The most popular and most-recorded Christmas song of all time is really about California -- but many people have never even heard the part of it that refers to the Golden State.
By: Nina Thorsen
Our occasional series "California Songs" continues with the most-recorded California song of all time. But many people have never heard the part of it that refers to the Golden State.
"The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway;
There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills, LA.
But it's December the 24th,
And I am longing to be up north...."
That's the verse that introduces Irving Berlin's classic "White Christmas". Many recordings and performances leave it out, including both of the movies that helped make the song famous, Holiday Inn and White Christmas.
Rodriguez says there is something quintessentially Californian about the song and the longing to be up North -- or at least, longing to be somewhere that we're not.
"The American story is a story of migration, and the California story is the American story on steroids. It's the flip side of this great triumphant story of movement, and particularly in California, I think, it speaks to people who may be missing people back home," said Rodriguez.
Which is what Irving Berlin was probably doing when he composed "White Christmas." Berlin often had to work in Hollywood, far from his home and family in New York. He originally planned the song to be a satire on Californians indulging in faux nostalgia for snowy winters, while lounging comfortably by a pool. But by the time "White Christmas" was published, it was part of Holiday Inn, a 1942 movie set in New England.
Bing Crosby's movie versions of “White Christmas” omitted the California reference in the verse, but he sang it on this 1968 broadcast:
"The verse vaguely refers to plot points in California that don't match up with the movie," said Arne Fogel, a musician, broadcaster and something of a Bing Crosby expert. But Fogel says the reason for the song's success wasn't so much the crooner's performance, but the timing of its release in 1942, just as American G.I.s were being sent overseas.
"Because here I am, fighting this war for our way of life, and I wish I was back home the way it was when I was a kid. And that's what the song really meant, to all those people. That's why the song really took off. And that's its universal quality. The verse absolutely non-universalizes it -- it becomes a very specific California song," said Fogel.
With the verse or without it, 70 years after its publication, "White Christmas" is still the most-recorded song in any genre, anywhere, covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bob Marley to Darlene Love: