We Didn’t Expect This Song Is The Best-Selling Song In US History
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For generations, musicians have released holiday-themed songs with the aim of achieving significant sales, as claiming the Christmas number one spot remains the ultimate achievement on the music charts.
Numerous festive tunes have managed to ascend to this prestigious position, bringing people together with unabashedly celebratory melodies often accompanied by heartfelt lyrics and the tinkling of sleigh bells.
But, sometimes, a song transcends a kind of popularity beyond the holiday novelty tag. Even if Christmas songs from popular artists have been derided and diminished into a money-making scheme, some songs become popular enough to earn more than the top spot in the holiday charts.
One classic Christmas song has achieved the unique distinction of holding the title of the best-selling holiday song of all time and the best-selling song ever released in the United States.
It’s none other than Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, a holiday tune composed by Irving Berlin and introduced to the world in 1942.
A holiday phenomenon
“White Christmas”, originally penned for the 1942 musical film Holiday Inn, was a major turning point in the history of Christmas music. Prior to its emergence, there were indeed songs created for the holiday season, but they had not yet become the ubiquitous phenomenon we know today.
In the book Merry Christmas, Baby: Holiday Music From Bing To Sting, authors Dave Marsh and Steve Propes wrote: “‘White Christmas’ changed Christmas music forever, both by revealing the huge potential market for Christmas songs and by establishing the themes of home and nostalgia that would run through Christmas music evermore.”
Bing Crosby initially sang the song on the radio program The Kraft Music Hall in 1941. It was re-recorded five years after its 1942 release due to extensive wear on the original master recording.
The song has since sold over 50 million physical copies, making it the best-selling single in history. This astounding achievement doesn’t even account for the countless downloads and streams the song has garnered in the digital age.
On this day in 1942, Bing Crosby recorded White Christmas! This song has been going strong for the past 80 years and will always be heard at Christmas time🎄Did you like this song?#onthisday #bingcrosby #christmas #music pic.twitter.com/J474E9usNa
— The Jeremy Lee Show (@JeremyLeeTweets) May 30, 2023
It’s also the saddest Christmas song
Apparently, “White Christmas” has a sorrowful backstory. Although it was a composition by Irving Berlin, the same composer renowned for classics like “Cheek to Cheek” and “God Bless America”, the songwriter himself did not observe Christmas due to his Jewish heritage.
Berlin’s sorrowful connection to the holiday stemmed from the tragic loss of his three-week-old son on Christmas Day in 1928. Every December 25th thereafter, he and his wife would visit their baby’s gravesite, as revealed by Jody Rosin, the author of White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, in an NPR interview.
Rosin proposed that the song might have been Berlin’s way of grappling with the profound grief over his son’s passing, suggesting it held a deep, personal significance.
Berlin composed “White Christmas” for a musical project that eventually transformed into the beloved 1942 film Holiday Inn, earning him an Academy Award for the song. In 1954, the song resurfaced as the title track for another Bing Crosby Christmas musical, White Christmas.
Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye, and Bing Crosby on the set of White Christmas, 1954… pic.twitter.com/POznbn8rh8
— Classic Movie Hub (@ClassicMovieHub) February 17, 2023
Artists and their holiday albums
The resounding success of the Bing Crosby classic is probably one of the major reasons why musicians and artists keep on churning out holiday albums.
One notable advantage of holiday songs is their status as timeless classics. Frequently, the composition rights for these songs have expired, entered the public domain, or never existed at all.
This means that when an artist performs a Christmas song, only they—the performer—receive revenue from the song, as opposed to both the copyright holder and the performer needing compensation.
Consequently, this arrangement can result in more substantial earnings. Creating a holiday album comprised entirely of these classic songs, as Mariah Carey did, can prove to be a highly lucrative career move.
Moreover, if an artist manages to compose a new holiday classic—although this is undoubtedly a formidable challenge—they stand to reap substantial profits for years to come, as their song attains the status of a holiday standard, attracting numerous covers by fellow artists.