Bummer X-Mas: The Horrible Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Songs
‘Tis the season to endure a bunch of weird strangers singing in your yard and shops filled with hip, new versions of songs about ships and stars, but never starships which is a bummer. While at a holiday show last week, a member of the local orchestra read stories about the songwriters behind each holiday selection, and without fail each backstory was more depressing than the last. Gathered here are a weaponized set of real, true facts you can deploy at will to ruin goodwill towards men on this holy night.
Feel free to make a bio-pic out of any of these total disasters. No one will stop you and the Hallmark Channel always needs new content. Really. They’ll air anything. I saw one today where the twist was that Santa is a dog. C’mon. That’s the kind of thing that make ISIS happen. C’mon.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
Robert L. May was assigned by his boss at Montgomery Ward to write a “happy” poem about a Christmas animal. He struggled for years, bouncing around names like “Rolo” and “Roland” but never finding the proper name of a deer. He chose a deer because that was his daughter’s favorite animal. His wife developed cancer and died a slow, painful death as he continued to struggle with the name of the magic animal. After she passed, leaving Robert alone with his daughter, his boss insisted that he stopped working on the poem, and that’s when a brilliant idea came to Robert: Rudolph would be a good name for a magical beast with an illuminated nose. In the holiday season of 1939, Montgomery Ward gave away 2.4 million free copies of the poem, but with the outbreak of World War II and the implementation of paper rationing, it became impossible to print more copies of “Rudolph” until 1946. A book publisher passed on a paid version of the poem, since the company had distributed millions of free copies. That year, a producer made an offer to do a recorded version of the poem, but Robert May could not accept (or make a dime off the piece) because Montgomery Ward owned it. In 1948, May’s brother-in-law adapted the piece into a song for Montgomery Ward that was turned down by Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby, only to be picked up by singing cowboy Gene Autry in 1949 and it became the second best selling Christmas song of all time. In an attempt to make a dime off of his creation, Robert May wrote two Rudolph sequels (both in anapestic tetrameter) and a series of small children’s books including “Benny The Bunny Who Liked Beans” and “Sam The Scared-est Scarecrow.” He is buried in Illinois.
Widely known to be the highest selling single of all-time, Irving Berlin wrote this in either Hollywood or Arizona while awake on a hot summer night. He was quoted as telling his secretary “I think I just wrote the greatest song of all time!” But his singer would never see it that way. Bing Crosby recorded the track in just 18 minutes, telling Irving in the studio only “Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to have any problems with this one.” It was used in the film Holiday Inn where it was not intended to be performed as a duet with Majorie Reynolds and was dubbed by Martha Mears. Initially, the song was destroyed on the charts by the film’s first single, the widely beloved(?) “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.” The Bing recording then rose among both the Harlem Hit Parade’s black-oriented chart and on The Armed Forces network; in both cases, its success was credited with the melancholy (if not outright depressing) delivery. Soon, it became a perennial hit that overtook the Billboard charts in twenty separate years, forcing Billboard to create its own holiday chart system. Over one-hundred professional covers have been released since then. Even the version we know is a cover Crosby recorded years later, when the original master was damaged beyond repair. Crosby dismissed his role in the song’s success, saying later that “a jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully.” But Crosby was associated with it for the rest of his career.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Written in the early sixties by the (then) married team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker, the song was meant as a plea against the Cuban Missile Crisis. A record producer approached them about recording it as a Christmas song, but Regney refused because he hated the commercialism of the Christmas holiday. It has since sold tens of millions of copies and been professionally covered by more than one-hundred artists. The creative couple had usually seen Baker write the songs and Regney perform them, as on their classic children’s song “Rain Rain Go Away” and claimed that they were never able to actually perform the entire song themselves, due to their overwhelming emotions regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis. These feelings are also what led to their divorce. Of all the artists who have covered the song over the years, Regney prefers Robert Goulet’s version because he shouted the words, which fit the emotions Regney felt while writing the piece about peace.
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Written by Randy Brooks, the song was originally performed by the husband-and-wife duo of Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire in 1979. Don’t worry, they get divorced. The duo saw Brooks play the song in a show, asked him to record the track, and were soon selling their own version of the song with Brooks being compensated by playing the titular “Grandma” while dressed in drag on the album cover. Over the next few years, with each successive repressing, the album cover moved the performers names further down and into a smaller font, until they were removed all together. The album did fine but never charted under the original performers. After their divorce, Elmo recorded a solo version of the track in 1992 and released a sequel song called “Grandpa’s Gonna Sue The Pants Off Santa” which is about Grandpa hiring lawyers to prosecute Santa for Grandma’s death on manslaughter charges. It did not chart. In the year 2000, Cartoon Network made a film of the events which was toned down to not only allow Grandma to survive, but Santa is actually innocent of the crime, which was masterminded by scheming relative Cousin Mel, who is mentioned briefly in the song but made into a gold-digging villainess in the special.
I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas
The novelty track performed by Gayla Peevey and written by John Rox was the hit of 1953. Peevey, a child star from Oklahoma, drew so much attention with the song that the local zoo acquired a hippo named Matilda. A local promoter was involved with an Oklahoma radio station that thought the city should have a hippopotamus in their zoo, and thanks for a performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, this came true. The hippo lived to be fifty years old. The ten year old girl from the song had another hit under a different name a few years later called “My Little Marine” about a boyfriend being sent off to die in war. The b-side of the original release included a song called “Are My Ears On Straight?” The hippo is dead now, as is Oklahoma (to the best of my knowledge.)
My Favorite Things
This isn’t a Christmas song. It’s a song about escaping to your Mind Palace when you are worried the Nazis might execute you. What is wrong with you people?
Christmas At Ground Zero
This Weird Al parody track was written and released on the 1986 album “Polka Party!” and references “ground zero” as the point of a nuclear detonation. The video features Weird Al and carolers performing in gas masks near a bomb-out hole. Since 2001, the term “ground zero” has been more often associated with the attacks of 9/11 and therefore the song—already one of Weird Al’s darkest—has seen significantly reduced radio play. The song includes the lyrics “I’ll duck and cover / With my Yuletide lover / Underneath the mistletoe.”
The Lights And Buzz
It is the first song frontman Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin wrote and recorded after his stem cell transplant in connection with his leukemia diagnosis in late 2005. The song’s lyrics are heavily influenced by his recovery from the disease, indicated in lines like “I’m coming home from my hardest year” and “It’s good to be alive”.
Christmas in Los Angeles
This is a shit song for no one. I love it because it sounds like White Jamiroquai is trying to score cocaine off you while being sexist to your girlfriend. I am worried I know this guy, actually. Maybe this is my new favorite song. I do things like this. Why do I do things like this? I just made this my ringtone. Anyway, I intentionally embedded a video that will never give a dime to this artist, and even the lyrics page has no patience for this bullshittery: