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White Christmas - the Drifters


From doo-wop came the great male soul five voice r&b / soul groups: lead tenor, tenor, alto, treble and bass, the greatest of which were the Drifters featuring the peerless Clyde McPhatter in the fifties, then Ben E King in the early sixties and Johnny Moore in the late sixties / seventies.

Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", is widely regarded as the ultimate Christmas song, and in many ways is an epitome of

the American winter festival that Christmas has become. I guess it's only right that a Jewish songwriter should write a song that portrays a strictly secular Christmas with no mention of Jesus Christ or the nativity but rather the trappings of Christmas: Christmas cards, sleigh bells, snow and nostalgia and that's about it. Not that it isn't a great song, but it's free from religious trappings, so that it definitely isn't sacred.

The original public performance of the song (by Bing Crosby) took place on US radio on Christmas Day 1941, just 18 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the entrance of the US into World War II. Although, perhaps not Berlin's original intention, over the next few war torn years the song very rapidly came to represent the feelings of the troops posted in Europe or most specifically the Pacific, yearning for home and good old American family values. Originally, this was a song as much about the absence of Christmas as its presence. This is emphasised by the fact that the first vinyl recording was released on the 30th July in 1942, in the middle of summer. Just because he's dreaming of it, it doesn't mean it IS Christmas; GI Joe is hoping he's going to be home BY Christmas.

Which means that the Drifters can do what they like with it. I always feel that they are poking a bit of fun at Crosby's version. Bill Pinkney's bass intro gently sends up Senor Bing, deliciously outsinging him, word for word, and then McPhatter gives a virtuoso performance which is so playful and joyful (and therefore more Christmassy) that it makes you feel as though you're floating on air. The beat is catchily uptempo until the charming last coda. Which is just what Christmas should be: warm and magical.

And I can't help feeling that they are laughing ironically because, as a bunch of black guys from Carolina, the one thing they know they're gonna get, come rain, snow or shine, is a white Christmas.

"May those days, may your days, may your days be merry and bright,

and may all your Christmase -e -e e-e-es be whi-i-i-ite (jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way oooooh."

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