When Thomas Edison was ready to test the first phonograph-recorder back in 1877, he recited “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Considering all the Christmas music that’s been recorded in the years since, it would have been more appropriate if he had sung “Jingle Bells.”
Given that the commercial life for Christmas music is the brief four-week period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s remarkable how much holiday-themed music has been recorded over the years. Each year contemporary artists add to the great body of Christmas pop that’s already on the market. And each year it seems at least one new Christmas song becomes a radio favorite.
CHRISTMAS IN JULY: Not so long ago, Christmas music was not heard on the radio until the Friday after Thanksgiving. That changed a few years ago when radio stations began playing holiday music early in November. Today, those with access to satellite or internet radio can tune into Christmas music year round. I’m all for extending the start of the holiday season, but let’s not get carried away – if we push it back any further, kids might start thinking that “Silent Night” is a Halloween song.
HO! HO! HO!:
Often, the seasonal songs that are most likely to grab the fancy of listeners during the holiday season are what are known as “novelty tunes.” A Christmas novelty tune refers to the light-hearted, secular Christmas single that is strictly humorous in intent. From the Singing Dogs barking their way through “Jingle Bells” to Grandma getting trampled by errant reindeer for the thousandth time, the appeal of certain Christmas novelty tunes never seems to wane.
Songs like Elmo & Patsy’s aforementioned “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by the Chipmunks, and “The Twelve Pains of Christmas,” by the Bob Rivers Comedy Group, continue a long tradition of radio entries that satirize or poke fun at some aspect of the Yule season.
One of the earliest was Spike Jones’s “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” recorded Dec. 4, 1947. The song was finished too late to be released that Christmas season, but became a #1 hit in December of 1948.
Other pioneering Yule novelty tunes include Yogi Yorgesson’s 1949 send-up “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas.” The flip side was the equally memorable Yorgesson rib-tickler, “Yingle Bells.”
Children were featured on a number of novelty holiday hits. In 1952, 13-year-old child star Jimmy Boyd released “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Gayla Peevey, age 10, had listeners giggling in 1953 with “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” And don’t forget 1955’s “Nuttin’ For Christmas” by the Art Mooney Orchestra with Barry Gordon, who was only seven-years-old at the time he sang lead vocals on the tune.
Proud of your ethnic heritage? There’s probably an appropriately-themed Christmas song for you. Jose Feliciano’s Spanish language “Feliz Navidad” may be the biggest hit and the best-known, but there’s also the Irish-themed “Christmas In Killarney” (Bing Crosby sings a nice version), the Italian-themed “Dominick The Donkey” by Lou Monte, or the Polish-themed “Santa Must Be Polish,” by Bobby Vinton. Canadian rocker Bryan Adams recorded a song called “Reggae Christmas,” and don’t forget the Hawaiian-themed “Mele Kalikimaka,” again made popular by Bing Crosby.
Some Christmas novelty songs are technically not songs at all, but humorous monologues or stories. Satirist Stan Freberg had success in the 1950s with holiday stories that played like mini-radio shows – 1953’s “Christmas Dragnet” and 1958’s “Green Chri$tma$” are his best-known.
In a similar vein, alternative culture comedians Cheech & Chong got a lot of mileage out of their 1971 single, “Santa Claus and His Old Lady.” Billy Crystal’s personality-filled version of “The Christmas Song” (remember “You look mah-velous!”?) and the Canadian version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) were also favorites for a few seasons. Seattle-based radio personality Bob Rivers has released five albums of holiday-themed parodies. The aforementioned “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” remains his best-known piece.
The current king of the musical cut-ups has to be Adam Sandler, who has expanded the notion of musical holiday hilarity to include Thanksgiving, with “The Thanksgiving Song,” and Hanukkah, with two versions of “The Hanukkah Song.”
But the most popular Christmas novelty hit of the last five years is the version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser, the 12-man a cappella group from the University of Indiana that got its break via a YouTube video.
In 2014, the group has released another novelty tune, “Text Me Merry Christmas” (Featuring Kristen Bell) as both a single and as part of an expanded version of its 2013 release, “Under The Influence: Holiday Edition.” Written by David Javerbaum (“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”) and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), the song is a send-up of modern, technologically-dependent communication, with lyrics like:
“Show me that you love me / Text xo to kiss and hug me
I’ll be right here waiting / For my pants to start vibrating.”
This year, Straight No Chaser released its newest Christmas single, a bright version of “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.”