Tag Archives: Bing Crosby

CSOTD 12/31/2022: The happiest New Year

Another year of the Christmas Song of the Day ends today. My choice for December 31 is one I first heard when I was a kid back in the 1960s, but only sporadically in the years since. It’s best known as a collaboration between two 20th Century musical giants, but they didn’t originate it.

Les Brown (1912-2001) formed his first band when he was a student at Duke University in Durham, N.C. This touring group became the core of his Band of Renown, which officially was founded in 1938. Brown signed with the OKeh label, Columbia’s home for most big bands and folk singers, in 1940; his band had its first hit, “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” in 1941. After the 1942 recording ban, Brown’s band was reassigned to parent label Columbia; in 1945, they had their biggest hit, “Sentimental Journey,” featuring lead vocalist Doris Day.

With vocalists now the focus of the record industry, the bands became less relevant to their old labels. In 1951, Brown moved to the Coral label, and then to Capitol in 1955. After a couple more label changes, by 1961 the Band of Renown was back on Columbia.

For the Christmas season of 1961, Columbia assembled an album, We Wish You the Merriest: An All-Star Christmas, with mostly artists who either never did or had yet to record a full Christmas album. Brown contributed a song he wrote himself, which ended up being the sort-of title track, “We Wish You the Merriest.” This short song was a brassy celebration of both the Christmas and New Year’s season.

As enjoyable as the album was, it was out of print by 1964. That year, “We Wish You the Merriest” received its most notable cover.

It’s possible that none of the three artists involved wanted to record a full Christmas album, as each already had done so in the past. Instead, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and Bing Crosby (1903-1977) collaborated with Fred Waring (1900-1984) and His Pennsylvanians on 12 Songs of Christmas. The album’s liner notes stated that the LP was a companion piece to an album the three had recorded earlier in 1964, America, I Hear You Singing. The Christmas album remained in print on record well into the 1970s, but I don’t think it’s ever been reissued on CD in its entirety. All the tracks with Sinatra have, but I’m not sure about the non-Sinatra songs with Crosby or Waring.

The triumvirate closed the album with their version of “We Wish You the Merriest,” which I first heard on the radio way back in the 1960s. I found a copy of the original LP, probably in the 1980s, and there I found the song I probably hadn’t heard in 15-20 years. In the years since, I found out it had been released as a 45, and I have that in my collection now, too.

A few versions have come out since 1964, but the Sinatra/Crosby/Waring recording still sticks out. Here’s their version of “We Wish You the Merriest”:

And for comparison’s sake, here’s the original by Les Brown:

Thank you once again for following the Christmas Song of the Day. I really appreciate you!


CSOTD 12/5/2022: Dodging the clouds

The year 1950 was amazing for new Christmas songs. After “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” hit #1 on both the pop and country charts and “Blue Christmas” got to the top of the country charts as well, and several other holiday songs, both well remembered and forgotten, made the charts in the Christmas season of 1949, the race was on to write 1950’s big holiday hit.

The biggest, and most famous, hit during the Christmas season of 1950 was “Frosty the Snow Man,” another big hit for Gene Autry, who had done the original version of “Rudolph.” Though it wasn’t a huge hit at the time – it was likely hampered because its film, The Lemon Drop Kid, was delayed until the spring of 1951 – the other enduring 1950 debut was “Silver Bells.”

Plenty of worthy 1950 Christmas songs thus were lost to time. One of these is my Christmas Song of the Day for December 5.

One of the more unusual hit records of 1950 was A Crosby Christmas. It consisted of Bing and his four sons singing and harmonizing on several new Christmas songs, all written by the ace songwriting team of James Van Heusen (1913-1990) and Johnny Burke (1908-1964). One of these, on which 12-year-old Lindsay Crosby (1938-1989) took a mostly solo turn, was the charming “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus.”

In this song, Lindsay sings about what he might do if he had the chance to tag along with Santa on Christmas Eve. Just as good, he would have the chance to brag about his good fortune among all the kids who ignored him before his ride.

As performed on A Crosby Christmas, “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus” was very short. It was quickly covered by Bing’s long-time partners on record, The Andrews Sisters, who had had a really good year on the charts in 1950. During that year, they had two #1 hits, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” and “I Wanna Be Loved,” but their popularity on record tailed off in 1951, and they never again had a big hit.

The song disappeared soon after. A Crosby Christmas got to #22 on the Billboard best-seller chart, but I suspect as much for its novelty than anything else. Hugo Winterhalter (1909-1973) did a version on an album in 1953 with Judy Valentine (1923-2022) on lead vocal, but that was hidden on an LP.

The first time I remember encountering “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus” was in 1994. That year, Capitol Special Markets, as part of its so-called “For Jukeboxes Only!” series of 45 rpm singles, released a version by the Holly Cole Trio, a Canadian jazz band. Cole (born 1963) had just become known to American audiences with her 1993 album Don’t Smoke in Bed; for the ’94 holiday season, the trio’s 1989 recording of “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus” was put on a 45.

The song has been covered a few times in the years since, but it remains obscure.

Here’s Lindsay Crosby’s version, part of A Crosby Christmas (it starts at 1:37):

Here’s the version by the Andrews Sisters, which would have been the hit version had there been one:

And finally, the Holly Cole Trio:

CSOTD 12/14/17: One of Bing’s rarest

Bing Crosby (1903-1977) was one of the most popular and important entertainers of the 20th Century. He left behind a large body of work dating from the 1920s, and he was still active at the time of his death.

Today, he’s probably best known for his Christmas music. “White Christmas,” which he introduced in 1942, is one of the two or three biggest-selling recordings in the history of music, and his definitive 1947 version is still heard on the radio every holiday season. But there are plenty of obscurities in his Christmas catalog. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 14 is probably the rarest – or at least it was for a long time.

By 1972, Crosby and his family lived in a suburb of San Francisco most of the time. Bing had significantly curtailed his recording activity in favor of many of his other activities, including his famous pro-am golf tournament at Pebble Beach. Exactly how he became involved isn’t clear to me, but late that year, he agreed to help the Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco with a fund-raising project – an LP to be recorded by the Old St. Mary’s Choir.

Shortly after Christmas, on December 28, Bing joined the church choir, conducted by Robert Emmett Moonan, on two songs, both new. One of them was a celebration of the old cathedral called “We Love Old St. Mary’s,” written by Moonan. The other, a new song written by Jack Sweeny, who was credited as “technical editor” on the album, is called “Christmas Star.” The rest of the LP, which is called Christmas Star, consists of the Old St. Mary’s Choir by itself. The album was released in 1973.

Because the album on which these songs appear was distributed only in the San Francisco area, it’s very hard to find. For decades, it was a Holy Grail for both Crosby and Christmas-music collectors, as it only rarely showed up for sale in the secondary market.

Then, in the early 2010s, Bing Crosby’s estate began releasing CDs with some of the more obscure Christmas music from the years after he left the Decca label in 1957. These included rare radio recordings taken from original studio tapes and not merely dubbed from broadcasts, and they included some holiday recordings he made for the Columbia and Reprise labels. One of these budget-priced CDs, Christmas with Bing!, released in 2013 by Sony Music, had a surprise. With no fanfare at all, this disc contains, among its other gems, the long-lost “Christmas Star.” And it is exactly the same recording as on that benefit LP.

Though I’d never claim it’s one of Bing’s greatest Christmas songs, there’s a certain spirit and sincerity that shines through and makes it likeable. Here’s “Christmas Star”:

CSOTD 12/28/16: Christmas the whole year through

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.”