Holiday Tidings and Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin's “White Christmas” is one of the most-recorded Christmas carols of all-time and the most-recorded of the Twentieth Century. Irving Berlin was one of the greatest composers of songs for film and Broadway musicals, many of which are associated with Christmas. With the holidays approaching, I thought I'd put together my top-ten favorite Irving Berlin songs from musicals. Are your favorites on this list?
10."There's No Business Like Show Business"
ow could any lover of Irving Berlin music not include his iconic tribute to showbiz on the list of their favorite Berlin songs? Introduced in 1946 in the musical Annie Get Your Gun, the song has become the de facto anthem of anyone who dons the greasepaint and treads the boards. Sung to the character Annie Oakley to entice her to join a Wild West touring show, the song is most-associated with Ethel Merman who played Oakley in the original production and made the song one of her go-to numbers throughout the years.
9. "Happy Holidays"
Nowhere near as affecting or nostalgic as "White Christmas" yet just as melodic and merry, "Happy Holidays" is one of those ear worms where you can't get the tune out of your head, but you guess at the lyrics. It was introduced in the 1942 film Holiday Inn where it was sung by Bing Crosby as a New Year's Eve song. It has since become more associated with Christmas, having been sung in the Broadway production of White Christmas. It has been restored as a New Year's Eve number for the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Holiday Inn.
8. "Alexander's Ragtime Band"
Of all of Irving Berlin's melodies, this one is perhaps his most infectious. The ragtime melody circles back on itself and makes the song feel like it should be sung without stopping. Written in 1911, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” not written for any particular musical, but became a staple of the vaudeville stage. A film musical was also made that was built around the song's popularity. Side note: the song was one of the numbers played on the Titanic as the boat sank that fateful night.
7. "Heat Wave"
Introduced in the 1933 musical revue As Thousands Cheer by the nonpareil Ethel Waters, "Heat Wave" is an oft-recorded song by Irving Berlin. In the revue, which featured a song for each section of a newspaper, "Heat Wave" represented the weather report. The song is a comedic delight about a woman so sultry and sexy that she brings about a temperature explosion. It's appeared in several movie musicals including Alexander's Ragtime Band, White Christmas, Blue Skies, and There's No Business Like Show Business.
6. "A Couple of Swells"
Judy Garland and Fred Astaire made this delightfully droll duet an iconic movie moment in the 1948 musical Easter Parade. Dressed as two hobos, the duo sing of all the ways one could travel "up the avenue" but because of all kinds of humorous excuses, they choose to walk. In reality, they don't have the money to do anything else but take the stroll. Berlin often made the haves verses the have-nots the subject of his songs, and "A Couple of Swells" is the best example of his subtle satire.
5. "Puttin' on the Ritz"
f all of Irving Berlin's non-holiday-related songs, this number may have the most iconic status. Whether you remember Gene Wilder's and Peter Boyle's unforgettable performance of it in the film Young Frankenstein, or If you grew up listening to the pop recording by singer Taco, chances are you have encountered this song somewhere along the way. The song was introduced in the 1930 film Puttin' on the Ritz by Harry Richman. It is most-readily associated with Fred Astaire who performed it in the 1946 film Blue Skies.
4. "Easter Parade"
Originally one of the newspaper article-inspired songs in the 1933 musical revue As Thousands Cheer, "Easter Parade" is an Irving Berlin song that eventually had a movie made around it. As Thousands Cheer made it the conceit of the revue to have each song represent an article in a newspaper, and one of those stories was a fashion article about the folks strutting about in their Easter finery. It's a catchy ditty with such elegant imagery.
3. "You're Just In Love"One of the finest pieces of counterpoint ever to be employed in the American Musical Theatre, "You're Just in Love" was introduced in the 1950 Ethel Merman star vehicle Call Me Madam. Actor Russell Nype sang the initial verse, a list of symptoms that are making him ill. Merman replies with a jauntier, upbeat melody that asserts "You're not sick you're just in love". When the ditty really begins to delight is when the two verses converge in said glorious counterpoint. It's a great musical comedy duet.
2. "Moonshine Lullaby"
Though "There's No Business Like Show Business" is the song that gets the most play from Annie Gets Your Gun, the song that most enchants is "Moonshine Lullaby". Annie Oakley, aboard a train, sings the gentle song to her younger siblings. Admittedly, Ethel Merman's version of the song didn't give it the best first impression. However, Bernadette Peters' rendition for the 1999 Broadway revival was hypnotic and finally brought forth the song's atmospheric lyrics and intoxicating melody.
1. "White Christmas"
Well, considering where this piece started, you cannot be surprised where this piece finished. Of course "White Christmas" is my number one and why wouldn't it be? The song paints the picture of the ideal (unattainable) perfect Christmas, the kind we only see in our minds and hearts. There is a touch of longing and melancholy, nostalgia for better times, that deepens the poignancy of this song. The song was first performed publicly by Bing Crosby in 1941 and became more readily known when it appeared in Crosby's hit film Holiday Inn. The Bing Crosby recording of this song is the best-selling single of all time and its popularity inspired a whole film named White Christmas that was fashioned around the themes of the song.