Welcome to a seasonal presentation from our Serenade Radio series of Steyn's Song of the Week. Today I trace the history of a Christmas ballad that has grown and grown over the decades, as you'll hear through performances by everyone from Judy Garland to Twisted Sister.
From the Steyn archives, I'll also talk to the late Hugh Martin about writing the song, and and then invite him to play it the way he likes to hear it.
To listen to the show, simply click above.
~Steyn's Song of the Week airs thrice weekly on Serenade Radio in the UK. Aside from yours truly at the appointed time, Serenade is also offering a full slate of special Christmas programming, just like the BBC used to do. Allow me to pick out a few shows I'm looking forward to:
*Jane Markham with an hour of carols on Christmas Eve, 6pm GMT/1pm North American Eastern
*Don Black's White Christmas, 6pm GMT Christmas Day. Don is no stranger to these parts, and I'm thrilled he's swinging by Serenade to pick out a few Yuletide favorites. As you might recall, Don wrote Michael Jackson's first solo Number One, "Ben", with Walter Scharf - who, among other distinctions, was the original orchestrator of "White Christmas" for Bing in Holiday Inn.
*Johnny Beerling's Big Band Christmas, 6pm GMT Boxing Day. Johnny was head honcho of BBC Radio One in its heyday, and he'll be hosting a special edition of his show right after mine next Sunday.
*Peter Tomlinson with three hours of music looking back through the years, Tuesday December 28th at noon GMT/7am North American Eastern.
Oh, and I should add that on New Year's Day at noon GMT there's an encore presentation of a show I hosted over a third-of-a-century ago about songwriters in Hollywood, Taking the Chief. If the repeat goes down well, we may air it again in another third-of-a-century.
You can find details of all Serenade's Christmas programming, and listen from anywhere on the planet right here.
~On last week's Serenade show, about "Silent Night", I remarked on the habit of most pop singers of taking a huge gulp of air between "virgin" and "mother" and thereby ruining the sense of the lyric. Bernadette Cahill, a Mississippi member of The Mark Steyn Club, didn't need the reminder:
Your comments in your Serenade Song of the Week 'Silent Night' about mother and child worshipping the Virgin had me in fits, as Bing's rendition had already taken me back years. When Bing took a breath before 'mother', I was immediately back hearing Mrs. Fitzpatrick rapping her music stand with her baton, and saying irritatedly, 'Girls, girls, girls! There are only two people here, not three. You must take a big enough breath to sing "Virgin mother" without a break and not change the meaning entirely!'
This was during a whole month of singing Christmas Carols that we had in High School for six years. I loved it at the time, and I wish I could get the opportunity, even with my broken reed of a voice, to recapture that experience and energy. Midnight Mass helps. With Bing's singing and your comments, you brought all that back and it was satisfying to hear that the misplaced breath bothers someone besides myself.
It reminds me of 'God Rest ye, Merry Gentlemen.' Which should be, 'God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen.' Every year there are countless gentlemen merrily drowning in copious amounts of alcohol the problems that dismay them. Instead of countless Gentlemen who rest merry, in the knowledge that God is looking after them. I don't know what happens to the women.
Such misplaced choral 'punctuation' reminded me of the story in Lynne Truss's book. It's about the panda who goes into a café, orders something to eat, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. Not a panda asserting his 2nd Amendment Rights, just a wayward panda, because the book was originally published in England. But he had good reason to be wayward.
When the waiter challenged the panda's behaviour, he handed over 'a badly punctuated wildlife manual and told the waiter to look it up. The waiter finds the explanation inside:
'Panda: Large, black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.'
I still laugh at that one, twenty years on from hearing it for the first time.
~This airing of my Serenade Song of the Week is a special presentation of The Mark Steyn Club. We launched the Steyn Club over four-and-a-half years ago, and in this our fifth year I'm immensely heartened by all the longtime SteynOnline regulars - from Fargo to Fiji, Madrid to Malaysia, West Virginia to Witless Bay - who've signed up to be a part of it. Membership in The Mark Steyn Club also comes with non-musical benefits, including:
~Our latest audio adventure in Tales for Our Time, and more than fifty thrilling predecessors;
~Other audio series on pertinent topics, such as our 2019 serialization of Climate Change: The Facts and this year's adaptation of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade;
~My exclusive anthology of video poetry - because, as I always say, that's where the big bucks are;
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (such as last Wednesday's);
~Transcript and audio versions of Mark's Mailbox, The Mark Steyn Show, and other video content;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world, including exclusive members-only events such as The Mark Steyn Christmas Show, assuming such events are ever again lawfully permitted;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the chance to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
One other benefit to Club Membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, if you feel I'm doing no more than muddling through somehow, then give it your best below. Please do stay on topic on all our comment threads, because that's the way to keep them focused and readable. With that caution, have at it.