Although stores may have Christmas things in stock right after Halloween, I don’t truly begin my Christmas preparations until Thanksgiving week – which, let’s face it, is still plenty early. I get ready for Christmas when I do mostly because I love the music associated with the holiday. Heading into Christmas this year, iTunes informed me I had 685 different Christmas songs, a relatively absurd number and certainly too many for a single playlist. The problem for me though is they keep releasing Christmas albums, and I keep buying them. As of this moment, I only have one new album for Christmas this year (and it was sent via a publicist, so I didn’t even pay for it… although I certainly would have given the opportunity), and it pushes me over 700 songs.
While I like updates and new songs, there is something about hearing a good old-fashioned crooner roll the words smoothly off their tongue that is just marvelous, and this year’s new Christmas album features one of the best crooners ever to grace a stage – Bing Crosby. With 19 classic songs, The Crosby Christmas Sessions is a must-have for anyone with a love of Christmas music.
The earliest of the tracks on the CD, “Here Comes Santa Claus” is from 1949 and a duet with Peggy Lee; the most recent is the 1977 collaboration with David Bowie, “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.” Things are not spread out quite evenly between those dates, with 11 of the 19 songs having been recorded between 1949 and 1953 for some of Bing’s radio shows.
In addition to the Peggy Lee and David Bowie duets, Bing also sings two songs with Ella Fitzgerald and two more with Frank Sinatra. But, whether he is singing all on his own or with someone else, it is Bing’s voice that comes through loud and clear. He may not have been the first to record some of these songs, but he certainly makes them his own. Perhaps most notable in this regard is his take on “The Christmas Song,” a Mel Torme song, and one that Nat King Cole did brilliantly (and recorded several times). Bing’s version of the (now) Christmas standard has that same smoothness Bing also seems to have to his voice, and he nearly makes you forget anyone else may have recorded it. While it may not be the classic version of the song, it would be hard to argue that anyone else’s version is better.
As the liner notes (written by Robert S. Bader) state, not only did the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” put Bing Crosby into the Christmas song business, it is Crosby’s recording that got the business started in the first place. The version of “White Christmas” included on this CD isn’t actually that original 1942 cut, Bader tells us it was worn out from overuse, nor is it the 1947 one that Bing did to replace the ’42 version. It is instead from 1952, and while I personally would love to hear the ’47 version side-by-side with this later one, there is certainly nothing wrong with what’s included here.
Using tracks from several different recording sessions which span nearly 30 years, it is relatively easy to note that different songs were recorded at different points. That first Peggy Lee collaboration doesn’t sound nearly as rich as the later Bowie duet. However, as the songs aren’t placed chronologically on the CD and you end up going back and forth between time periods, the difference from beginning to end is not apparent even if the difference between some songs is pretty clear.
The inside cover of the CD notes when each song was recorded and for what purpose, which does make it easier to keep track of things. However, there is a typo on the inside cover as it lists track 18 twice, once correctly and once instead of the Bowie duet, track 19.
As the holiday season hits high gear and you put together playlists for yourself, loved ones, or any party you might be throwing, it is definitely worth considering picking up The Crosby Christmas Sessions. There have been a lot of people to record Christmas songs and Christmas albums, but no one seems to have done it with quite the vim, vigor, and splendor of Bing Crosby. The man sang holiday songs for years on end, a good range of them are represented here, and from first to last they are all memorable and virtually guaranteed to bring the joy of the season to you.