The story goes that Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas in 1940, poolside at the Builtmore hotel in Phoenix AZ. He often stayed up all night writing — he told his secretary, “Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written — hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!”
He was right. Recorded two years later, the original version of White Christmas, as sung by Bing Crosby, is generally thought to be the best-selling single of all time -over 50 millions copies. When our tendency at Christmas to long for something that never was (i.e tranquil settings filled with smiling, grateful family members) is multiplied by baby boomers’ predilection for nostalgia, it’s no wonder.
The Drifters version represents an altogether different chapter in American music history. It peaked at #2 on Billboard’s R&B (black) charts in 1954 and the next Christmas became the first of 34 Drifters’ singles to appear on the mainstream (white) Top 100 Chart. Despite this early crossover, the cover was still mostly played on R&B stations.
When the film Home Alone was released 35 year later, radio stations of all stripes – oldies, adult contemporary, Top 40 and country. The Drifters’ version became even more well-known when it was used in the otherwise horrible Christmas film The Santa Clause in 1994.
White Christmas Drifters-style features bass Bill Pikney and lead singer Clyde McPhatter. It is thoroughly good-humoured and very catchy (Miss Mussel has been humming it for days) and avoids completely the saccharine nostalgia of the original.
There are no string swells, no backing choir or orchestra and the tone is not wistful in the slightest. What it does do, however, is compel a person to reach for the nearest hairbrush and have a go at some living room karaoke. It works just as well in the car too, so head over to iTunes, make a wee purchase and rock the drive home with this fantastic little treat.