Diana West pays tribute to the evergreen popularity of Bing Crosby’s version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in her column “The enduring legacy of Bing’s ‘Christmas.’” West recounts the success of the song and plays Crosby off against Elvis Presley in a tale of pop versus rock. She conveys Rosemary Clooney’s lament that “Elvis is still a presence in the American consciousness, while only aficionados still make an icon of Bing.”
West’s excellent column touches on subjects close to my heart and is worthy of more consideration than I can give it this morning. Let it be noted, however, that jazz critic Gary Giddins is in the process of writing a multivolume biography of Crosby that I believe will do much to restore Crosby’s reputation to its proper dimensions. The first volume of the Giddins biography — Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams–The Early Years, 1903-1940 — was published to substantial acclaim in 2002.
West’s column avoids mention of any of the complicating ironies that attend the story of “White Christmas” — the story of a Jew writing a secular song about Christmas, using mass media to project a fantasy of a Christian idyll of America in the nineteenth century. See generally this excellent review of Jody Rosen’s recent White Christmas: The Story of an American Song.
In their 1993 book Merry Christmas, Baby: Holiday Music from Bing to Sting, Dave Marsh and Steve Propes placed “White Christmas” at the head of the class of secular Christmas songs of which Elvis’s hot, hot version of the (Charles Brown) classic “Merry Christmas, Baby” is itself a glorious contribution.
Marsh and Propes also drew my attention to Ella Fitzgerald’s 1960 recording “Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney” — perhaps the naughtiest song on a Christmas theme ever released. They persuaded me that whatever gulf exists between pop and rock, there are many bridges.
UPDATE: Diana West writes in the spirit of the season:
Thanks for the kind mention. (By the way, having read over the Ella-chimney song I am grateful it is obscure as it is (at least, until you linked to it!). Throw it in the chasm…! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!