Tag Archives: Bing Crosby

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”:

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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.”