Most of Bing Crosby’s best-known Christmas recordings are from his years at Decca Records. His first holiday single, seven years before “White Christmas,” coupled “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)” in 1935, and he had his last Christmas single for the label in 1956.
After that, Bing became a free agent, leasing his music to whatever label would release it and rarely spending more than 2-3 years on any one label. Some of his best Christmas music came from his later years, but it’s mostly forgotten. The exceptions are “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, which he recorded as a single for Capitol in 1963, and the off-the-wall, but effective, duet with David Bowie from 1977, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.”
During these years, he acted once in a while, too. Crosby starred in the 1959 film Say One for Me as a priest, which was not a stretch for him, as he had played a man of the cloth in the 1944 movie Going My Way. Say One for Me received mixed reviews at best and scathing ones at worst; it is listed in the groundbreaking 1978 book by Harry and Michael Medved, The Fifty Worst Films of All Time. The movie may not be all that great, but it did yield an underrated Christmas song.
Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, two regular contributors to the so-called Great American Songbook, wrote the music for Say One for Me. One of the songs talks about the importance of not merely being kind and giving on Christmas, but of doing the same the entire year. Entitled “The Secret of Christmas,” it appeared on the soundtrack of the film, which was released by Columbia in 1959. It also was released as a 45 that Christmas season.
“The Secret of Christmas” has been recorded by others over the years, including Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, and The Captain & Tennille. Crosby himself did it more than once; he re-recorded it in 1964 with Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians when he was with Reprise Records. I’ve found that the 1959 recording isn’t easy to find on CD, and the 1964 version is even more rare on shiny metal discs. I prefer the 1959 rendition myself.
Think about the lyrics as you listen to Bing Crosby sing “The Secret of Christmas.”