(Above: Christmastime in Michigan.)
If we really wanted to, we could break the songs heard on the radio at the holidays into themes. There are Christmas songs and there are winter songs. One could argue that the winter songs could stay in rotation well into February were it not for the fact that by the time we get to February thoughts have turned to anything that is not winter. This is especially true in West Michigan, where the sun disappears in December and stays hidden until about mid-March. (My first real “lake-effect” snowstorm was quite the experience. If you’ve never experienced sunshine and pouring snow at the same time, I recommend coming up here for a visit.)
Snow plays a major part in the winter songs, and even factors into the Christmas songs as well. The most famous of these is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” which still reigns as the biggest-selling single in history. (I wonder how many people bought multiple copies of the song because they lost them with the decorations each Christmas.) The song, ironically, was first recorded on May 29, 1942 in a session of singles to be released in promotion of the film Holiday Inn. That master was damaged in the process of pressing so many copies and was re-recorded by Crosby in March of 1947. That re-recorded version is the one you’ve probably heard.
Crosby, paired up with Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera Ellen in the film White Christmas, sang a song about snow simply called “Snow.” The success of this film led to a soundtrack album on Decca Records, Crosby’s label. Clooney, however, was under contract to Columbia, who would not loan her for the project. Peggy Lee was tapped for the record instead.
There’s another song about snow that drags Claudine Longet back into the discussion. Her 1968 single “Snow,” from the same album that gave us (finally) the lyrics to “Love is Blue,” made the Billboard Christmas charts that year and ensured we’d hear her warbling on Andy Williams specials.
The snowfall messes with travel at Christmastime. If you’re snowed in, perhaps a rousing chorus of “Let it Snow!” will lighten the mood. Sammy Cahn wrote the song during a Los Angeles heat wave in 1945, and it’s been covered by just about everyone from Bing Crosby to Sarah McLachlan. The version by Vaughn Monroe is the original, and its appearance in the movie Die Hard has convinced some people that the film is a Christmas movie. (For the record – no, it’s not. The movie happens near Christmastime, but is no more a film about the holiday than Mary Poppins is a documentary on women’s suffrage.)
Less snowfall makes for a better experience. “Winter Wonderland” sells the virtues of a smaller snowfall, even if the couple in the song decides that having a snowman perform their nuptials is acceptable. For my money, the definitive version is by Darlene Love. It not only figures prominently in Gremlins (and how is that not regarded as a Christmas movie?), it’s also included in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which decidedly is not).
Christmas 2016 falls on a weekend. This weekend – the weekend before – snow, ice, and dangerous wind chills are wreaking havoc with holiday travel. That, of course, is the problem of grown-ups. When we were kids, we never worried about how to get to Grandma’s house for Christmas – we just crawled in the backseat of the family truckster and got there eventually. As the traffic tightens up, and the pace slows, there’s something about a snow song of youth that makes the stresses drift away.