december 2011


Few male-female vocal pairings of a holiday nature summoned the festive and the reflective spirit of the season alike with more grace and conviction than that of Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters Patty, LaVerne and Maxene. This 20-track collection contains all six of the wonderful Crosby-Andrews Sisters pairings on record, a couple from 1950, the others from the ‘40s, dating back to 1943’s double-sided gold-certified hit single, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” b/w “Jingle Bells.” Of note, the latter tune is a wonderful, jazzy vocal set-to between Crosby, taking his opening turn at a brisk pace, galloping through right on the beat, followed by the Sisters, answering him with a more whimsical verse replete with a scatted phrase and playful frolics around the rhythmic pulse—a tactic Der Bingle then adopts when he returns to join the gals for the rest of the ride. Just as you will hear “Jingle Bells” with fresh ears as a result of the arrangement here, so the same applies to each tune to which the co-conspirators apply their vocal chords. Their 1949 rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has a simply infectious vibe about it in the obvious delight Crosby and the Sisters take in bouncing off each other’s ascending litany of gifts on each day in question; from 1950 comes a less familiar tidbit in the Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke delight, “Poppa Santa Claus,” an ebullient chronicling of a night when “the toys gave a party for Poppa Santa Claus” in which Der Bingle and the gals spice it up a smidgen with some rhythm-happy warbling, spurred on in this endeavor by the bouncing, swinging,  horn-infused arrangement perpetrated by Vic Schoen & His Orchestra (which, by the way, provides the accompaniment on all the Bing-Andrews Sisters tracks); another ’49 track, “Here Comes Santa Claus,” the Gene Autry co-written warhorse, finds the dramatis personae in a frisky mode, improvising  their own lyrics at points, now playing it lighthearted, now intoning a verse with solemn purpose, and Bing even dipping into crooner guise at one juncture, as Schoen makes good use of his woodwinds as a cushioning element in the arrangement, giving the track a warm, snuggly feel. Not least of all is another 1950 entry, the Hawaiian Christmas song, “Mele Kalikimaka,” a joyous celebration of a South Pacific Yuletide, complete with steel guitar flourishes and ukulele riffing amidst a western swing-influenced arrangement spiced with a soaring, brassy instrumental interlude at the halfway mark.

Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, ‘Jingle Bells,’ with Vic Schoen & His Orchestra, a million selling single in 1943

On their own, Crosby and the Andrews show off their special artistry. From 1955, Crosby, backed by Buddy Cole & His Orchestra with honeyed harmonies courtesy Jud Conlon’s Rhythmaires, renders the youthful reflections of the Sonny Burke-Paul Francis Webster-penned “The First Snowfall” with tender crooning and avuncular affection for what the passing of time has revealed of the season—it’s a textbook example of the easygoing, romantic crooning style that set him apart from his contemporaries and inspired the likes of Frank Sinatra to dig deeper into a lyric for a storyline he could make his own. No stranger to Irish-centered tunes, Bing saunters through 1951’s high-spirited “Christmas In Killarney” and offers the traditional beauty “O Fir Tree Dark” (with sensitive support from Victor Young & His Orchestra along with the Ken Darby Singers’ affecting, deep harmonized choruses) with the gravitas of a spiritual, beautiful and moving all at once. The Sisters have their own exotica to offer in the oom-pah of Paul Francis Webster-Sonny Burke’s cheery “Merry Christmas Polka,” recorded in ’49 with Guy Lombardo & His Orchestra. Their counterpart to Bing’s Burke-Van Heusen-penned “Poppa Santa Claus” is a Burke-Van Heusen-penned “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus,” a lovely strings-and-woodwind arrangement setting the stage for the Sisters’ dreamy close harmony approach, which happens to emphasize the scintillating colors that blended seamlessly and evocatively when they got together in song. And their version of a South Seas holiday, “Christmas Island,” a gem from a 1946 session with Guy Lombardo & His Orchestra, is a sweet ocean breeze wafting in and swaying the palm trees ever so gently as the orchestra offers up its bubbly champagne music and the gals bring it all home with their most seductive vocal charms. Superb vocalists, inspired orchestras, inventive arrangements, and good cheer from first cut to last—Der Bingle and the Andrews cannot be beat. -–David McGee

A Merry Christmas with Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters is available at

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