Friday, December 23, 2011

Bing Crosby: Merry Christmas

Review # 58
Artist: Bing Crosby
Title: Merry Christmas
Format: LP
Label: Decca
Year: 1945
Songs: 12

Hello, readers. I managed to get one more review in before the holiday. If Christmas records aren't your thing (and I understand if they aren't, believe me), rest assured, this is the last Christmas LP review for 2011.

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas is one of the best known Christmas records ever. Released on Decca Records in 1945 as a collection of 78rpm discs, the album has never been out of print, a statement which can be made of few records. And for good reason--it's a masterfully executed record. I had a friend who would listen to it all year around. Bing is in top crooning form, and the two orchestras that appear on this record both perform the songs in style, whether the song is somber, dour, or swinging. The Andrews Sisters provide backing vocals on side two and make the record just feel like a perfect slice of the music of the 1940s. It's both a great representation of the time and also timeless.

The record seems to be divided into a somber side and fun side. Side A of the record features earnest and sometimes dour songs, often with religious themes. Christmas is, of course, for most people a religious holiday, so "Silent Night" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"  aren't really surprising selections. The one that is a bit more unusual is "Faith of Our Fathers," which, aside from from really bringing down the mood, is pretty awful in what it advocates. The song is about "our fathers" who, in spite of being killed and tortured in dungeons, retained their Christian beliefs. Which I guess is all well and good if you're a strong Christian. But what's really terrible about it is that expresses the desire for these fathers' children (i.e. ourselves) to be similarly martyred: "Oh how sweet would be their children's fate if they, like them, could die for thee." Yikes. Martyrdom is not something I would ever wish on anyone. Wouldn't it be better to wish that no one, anywhere, ever has to go through "dungeons, fire and sword?" Wouldn't that be more in the spirit of the holiday? In any case, this particular song makes me want to turn off the record and put on the Subhumans' "Religious Wars" instead.

On the other hand though, side A also includes Crosby's version of "White Christmas," which is arguably the definitive version of this song. A dour holiday classic in which the narrator dreams of a snowy Christmas, just like the ones he used to know. Having spent my early childhood in a place where winter consistently meant snow and white Christmases were not the exception, I can understand. This song always evokes memories of building a snowman in the front yard, jumping off my parents' deck into deep piles of snow, and then coming inside to sit by the fire and drink hot cider. Here in Seattle, this sort of thing is a lot less common, and although I've lived in western Washington for over two decades now, I've never stopped missing those snowy winters that Bing longs for in this song.

Before I get any soppier, let's turn briefly to side B, the "fun" side of the record. This side of the record is upbeat, through and through. Many of the songs, as previously mentioned feature the Andrews Sisters, and most of the songs also feature a different orchestra from side A. While I'm not familiar with other work by either one, the Vic Schoen orchestra on side B really shines. They give us swinging, jazzy versions of songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" that are reminiscent of Count Basie's work. Side B features what I would probably consider the best version of "Jingle Bells" I've ever heard, rivalled perhaps only by Frank Sinatra's version. The Andrews Sisters' unique backing vocals really make this one distinctive and fun.

If you're one of those folks who hates Christmas music, you probably won't be able to get behind this record. And that's fine. I don't really know why I like it, but I do. And if you're going to listen to Christmas music, it's hard to beat Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas.

I'll leave off here with link to "White Christmas," the song this record is probably best known for.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from 30,000 Songs.

Total songs listened: 731

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