Christmas Treats From Bing Crosby

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by Leonard Maltin
December 23, 2013 2:53 PM
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A quintessential shot of Bing Crosby at a recording session in the 1950s.

No performer of the 20th century was more associated with Christmas than Bing Crosby and, while he’s been gone for decades, his voice still rings out on radios and Muzak systems whenever the holidays roll around. (He’s not alone in this: go to any mall and you’ll hear the voices of Gene Autry, Perry Como, and Andy Williams warbling their enduring Christmas anthems.) If you have SiriusXM Radio you can listen to Crosby round the clock for the next week on Channel 111, as Regis Philbin hosts a collection of vintage radio specials, from 1942 to 1962 with Bing and such guests as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Orson Welles, Peggy Lee, The Andrews Sisters, and Edgar Bergen with his young daughter Candice. Regis also chats with Bing’s widow Kathryn Crosby and his son Harry.

Meanwhile, the Crosby recording of “White Christmas” remains the biggest-selling song of all time (over 100 million and counting)—as a single, on albums, and on downloads. Robert S. Bader of Bing Crosby Enterprises tells me it’s also the most bootlegged song of all time.

Just in time for Christmas, Bing Crosby Enterprises has released two new CD collections, meticulously produced by Bader. Bing Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook features 22 tracks; some are original Decca recordings, others are excerpts from the Crosby radio show, and all are wonderful. 

Crosby and Mercer had an obvious musical simpatico, and you’ll hear them together on “Mister Meadowlark.” Mercer was a prodigiously gifted lyricist, evidenced by a wide range of songs, from his first hit “I’m an Old Cowhand” (introduced by Bing in the movie Rhythm on the Range) to the wistful French-inspired “When the World Was Young (Ah, the Apple Trees).” Other Mercer songs include “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Skylark,” “Blues in the Night,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “Too Marvelous for Words.” Louis Armstrong makes a guest appearance performing a duet with Bing on “Lazy Bones,” a song that evokes Mercer’s Southern upbringing. Informative liner notes are provided by Howard E. Green.

The other new release is an expansion of the crooner’s first original long-playing album from 1953, Le Bing. I’ll quote the official Crosby website for details: “It’s fair to say that Bing Crosby had a lifelong love affair with France. As Martin McQuade recounts in his new liner notes for Le Bing, Crosby was affected by the experience of entertaining there with the USO, and memorably shot the dramatic film Little Boy Lost in the European country. Crosby wrote in his 1953 autobiography that ‘with the exception of my own, France is my favorite country – principally for its people and their individualism.’  It was in France that Crosby discovered his wife Dixie had cancer, and it was in France that he spent some time during a family vacation after her passing. While in Paris on that trip, Crosby recorded what would become his first-ever original long-playing record.

“Le Bing included songs by such renowned French songwriters and artists including Edith Piaf, Jacqueline Francois and Charles Trenet,  but going above and beyond in his quest for authenticity, the quintessentially American Crosby decided to sing the songs in their native tongue. Composer-conductor Paul Durand, who had recorded with Piaf and Francois, was chosen to collaborate with Crosby, and Crosby’s usual musical director John Scott Trotter was also in attendance. The resulting album wasn’t only a milestone as Crosby’s first LP, but holds up as one of his most unique.  Among the Trenet songs included is ‘La Mer,’ which Bobby Darin later made famous in the U.S. as ‘Beyond the Sea.’  Piaf’s immortal ‘La Vie en Rose’ also gets a stylish Crosby treatment.

“The deluxe Le Bing adds 15 tracks (12 previously unreleased) to the original eight-song LP, almost tripling its length. Outtakes and alternate takes have been appended, as well as radio broadcast performances of other Gallic favorites and the English versions of selected tracks which Bing recorded for release on Decca.  Among the radio tracks is a take on Cole Porter’s Can-Can showtune ‘I Love Paris’ and a duet with Jane Morgan on ‘C’est Si Bon.’ All songs have been remastered for this reissue by Gene Hobson.”

If you haven’t browsed the official Bing Crosby website, I encourage you to visit—but only when you have time to get lost in its cornucopia of audio and video treats. I never get tired of hearing Bing’s voice, and it’s reassuring to know that there are still rare recordings and TV shows being unearthed and made available to his countless fans.

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