It’s one of those not so well known facts that Bing Crosby’s recording of White Christmas is the top single record of all time.
Ironically and like so many other classic Christmas songs from that era, White Christmas was penned by a Jew in the sweltering heat of sunny California.
Irving Berlin wrote the song in the summer of 1940 in the city of La Quinta. According to what is almost certainly an apocryphal legend, Berlin is said to have called his secretary one evening and instructed, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — heck, I’ve just written the best song anybody’s ever written!” Berlin brought the song to Crosby to use on Crosby’s Kraft City Music Hall radio show. Crosby didn’t think much of the song at first, but agreed to do it as a favor to Berlin, who was a friend.
The song was an instant hit, and gave Crosby his first #1 single ever. Over time it would sell over 50 million copies, more than 20 million more than the runner up. In fact, White Christmas has sold more copies that all of the Beatle’s single records combined. And it didn’t just make money for Crosby. Over the coming decades, Frank Sinatra, The Ravens, The Drifters, Ernest Tubb, and Joe Stafford have each recorded a version that made Billboard’s top ten.
White Christmas seemed to pop up everywhere. It was the featured song in no less than three classic movie musicals: Crosby’s White Christmas and Holiday Inn (which, let’s be honest, are both kind of the same movie), and Judy Garland’s Meet Me In St. Louis. In the waning days of the Vietnam War, White Christmas being played on the Armed Forces radio was the prearranged signal to trigger the evacuation from Saigon.
In fact, it’s pretty hard to find an artist who has put out a Christmas album that hasn’t recorded White Christmas, but I’ll share my three favorite versions here.
Otis Redding’s version is predictably soulful.
Pink Martini’s is a kind of lullaby:
And Louis Armstrong’s is very Louis Armstong: