Friday, December 6, 2013

The Voice of Christmas: The Complete Decca Christmas Songbook (MCA, 1998)

About a year ago, I published an article about the Christmas recordings of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dick Haymes in my blog on classic jazz and the crooners, The Vintage Bandstand. Part of that piece was devoted to a brief discussion of Bing's Decca holiday sides, included in their entirety on the 2-CD set The Voice of Christmas. Below you will find the Bing-related portion of that article, and its full version is available here.

So pervasive is the influence of Bing Crosby on the way people worldwide perceive and imagine the holiday season that it seems almost unthinkable that there was ever a time when Bing did not warm up our holidays by crooning Irving Berlin's evocative lyrics about treetops that glisten and children who listen for sleigh bells in the snow. In fact, Crosby's soothing voice singing about a snow-covered white Christmas landscape often makes us forget that in at least half the world, the Christmas season, though perhaps still merry and bright, is not that white or that cold at all! Crosby's warm baritone has become as much a part of the Christmas tradition as Santa Claus, fir trees, and kisses under the mistletoe, and therefore, the title of a two-CD compilation of his complete Yuletide classics recorded for Decca, The Voice of Christmas, hardly sounds like an overstatement. Indeed, it is at Christmas that we are most likely to hear Crosby's voice on the radio, at the shopping mall, and anywhere that Christmas music is played, and more often than not, it will be Bing's timeless version of "White Christmas," an Irving Berlin evergreen that has proven so popular that Jody Rosen has devoted a whole book,White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, to chronicling the inception of such a prodigious hit.

The Voice of Christmas, containing Crosby's entire Christmas songbook on Decca, is certainly the perfect place to begin not only one's acquaintance with Crosby's seasonal recordings but also any Christmas music collection. Starting with Bing's earliest Christmas sides, the original 1935 versions of "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" (the latter featuring Bing singing in Latin), and ending with studio cuts of tunes from the 1954 Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney-Danny Kaye musical White Christmas, the set is arranged roughly in chronological order and is a treasury of great Christmas recordings, both traditional and modern, well known and obscure, always brought to life by the familiar voice of Crosby in his prime. Among the lesser-known gems on here are "O Fir Tree Dark," "That Christmas Feeling," "Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter," "The First Snowfall," and "Is Christmas Only a Tree." All the cuts in the Crosby Christmas canon are also featured, including "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Jingle Bells" (a classic duet with the Andrews Sisters), "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," "Silver Bells," and of course, "White Christmas," which is presented in four different versions. It must be remembered that Bing was a pioneer when it came to recording Christmas songs in the pop field, and although he sang countless holiday tunes on the radio and on television, and made further Christmas recordings for other labels (Capitol, for instance), his Decca sides represent the finest of his Yuletide output, making this comprehensive collection absolutely essential. 

DISC 1: Happy Holiday / Silent Night (first version) / Adeste Fideles (first version) / Silent Night / White Christmas (1942) / Adeste Fideles / Silent Night / God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen / I'll Be Home for Christmas / Ave Maria / White Christmas (1947) / Silent Night / The Christmas Song / O Fir Tree Dark / The First Noel / You're All I Want for Christmas / Christmas Carols (Deck the Halls - Away in a Manger - I Saw Three Ships) / Christmas Carols (Good King Wenceslas - We Three Kings of Orient Are - Angels We Have Heard on High) / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / That Christmas Feeling / Looks Like a Cold, Cold Winter / A Marshmallow World.

DISC 2: Christmas in Killarney / It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas / Sleigh Ride / Sleigh Bell Serenade / Christmas Is A-Comin' / The First Snowfall / Is Christmas Only a Tree / I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day / Jingle Bells * / Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town * / Twelve Days of Christmas * / Here Comes Santa Claus * / A Crosby Christmas, Part I / A Crosby Christmas, Part II / Poppa Santa Claus / Mele Kalikimaka * / Silver Bells (with Carol Richards) / Little Jack Frost, Get Lost / White Christmas ** / Snow ** / White Christmas (1942 alt.) / Let's Start the New Year Right. [ * with the Andrews Sisters / ** with Danny Kaye, Peggy Lee, and Truely Stevens ]