat back in 1935. What is relatively uncontested is that Berlin wrote the song as a nostalgic take on a more traditional environment while languishing in the decidedly less holiday-centric American southwest.

The original first verse, which is left out of most recordings of the song makes this pretty obvious:

“The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—”

I guess it’s understandable that while this is pretty darn beautiful:

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If you’re stuck there during the holidays you might start pining for something more like this:

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This is another situation, as we saw with “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe,” in which a previously existing song was quickly added to a film and became eligible for the Academy’s Original Songs category. Bing Crosby had first presented the song as a part of a Christmas day radio program in 1941. Holiday Inn, on the other hand, wasn’t released in theaters until August of the following year. Although the song was initially less successful than one of the other tunes on the Holiday Inn soundtrack, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” it took advantage of the approaching Christmas season and hit the number one spot on the singles charts in October of 1942 and stayed there until well into 1943. Decca records knew a good thing when they saw it and re-released “White Christmas” in time for winter nostalgia in both 1945 and 1946…and it hit #1 again both times, making it the only single to ever hit #1 in three different years.

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There have been more than five hundred recorded versions of “White Christmas,” more than any other Christmas song on record. In addition to Crosby’s iconic version (which is itself a 1947 re-recording of the original hit whose master was damaged due to over-use), artists such as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Marley, Barbra Streisand, John Denver, LeAnn Rimes, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga produced recordings of the song. Instead of sharing any of the work of these very popular and legendary performers, I’m giving you a very interesting cover by the punk-pop group Panic! At the Disco.

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Posted on February 16, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Music, Oscars and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. “White Christmas”, the song that has been re-gifted many times (I don’t think that’s a problem or anything). Like the invention of electricity and many other events throughout time, those two hotels follow another tradition: arguing over who should get the credit.

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  2. Interesting that this article appears the same day as the birthday of one of the stars (Vera-Ellen) of the 1954 film White Christmas, which of course featured Bing Crosby singing this song.

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  3. What I keep finding so interesting about “White Christmas” is that it’s written by a Jewish man, who probably didn’t celebrate Christmas at all. And yet, he managed to write what would become a classic.

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    • Yeah, since I’ve learned that fact, I’ve found it interesting as well.

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    • The commodification of middle-American (interpreted as Christian) values and the nuclear family by a set of movie executives who were mostly Jewish in heritage is a pretty fascinating piece of American history. When people complain about Hollywood values running counter to “traditional” American values, they ignore that Hollywood helped to define what it meant to be American in the first place.

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      • That’s an outstanding point about Hollywood; makes me think of those reels with the happy skippy music that included a narrator & portrayed the “ideal” nuclear family and domestic life (I kind of like those).

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