Top 5: Caution, Christmas Critters Crossing

(edited since first posted)

Christmas music on the radio: some stations will play anything this time of year, as long as it’s plausibly Christmassy. Some of them try to fit it to their format, but others don’t care. I’ll never forget hearing, on Christmas Eve a few years back, the staggeringly inappropriate “Funky New Year” by the Eagles, in the same quarter hour with Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole on a wobegone station in Michigan. I once worked at a station whose Christmas Eve and Christmas Day programming came from a pile of randomly selected holiday CDs, from which the jocks played whatever they wanted. (Free-form radio, baby!)

At my current radio station, we’re a lot more careful. You won’t hear “Funky New Year,” and here are five other things you probably won’t hear, in no particular order.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”/Elmo and Patsy. The tale that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” came to light on an anonymous cassette sent to WLS in Chicago, as I’ve been told, isn’t true—it was discovered by a DJ in San Francisco in1979 after being recorded on a Bay Area label as a joke by a former veterinarian named Elmo Shropshire. It remained on tiny, regional labels for the next several years, although it got something approximating national distribution. CBS/Epic signed Elmo in 1984 and recut the song, whereupon it became ubiquitous.

“Jingle Bells”/Singing Dogs. They aren’t really singing together, they’re on tape. The barks were slowed down or speeded up to reach the proper pitch, then the whole thing was edited together. Originally released in 1955 as part of a medley with two other non-seasonal songs, “Jingle Bells” was excerpted as a single in 1971 and rose to the top of Billboard‘s Christmas singles chart that year. (Cat people have their own version, by the Jingle Cats, released in 1991.) By some methods of accounting, this is the top Christmas single of the 1970s, which is somehow entirely appropriate.

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”/Gayla Peevey. Although “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” was cut as just another novelty in 1953, Gayla actually got a hippo in response to it. Zoo officials in Oklahoma City hit upon the idea of asking children to send in money to get Gayla (who was from Ponca City, Oklahoma) a hippo, and when they did, she donated it to the zoo.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas”/Bob and Doug McKenzie. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas of SCTV created these Canadian dimwits after the show moved to Canada’s CBC-TV from a regional network, to give it some identifiably Canadian content. A  resulting record album, Great White North, sounds almost completely improvised, which means moments of pants-wetting hilarity interspersed with stretches of stupidity—and that’s half the point, in a meta sort of way. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is the best thing on it.

“Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas)”/Elton John. The flipside of “Step Into Christmas,” “Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas” seems to have gotten some airplay in the UK, but never received much over here. (Yah Shure suggests a reason why below.) Scores extra points for its first two lines, “Sitting here on Christmas Eve with a brandy in my hand/I’ve had a few too many and it’s getting hard to stand,” and then loses them for the rest of the song.

I just noticed that four of these songs have something to do with animals. Coincidence? I think not, but I’m not clever enough to figure out why.

4 thoughts on “Top 5: Caution, Christmas Critters Crossing

  1. My jaw almost dropped to the floor after I read this entry. I never thought you would post, much less own, five songs like this all together. It’s not bad, just shocking. :)

  2. jb

    C’mon, Willie, you know me better than that. Old radio guys can’t help but collect a lot of crap as the years go by. If it helps, I didn’t actually pay for any of them.

  3. Yah Shure

    I’d forgotten about the big response the tan label Oink 45 by Elmo ‘N’ Patsy had generated at WWJO/St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1980 until the first Soundwaves reissue landed on my desk at KOMA in ’82. I talked my PD into adding it based on that prior reaction in St. Cloud.

    I have never, ever witnessed phone requests like “Grandma” pulled in at KOMA that year. It was the perfect novelty: the single wasn’t in the stores, it was new to nearly all listeners, and we were the only ones playing it. I did the morning shift on Christmas day, and the phones never stopped ringing for you-know-what.

    At about the same time, I bought an original 45 of “Hippopotamus” in an Oklahoma City shop (where I’d first heard the OKC zoo story) and gave it a few spins on KOMA. Got a call from the zoo, letting me know that THE hippo was still doing just fine.

    The non-LP Elton B-side wasn’t included on the double A-sided promo copies of “Step Into Christmas” in ’73.

  4. Shark

    I once worked at a radio station where the owner/GM didn’t like, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” In a feeble attempt to get me to ban it from the airwaves of HIS radio station, he tried to convince me that the song was only licensed by CESAC, a Canadian music licensing firm. He claimed we could only play music licensed thru BMI and ASCAP. The man had never worked a day of his life on the air, so it never dawned on him that I had filled out BMI and ASCAP music logs many times before and knew his story was a farce all along. Just for that, I purposely made sure we’d play it more often.

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