Chaos Attraction

In Defense of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."

2011-12-14, 3:40 p.m.

Over on, they're having a bracket for the worst holiday song ever. Reading the incessantly long comments there (and on Metafilter every time Christmas music comes up, for that matter) is really entertaining. Not only am I finding tons and tons of new bad music material to add to my collection, it's a lot of laughs. But also quite repetitive, as even on the days where those songs aren't on the roster of voting, people keep repeatedly saying, "I hate Wonderful Christmastime!" "I hate Dominick the Donkey!" "I hate Little Drummer Boy!" "I hate Christmas Shoes!"

As far as I'm concerned, The Christmas Shoes will win this bracket, and in fact will win Worst Christmas Song For All Eternity, Ever. (Note that in the first bracket at Jezebel, that didn't even run against another song.) It's got horrible maudlin death of a mommy and makes you want to puke in horror, and that trumps everything. Though thanks to the comments section, I found out about something called "Billy's Christmas Wish" which is perhaps EVEN WORSE, because it features a kid dropping dead Little Match Girl-style right in front of Santa and the kids in line. If anything could run against Christmas Shoes, it would be that.

But what also ends up in the bracket-- and I figure it will place pretty high, even if it doesn't outright win-- is "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." You know, I understand why it's there. I'm sure it got played to overkill for a lot of people, the same way most Christmas songs (goddamn Little Drummer Boy--did you know there's a game where the last person to hear that song in the holiday season wins? I already lose by mid-November) are.

But you know what, I'm going to defend it here.

Reasons Why I Like This Song And Think It Has Redeeming Value Somewhere:

(a) It's the first novelty Christmas song I ever heard. I heard this around age 5 or so (coincidentally, the one year my grandparents from Montana came to California for the holidays, MUAHAHAHAH). Hell, even at age 5 I think I was probably sick of hearing the same old traditional Christmas music on the radio constantly. It's amazing how EVERYBODY covers the same freaking 25 songs on every Christmas album everywhere. My Christmas playlist as of this writing has 572 songs, and while I was checking to see how many versions of "Last Christmas" I have (13), it occurred to me that I could probably search for ANY traditional song and find tons of versions of it. I hate Little Drummer Boy and I have six versions of it! What the hell?! Must every song be done beautifully and reverently? It gets old.

When I first heard Grandma, I discovered that there were other songs like that out there. Less reverent, more funny. It's what started one of my favorite Christmas hobbies; trying to find ANY music that isn't a traditionally done, traditionally sung without irony, got written in 1942 tune. And as you can see, that's been going well. As far as I know, novelty tunes before Grandma were along the lines of "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" and "Dominick The Donkey," which is supposed to be cute but makes you homicidal. Or Rudolph, which is always a favorite of mine (note: this year I found out Jack Johnson has a version of it where he wrote another verse in which Rudolph calls the other reindeer on their shit and they apologize!). But without Rudolph, you wouldn't have Grandma.

(b) It's freaking audacious. Flat out kills a beloved, sacred member of the family (who's out wandering around drunk in the snow at midnight, that's just asking for trouble) with everyone's favorite holiday guy. THERE WERE HOOFPRINTS ON HER FOREHEAD! And the song revels in the awkwardness of the situation. Do we open up her gifts or send them back? How the hell is Grandpa really doing, anyway? Does he even care? Did he even notice she's gone? It's kind of hard to tell...

It's both funny and horrific (bonus points for doing that in a Christmas song), and I really enjoy stuff like that. When I find songs like that these days, it's a double whoopee for me. Not just badly performed stuff (William Hung, or Wing) or bizarrely done albums of traditional stuff ("Cow Christmas," "A Rubber Band Christmas," "Meowy Christmas"-- yes, I have them all), or new fresh stuff that's kind of odd/unexpected but done with total sincerity ("Truckers Christmas" album), or fresh songs done with some degree of rock and roll to them that are actually kind of pleasant (The Killers' Christmas songs, Squirrel Nut Zippers). I like all of that stuff to some degree. But what I really love are the songs where it's funny yet twisted. That's what really brings out my "OMG YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS NOW!!!1111!!!" And thanks to Grandma, I can continually find (with some digging) stuff like that.

(c) There are sequels. So many sequels.
* "Grandma's Spending Christmas With The Superstars." Actually this isn't very good-- pretty much a list of 1940's dead movie stars.
* "Grandpa's Gonna Sue The Pants Off Of Santa." Much, much better.
* "Don't Make Me Play That Grandma Song Again." Well, you have to admire when he admits it's overplayed...
* "Christmas Millionaire." Okay, more of a tangential sequel, about how to create a Christmas hit.
* "Grandma's Killer Fruitcake." Not that great, not really related, I just wonder if it's a prequel.

Yeah, that's insane, but I like insane.

(d) It's led to some good parodies. Such as "Grandpa Got Run Over By A Beer Truck" and "Grandma Got Molested At The Airport." Thank you, YouTube. That last one is particularly dead on.

In short, "Grandma," as far as I can tell without actually being able to find anything good online on the history of novelty Christmas songs, kicked off a grand tradition of amusing but not saccharine (and not only for kids) tunes for us all. And therefore it should be respected on a historical level. Even if now it's probably been overplayed on a similar level to say, "Wonderful Christmas Time" and "Little Drummer Boy" by now so now it does hit the overdose level. And it won't hurt to play more songs like these either.

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