Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “White Christmas”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I look at one of the most popular and well known Christmas classics, “White Christmas.” The exact where and when it was written is disputed, but songwriter Irving Berlin upon composing it was quite confident in it’s quality, as he told his secretary that not only was it the best song he’s ever written, but the best song that anybody has ever written. So I guess quite confident is an understatement, eh? I wouldn’t put it as the best song ever written, but it’s certainly got a high spot on the list of greatest songs ever written. The melancholy mixed with hope in reminiscing in about Christmases of the past while having faith they come to fruition again makes for a song that’s instantly connectable for most listeners.

The first public performance of the song was on Christmas day 1941 by Bing Crosby on his radio show. What’s interesting is this song didn’t get the instant hit response Berlin expected. Crosby called it nothing special and when first released as part of the soundtrack for the movie Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” became the instant hit instead (raise your hand if you know this song, but now put it down because you’re a liar). Eventually it did catch on though, a little over a year later, a large part in due to the backdrop of WWII happening, giving listeners a strong emotional connection to it. The song spent three separate times atop the United States charts and went on to be the name for the excellent Bing Crosby-starring 1954 movie White Christmas. Crosby would go on to be forever connected to this song as much as the writer Berlin, even though he downplayed his role in the success saying anyone could have sang it.

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Bing Crosby

Obviously the Crosby version of this song gets a big cheer from me. Despite his humility towards the success of this song, he is a big part of what made this song so big because it fits him perfectly. The reverence and respect in his voice as he delivers the performance of this song brings the words of Berlin to life. Now I can’t say it’s my favorite because well I admit this is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time and there are several performances of this song I really enjoy. But Crosby should always be the starting point for this song.

This R&B/doo-wop group completely re-vamped this classic song and manage to make a unique version that in my opinion strongly challenges Crosby’s version (as of this writing it actually has over twice as many views as Crosby’s version). The mix of different range of voices and doo-wopping make for a decidedly more upbeat version of the song, yet it still feels quite respectful. The falsetto in the middle of the song is fantastic. Thank you Home Alone for letting me know this version of the song exists.

So here’s one that might shock you to see it’s inclusion on this side of the list. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: CeeLo’s Magic Moment is one of the best Christmas albums released in the past decade. It’s a great listen and his version of “White Christmas” makes the bold choice of adding horns, quite the contrast from Crosby. But it actually works as a swelling Christmas anthem that crescendos in the bridge quite well. I imagine this might be a divisive pick, but I stand by it.

You can never go wrong with Otis Redding! And this take on “White Christmas” is no different. If you want all the soul in your songs, listen to this one right now (and the Soul Christmas album).

Behind Bing Crosby, Andy Williams has the next best traditional take on this Yuletide staple. It’s hazy, dream-like feeling definitely puts you in mind of waltzing through a snow-covered woods, making for a great Christmas performance.

Bah Humbug!

My biggest issue with ‘Ol Blue Eyes performance of this song is it’s wait too serious. Sinatra’s voice sounds too solemn and quiet. Also his change from children to kiddies in the lyrics is annoying and unnecessary. The chorus in the bridge is weak too. This was a big miss from Sinatra.

Irving Berlin hated Elvis and did everything he could to get Elvis’ Christmas Album canceled because he found his interpretations of Christmas songs, particularly his own song “White Christmas,” to be disrespectful. While I generally enjoy Elvis’ Christmas Album, I’m in agreement with Berlin when it comes to this song. This is just awful, with the “soulful” affectations of Elvis’ voice sounding quite plastic in comparison to the likes of The Drifters and Otis Redding.

So Michael Bublé makes the bold choice of doing his version of the song in the same style as The Drifters. What a bad decision, as Bublé does not have the soulful voice to pull this off (the only artist I’ve ever heard successfully pull of a Drifters-style take on this song is Aaron Neville). Then he doubles down on the bad decision making and turns it into a duet with Shania Twain, whose voice does not go with his at all. Also this is not a duet song. It’s like the musical version of watching someone slowly fall down the stairs.

Johnny Mathis looked at Sinatra’s version of the song and decided to make it even more serious and duller sounding. I did not think it was possible to take such a great song and make it the excitement equivalent of paint drying. But yet this isn’t the worst…

How to completely bastardize a song 101! The production is stripped down to the point where it sounds like Perry is singing from the bottom of a well, yet she also adds in the annoying Aguilera ad libs that never add anything meaningful to a song. Oh and her vocal performance sounds off key. Listen to this if you dare, but then make sure to wash it down with one of the great versions of this songs I recommend above.


This is the final edition of this feature in 2019 (it will return next year!), so thank you for reading this and all of the other posts on Country Perspective this year. I hope you all have a safe and great holidays!

P.S. I will be making my end of the year 2019 posts and looking ahead to 2020 posts in the next couple weeks.

