Saturday, December 7, 2013

Your Hit Parade #1: White Christmas

Because of copyright laws, music can't be included, but if you click this 
you can listen to the original song on YouTube

Back on April 20, 1935, a radio program called Your Hit Parade debuted on Saturday nights.  Each week, the program would play the 15 most popular songs of that week, performed by live artists, though not the person who originally recorded the songs.  Regardless, it didn't take long before Your Hit Parade was itself a hit.

It shouldn't be surprising that during WWII, Your Hit Parade was an very important part of life, not only on the home front, but it was also head overseas and on the front lines thanks to Armed Forces Radio Service.  

In Britain, the BBC was also broadcast popular music to their forces fighting in Europe and to the war-torn home front.  Even the Germans recognized the morale building value of shared music and broadcast their own version of The Hit Parade in a weekly program called the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht, also heard at home and on the front lines.

One of the most popular songs of the war was actually one that wasn't really considered really great by the composer, Irving Berlin, and the original singer, Bing Crosby.  White Christmas was originally just another song on a movie sound track, written sometime between 1940-1941, and it was supposed to be  ironic.  It was first introduced on the radio on Christmas Eve 1941 by Bing Crosby and later released on July 30, 1942.  At first, White Christmas didn't go anywhere, but by October 1942, thanks to radio plugs, it went to first place on The Hit Parade's weekly countdown and stayed there for 10 weeks, and was in first place on Billboard's charts for 11 weeks.

White Christmas on Billboard's charts October 1942 and December 1942
(click to enlarge) 
White Christmas is a simple song, but despite the opening words, it became a very popular war song because it appealed to people emotions with it melancholy nostalgia for the ideal long ago Christmas that, in reality, most people never experienced.   The opening lines, which make fun of Hollywood, are sometimes still recorded but not often.  In fact, Berlin had these cut from all sheet music after seeing how popular the song became in 1942:  

The sun is shining.
The grass is green.
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hill, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,
And I'm longing to be up north.

In 1943, White Christmas won the Academy Award for Best Song.  The movie it was written for, Holiday Inn, was not about the war at all,  but when it was remade in 1954 and called, not surprisingly, White Christmas, it was about two former Army buddies trying to help out their former General with his so-far-not-too-successful Vermont hotel.  I have to admit, I like White Christmas more than Holiday Inn, but I think that has more to do with Rosemary Clooney being in it than anything else.  Although, I do like Fred Astaire's tap dancing in Holiday Inn.

Because the original recording of White Christmas was damaged, the Bing Crosby version that is most often heard now is a 1947 recording.  To date, it has sold over 50 million copies and, according to Wikipedia, there are more than 500 different recorded versions of it.

Original 1942 White Christmas sheet music,
complete with Buy War Bonds stamp
Your Hit Parade remained a popular radio show all through the 1940 and on July 10, 1950 became a weekly television show using the same countdown format.  

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing how we are nostalgic for that elusive never yet experienced Christmas.

    The past always seems to look better somehow. And during war, it makes perfect sense that home and Christmas would seem idyllic.