Boogie Fever no. 6 (special guest edition)

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Please note: The original configuration of Boogie Fever was that it, not unlike B&F, was a semi-group blog. This entry was the only one not written by me; it was penned by the great Douglas Wolk.

Bing Crosby: "White Christmas" [December 19, 1942]
"The sun is shining/The grass is green/The orange and palm trees sway/I've never seen such a day/In Beverly Hills, L.A."--I think this tops the list of verses of very famous songs that nobody has ever heard, even beyond the third and fourth verses of "The Star-Spangled Banner." That's the way "White Christmas" starts as written, and it gives the song a little bit of context. Bing Crosby, though, has no use for context. This is the most secular Christmas song that bothers to mention the holiday at all: the sentiment is nothing but longing for snow. (Currently in a town with an untoward wind-chill of 2 degrees Fahrenheit that's expecting "snow and freezing rain" tomorrow, I can tell you: it's not that special.) But this was the biggest-selling single of all time until "Candle in the Wind"; it topped the Harlem Hit Parade despite being in the running for the whitest song ever. (See, specifically, the moment when the Ken Darby Singers stop going mm-mm-mm and start singing the verse as formally and blankly as it is possible to sing.) It's also an object lesson in the frailty of mechanical reproduction: the Bingle and the Darbies and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra were called back to the studio five years later to record it again, exactly the same way; depending on which story you believe, it's either because recording technology had gotten much fancier over that time (the "Don't Stand So Close To Me '86" effect) or because the master recording had worn out from overuse.

In the '42 recording--I have no use for the context of the '47 one--Bing's singing is as calculated as phrasing gets: hear how he aspirates the "wh" in "white," or the cod-operatic three-note "I" in "I used to know," or the breath he takes between "Chris" and "tmases" at the very end. He's so invested in sounding avuncular and soothing that he dispenses with the meaning of the song altogether--there's not a hint of longing for faraway coziness until the middle of the Darbies' verse, when he pulls off his one great trick of the song, whistling along with the recording. He's not playing to the microphone; he's just doodling with the melody, to himself, and just happens to be by the mic at the time, thinking about what's up North. And then the whistling drifts away, and he wanders back to the microphone for the final line's plea for whiteness for everyone else, and he's Mr. Slick again. If nobody but enthusiasts had heard this since then, it'd be a darling little novelty. As it is, it's a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup we will all be dosed with every winter forever, whether or not we like it. 3