BARRY LEVINE: Reflecting on holiday favorites

THE OLD ROCKER: It doesn't get much better than Bing and Nat at the holidays

Barry Levine

Barry Levine


Bing Crosby (Special photo)

It’s just a scant 17 days remaining until a cherubic man with a flowing white beard circles the Earth, leaving presents for one and all under Christmas trees and in stockings.

It’s the time of the year when the spirit of joy permeates the world. Part of the joy of the season is the great holiday music.

Here’s a list of my holiday favorites certain to be heard during the next 17 days:

“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. The Academy Award-winning song came from the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn,” starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. The song touches the heart of everyone, especially those who are not able to be home for Christmas. This song has been covered numerous times, but Crosby’s version definitely is the best. And who doesn’t remember the opening lyrics, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like the ones we used to know”?


Nat King Cole (Special photo)

“The Christmas Song” by Nat “King” Cole. As with “White Christmas,” the opening lyrics are so memorable: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yuletide carols being sung by a choir, and folks dressed up like Eskimos.” Mel Torme and Robert Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” in 1944. The velvety-voiced Cole first recorded it in 1946, and it was released in November of that year. The holiday season would not be complete without hearing this song.


Gene Autry (Special photo)

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry. The song was created by Robert May in 1939 for Montgomery Ward, a nationwide retailer. Autry’s version of the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1949. The song tells the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who possesses an unusual luminous red nose. Harassed and excluded by his peers because of this, Rudolph manages to prove himself one Christmas Eve after Santa Claus catches sight of Rudolph’s nose and asks Rudolph to lead his sleigh for the evening. Rudolph agrees and is finally treated better by his fellow reindeer.

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms. Released in 1957, “Jingle Bell Rock” is one of the few songs from the early part of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era to become a Christmas classic. Although it has “Rock” in the title, the song has more of a country feel.

“Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. Originally recorded by Doyle O’Dell in 1948, “Blue Christmas” did not become a Christmas classic until it was included on “Elvis’ Christmas Album” in 1957. Interestingly, the singer never released it as a single. Written by Billy Hayes and Jay W. Johnson, this song has been covered more than 150 times.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland and also Frank Sinatra. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, Garland introduced the song in the 1944 musical “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Sinatra recorded the song in 1950 after the lyrics were changed to make it more upbeat and positive.

“Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Penned by the American classical music composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941, it originally was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955 and popularized by the Harry Simeone Chorale in 1958. In the lyrics, the singer says that as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the Nativity where, without a gift for the infant Jesus, he played his drum with the Virgin Mary’s approval. The lyrics to “Little Drummer Boy” repeat the phrase “rum pah pum pum” more than 20 times.

“Do You Hear What I Hear” by Ed Ames. Written by the husband-and-wife team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Bing Crosby originally released the song in 1963. Ed Ames, who was a member of the Ames Brothers singing group, recorded it in 1966. Although it was covered by more than 125 singers, Ames has the most memorable version.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Bing Crosby. Written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, Crosby recorded the song in 1943 during the height of World War II. The song centers on a soldier stationed overseas during WWII who tells his family he will be home for the holidays and to prepare Christmas for him. The song ends with the soldier saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” The tune grabbed the hearts of soldiers as well as civilians.

“Silent Night” was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 in Austria and first performed in a church on Christmas Eve. It has been translated into at least 140 languages. When a Christmas Eve truce was reached during World War I in 1914, troops sang “Silent Night” in French, German and English because it was the one Christmas carol that all the troops knew. The song has been recorded by more than 100 artists.

“Jingle Bells” is one of the most popular Christmas carols and originally was published in 1857. James Lord Pierpont was credited with writing the song, and it earned him a spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It was first recorded by the Edison Male Quartette in 1898. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded “Jingle Bells” in 1943, and it sold more than 1 million copies, an unusual feat for a song at that time.

Barry “The Old Rocker” Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.