Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas music

My list of favorite Christmas music hasn’t changed much from last year. The only significant addition to the rotation this year is The Chipmunks Christmas, one of my wife’s records from her youth that I burned onto CD. It is now highly popular with my son.

Today, Christmas music is a major industry. Every artist, it seems, is obligated to put out a Christmas album. But does anyone remember who started the whole thing?

Guess what the first commercially successful Christmas recording was.

White Christmas? No, that came later.

It was Silent Night, recorded by Bing Crosby in 1935. The record became Crosby’s biggest hit of the 1930s. But Crosby was uncomfortable with the idea of profiting from a popular Christmas carol, partly because of his devout religious faith, and opted to donate all the proceeds from the song to charity.
Silent Night was the top selling Christmas record until it was eclipsed by Crosby’s recording of White Christmas in 1942, which became the highest selling record of all time.

It’s a shame today that Crosby gets so little respect in our popular culture. To understand just how big a star Crosby was in his day, here is a synopsis
compiled from Gary Giddins’ book, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – the Early Years 1903-1940,
published by Little, Brown in 2001.

• He made more studio recordings than any other singer in history.
• He made the most popular record ever, “White Christmas,” the only single to make American pop charts twenty times, every year but one between 1942 and 1962. 
• Between 1927 and 1962 he scored 368 charted records under his own name, plus twenty-eight as a vocalist with various bandleaders, for a total of 396.  No one else has come close; compare Paul Whiteman (220), Frank Sinatra (209), Elvis Presley (149), Glenn Miller (129), Nat “King” Cole (118), Louis Armstrong (85), the Beatles (68).
• He scored the most number one hits ever, 38, compared with 24 by the Beatles and 18 by Presley.
• In 1960 he received a platinum record as First Citizen of the Record Industry for having sold 200 million discs, a number that doubled by 1980.
• Between 1915 and 1980 he was the only motion-picture star to rank as the number one box-office attraction five times (1944-48).  Between 1934 and 1954 he scored in the top 10 fifteen times.
• He was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor three times and won for “Going My Way”.
• He was a major radio star longer than any other performer, from 1931 until 1954 on network, 1954 until 1962 in syndication.
• He financed and popularized the development of tape, revolutionizing the recording industry.
• He created the first and longest-running celebrity pro-am golf championship, playing host for thirty-five years, raising millions in charity, and was the central figure in the development of the Del Mar racetrack in California.
• He made the largest number of V-discs and army broadcasts of any American entertainer and raised $14.5 million in war bonds (a “Yank” magazine poll declared him the individual who had done more for GI morale during World War II).

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