3"White Christmas" Is About Being Stuck in California
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Since we're stuck hearing them over and over during the six-month holiday season, it's surprising how many Christmas songs we really don't know the words to. There are like half a dozen carols that use their first line as the title, and for most of them, we couldn't sing the second line for you (forget about the whole thing). Other songs, like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," we'd swear we know, but then some smartass busts out seven extra verses and bridges.
Then there's "White Christmas." It's not just the best-selling Christmas song of all time -- it's the best-selling song of any kind. Bing Crosby's version first popped up in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where he sings it during an actual white Christmas. You've probably heard the song during some white Christmas of your own. Any time you see it on TV, the network usually helpfully provides a stock background of a white Christmas.
But if you think about it for more than a few seconds, that makes absolutely no sense. The song is about someone dreaming of a white Christmas. So it can play during a pre-Christmas scene when it's snowing. It can play at Christmas when it's not snowing. But you shouldn't associate it with an actual snowy Christmas scene, unless the singer is spectacularly bad at dreaming.
Well, as it turns out, composer Irving Berlin had a very different scene in mind when he wrote the song. Unsurprisingly, Holiday Inn was filmed in Los Angeles on the Paramount Studios backlot. Berlin was staying at a bungalow at a Beverly Hills hotel, and when the California heat hit him, he thought about how uninspiring an environment this was for trying to write a Christmas scene.
So, he wrote the following lyrics:
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
The original was called "This Town Can Lick My Asshole."
That became the opening verse of "White Christmas." The whole song, in which the singer fantasizes about snowy trees and sleigh bells, is actually a depressed complaint from someone stuck in La La Land for the holiday. The opening lines didn't make it into the Bing Crosby version, but various artists shriek them out in their covers:
2Elton John's "Daniel" Was a Blind Vietnam Vet
It's been said (by us, right now) that 90 percent of all popular music is about love and sex. Take any random song and it's a fair bet that the singer has someone or wants someone or lost someone. And if the song title is someone's name, the odds are even better. Who are "Roxanne," "Carrie Anne," "Barbara Ann"? We don't know ... but we have a pretty good guess.
The bet gets a little less sure when the title's a man's name and the singer's male. When "Louie, Louie" came out, while people were sure there was something dirty about it, they didn't picture a threesome between the singer, Louie, and Louie. But when the singer's gay, like people assumed Elton John was long before he came out, then sure. The song can be a love song from one man to another. So "Daniel," Elton John's song about ... someone named Daniel, leaving on a plane? Various people have speculated that it's a love song. And although the lyrics explicitly refer to Daniel as the singer's brother, that's not enough to push some off their pet theory.
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No, this isn't weird at all. This is just how brothers bond.
The song's real meaning was made clear in a lost final verse, which writer Bernie Taupin says he cut because the song was too long. Daniel isn't just the singer's older brother, like the known lyrics say. He's the singer's blind brother -- the line "Your eyes have died/But you see more than I" is supposed to be literal. And he's blind because he lost his sight fighting in Vietnam. In the song, Daniel goes back to Texas after being in Vietnam and then gets a bunch of attention, both positive and negative. He says, "To hell with it," and he leaves for a place where no one knows he's a hero. Spain -- because "Spain" rhymes with "plane."
We can't share the extra verse's actual lyrics with you because they haven't been written down publicly anywhere, but we can only assume that they involve Daniel getting harassed by a local police force and having to go on a murderous rampage.
Note to self: Driving is no longer your strong suit.