Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is not only the most popular Christmas song ever recorded, it is by most counts the best-selling single in recording history, having sold over 50 million copies to date. Interestingly, in composing “White Christmas,” Irving Berlin didn’t specifically set out to write a Christmas hit. While writing the tunes for the film “Holiday Inn,” he was obliged to create a song for every official holiday of the year. “White Christmas” was one of the collection, although it’s most likely that Berlin had written the song months or even years earlier, and had it stored away for future use.
A song of peace and yearning for home, “White Christmas,” was released to a war-torn public during the darkest days of World War II. By the end of the war it had become the biggest-selling single of all time. Crosby’s recording hit the charts on Oct. 3, 1942, and rose to #1 on Oct. 31, where it stayed for eleven weeks. The song topped the charts again in 1945 and January 1947, and has returned to the Top-40 over a dozen times since.
The success of the song led to the film of the same name. The movie “White Christmas” was released in 1954 and became a huge box-office hit. The film was supposed to reunite Crosby and Fred Astaire (who had appeared together in “Holiday Inn”) for their third Irving Berlin song and dance extravaganza. However, Astaire bowed out after reading the script. Donald O’Connor was selected to replace Astaire, but he injured his back and had to pass on the part. Danny Kaye replaced O’Connor.
The most familiar version of “White Christmas” is not the one that Crosby recorded in 1942. The 1942 master was damaged through frequent use, so Crosby was called back to the Decca studios on March 19, 1947, to re-record “White Christmas.” Every effort was made to reproduce the original Decca recording session, including enlisting the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers. The resulting re-issue is the one that has become most familiar to the public.
If you want to win a trivia contest at this year’s Christmas party, bet someone that they don’t know the lyrics to “White Christmas.” Chances are, at least one person will volunteer to sing (especially after a few rounds of eggnog). As soon as they begin the song with, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” you’ve won the bet.
As written by Irving Berlin, the song begins:
“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 24th / and I am longing to be up North. /
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know…”
The official lyrics have been recorded occasionally over the years, but since Crosby never sang the introductory lyrics, many incorrectly believe they were a latter day addition to the original version.
Because of its tremendous popularity, “White Christmas” is often credited as the song that launched the commercial Christmas music industry. Up until then, secular pop and Christmas music rarely crossed paths. In the entire decade of the 1930’s, for example, there were only two seasonal songs of note produced –“Winter Wonderland” (which is not strictly a Christmas song), and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” – both from 1934.