Album Review — Wade Bowen’s ‘Twelve Twenty-Five’

Every year modern artists will release their interpretations of classic Christmas songs, whether via singles or even an entire album. And maybe they’ll even sprinkle in a few originals if you’re lucky. But the problem is most of them don’t stand out in any way. You’ll listen to it once, say “that’s neat” and then go right back to listening to the same old songs you always listen to around the holidays. Occasionally though someone will actually release something worthy of earning a spot in your Christmas songs rotation and this year that’s Wade Bowen’s new Christmas album Twelve Twenty-Five. I had a great feeling about the Texas country artist’s first Christmas album when it was announced, and it went beyond even my own expectations.

Bowen opens with his rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and he knocks his performance out of the park. It’s infectious, fun and gets the Christmas energy on this album kicked off perfectly. And I’m happy the production doesn’t go over the top like it usually does when other artists cover this song. “O Holy Night” is next and this is admittedly one of my favorite religious Christmas songs. That’s because I feel it truly captures the joy and meaning of Christmas through the Christian lens and Bowen’s performance truly does justice to it, which isn’t surprise considering he released a great gospel album.

“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is next and I can tell that Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song influences Bowen’s own version. It’s got a more rocking feeling rather than the classical approach many take and even banters in the song like Springsteen. But Bowen pulls it off so much better than Bruce because he doesn’t over sing it (stay tuned for further elaboration on why I hate the Boss’s take on the song), and the guitars and pianos don’t blast the listener. Less can be more. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” showcases why I enjoy Bowen in more stripped-down songs. His voice just fits these piano ballads and the song also properly captures the feeling I look for in the covering of this song: mostly somber, but with bits of optimism and hope.

Bowen’s son Brock joins him on “Holly Jolly Christmas” and I must admit I usually hate children singing. But I actually enjoy this performance because it’s endearing, and Bowen goes full dad in the bridge of the song. It’s hilarious while also avoiding being corny and feeling forced. It feels real and as the listener I can appreciate and enjoy this. When I think of “Please Come Home for Christmas” the first version I think of is The Eagles’ version, as I believe it to be the best. And while I don’t think Bowen’s version tops it, it’s still pretty damn good, as he captures the yearning and wanting needed in his vocal performance.

Bowen is joined by another one of his sons, Bruce, on the Irving Berlin classic “White Christmas.” This performance is much different than the other one, as both take this song more seriously and Bruce sounds pretty good. Their harmonies sound great too. You can tell the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as he may one day follow his father’s footsteps. It’s a heartfelt and enjoyable performance from the father and son duo.

I have to say I was surprised to see Wade Bowen cover the Mariah Carey classic “What I Want for Christmas is You,” as the song’s high popularity and sterling reputation amongst critics and listeners alike makes it a challenging song for other artists to tackle. Not to mention it requires some serious pipes to pull off. But he does a fantastic job! It’s a different take that I think is worthy of being in anybody’s Christmas playlist. Again, if you’re like me and you get sick of Christmas songs going a little too far with production at times these more minimally produced Christmas songs are a fresh change of pace. If you don’t want to spend time with this whole album, this is one of a few songs that should absolutely be heard.

“Til The Season Comes Round Again” is great to hear covered, as this song is a classic that often gets overlooked. It’s a warm blanket next to the fire type song that Bowen along with the soulful feature of Sean McConnell cover really well. The addition of McConnell harmonizing with Bowen is really the cherry on top to make it a memorable performance. Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas” is covered next and I will never complain about a Dolly song showing up. While this is one of the my less favorite takes on the album (it has the unenviable task of living up to Dolly and Kenny Rogers), it’s still solid and I like the Texas influences that are incorporated into the song.

The great Cody Canada joins Bowen for a rendition of Merle Haggard’s brilliant “If We Make It Through December.” I remember growing up I found this song to be kind of depressing and it is, but it’s also important that this unpleasant and for some people, really real look at the other side of Christmas be presented. It shows that Christmas doesn’t always go like it does in the movies and that reality and what you want don’t always align. In other words, why we love country music: it’s real.

Bowen goes to the other end of the spectrum with his cover of Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” And for some this might be sacrilegious to say, but I find Bowen’s cover to be better than the original by George Michael. The reason is 1) I hate the excessive synth on the original and 2) Bowen’s more stripped-down version allows the great lyrics to shine. Both these points play into each other, as the synths and overall cheesy feeling of the original really takes away from the quality of the lyrics that tell the complicated story of love lost around the holidays. This was easily an immediate standout on this album. Appropriate, the album closes with “Silent Night.” It’s just a natural closing song for a Christmas album and Bowen delivers a stirring and soulful rendition of this Christmas staple.

Twelve Twenty-Five is a modern Christmas album done right and I applaud Wade Bowen for accomplishing something that surprisingly so many modern artists screw up. Bowen takes classic songs and instead of trying to add some “twist” to make it stand out, instead just delivers them through his own voice with a country flavor while respecting the original takes on them. And don’t dismiss this as just a great country Christmas album. This is a great Christmas album against any genre.

Grade: 9 candy canes out of 10