Red, White and Blue
American Christmas Hit Songs
RED -"Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"
WHITE - "White Christmas"
BLUE - "Blue Christmas"
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Red - White - Blue
Three Christmas Hit Songs
By Roger Lee Hall
Gene , Bing and Elvis -- all three known by their first names
and all singing legends in their own time.
Each of them had Christmas hit songs that continue to sell today.
It's mostly because of them, and their arrangers,
that Christmas songs from the 1940s and '50s have remained popular today.
When else would you hear such vintage songs on the radio today?
Like retailers who depend so much on big consumer spending during the Christmas season, the record companies have tried to use their top selling artists on Christmas albums.
It's the time of year when every singer can share in Christmas cheer
and add extra royalty cash. That isn't exactly a new idea.
Three of the most popular Chrustmas records of the 1940s and '50s have the colors of...
Red, White and Blue
"RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER" (1949)
Gene Autry - Here Comes Santa Claus
Gene Autry was one of themost popular singing cowboys from movies and television. Besides his many popular western hits, like "Back in the Saddle Again" and "You Are My Sunshine," Gene also recorded several perennial Christmas song classics.
The most popular one was " Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," written by songwriter Johnny Marks in 1949. The lyrics were based on a story by Marks' brother-in-law, Robert L. May. Millions of copies of May's story were given away as gifts during the 1940's by Montgomery Ward department stores.
The original story draft was given to Dartmouth College in 1958.
Just one year after Gene's classic recording of " Rudolph", it became a million-seller. By 1970, this recording had sold over 60 million copies, making it the second best-selling Christmas song after "White Christmas."
Another song recorded by Gene was one he co-wrote with Oakley Haldeman, "Here Comes Santa Claus." It had sold a million copies by 1950. Gene explained that he got the idea for the song after seeing young children shouting out as Santa Claus appraoched during a parade. You can hear Gene tell the story on this recommended CD:
The Christmas Cowboy - Gene Autry
Other recommended CDs by Gene are:
The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
and Other Christmas Classics
"WHITE Christmas" (1942/1947)
Bing Crosby: The Voice of Christmas (2 CDs)
The biggest hit of this singer trio was made by Bing Crosby, who recorded the best-selling single Christmas record of all time.
Even though he was the most popular singer of the first half of the 20th century, most people today remember him for this Christmas song.
His classic 78 rpm Decca recording of "White Christmas" was made in May of 1942, not exactly in the holiday season, but like most holiday records it was made months ahead of time so it could be released well before Christmas.
This song was originally just one of the songs in the delightful and highly enjoyable movie, HOLIDAY INN (1942), starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Irving Berlin wrote all the songs for the movie, one for each holiday of the year -- an amazing achievement since they are ALL wonderful songs. Yet none of them had the lasting appeal of Berlin's Christmas classic.
Bing Crosby first recorded "White Christmas" with the Ken Darby Singers and John Scott Trotter's Orchestra on Decca Records.
Five years later in 1947, "White Christmas" and seven other songs were released on an album of 78 RPM records. The songs were transferred to one 10-inch disc in 1954, selling a million copies by 1956.
Four more songs were added when the 12-inch LP, titled Merry Christmas, came out in 1963. This album includes such Christmas carols as "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fidelis," along with popular favorites like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (joined by The Andrews Sisters). The LP is now the largest selling Christmas album of all time and titled simply,
You can also get the original Bing Crosby version on this compilation CD:
Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits: 1935-1954
Just about every singer since Bing has taken their shot with "White Christmas." These include Bing's successor, Frank Sinatra, and even the popular 50's doo-wop group, The Drifters, available on this CD:
Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits: 1955-Present
Another singer who sang "White Christmas" was Elvis Presely, who recorded the song with the Jordanaires in 1957.
And that leads to the third Christmas hit...
"BLUE Christmas" (1957)
Just ten years after the milestone 78 RPM record of "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, RCA released their first Elvis Christmas LP. Surprisingly, it wasn't an immediate million seller. It took until 1963 for it to reach that sales milestone.
One of the songs from that 1957 album did become a hit, "Blue Christmas." This wasn't a new song, having been written in 1945 by Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson. Among the mixture of twelve traditional carols and songs on Elvis' Christmas Album are four recorded earlier by Bing and Gene:
"Here Comes Santa Claus"
"I'll Be Home For Christmas"
This just shows how the Christmas songs made popular by Bing and Gene were continued by Elvis.
It's like the musical torch being passed along from the radio crooner and singing cowboy to that younger guy with sideburns and acoustic guitar, who probably listened to them both on radio when he was growing up.
This is one of the best Christmas CDs sung by Elvis Presley:
If Every Day Was Like Christmas
Christmas Music in America
Christmas Music in New England
Film In Focus: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (music by Dimitri Tiomkin)
Joy of Angels: Shaker Spirituals for Christmas and The New Year
1958 Song Hits
Top Christmas Hit Songs