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Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Look Back At "Christmas Comedy Classics"



Christmas is a time of family, traditions, family traditions, and the looming specter of insurmountable debt. And nothing shrieks "tradition" like Christmas music, which has not evolved one bit in hundreds of years, give or take. In my family, one of our annual Yuletide traditions was listening to the album Christmas Comedy Classics, or Triple C if you're of the Guy Fieri school of thought regarding abbreviations. A collection of humorous holiday favorites, this compilation got innumerable spins on our CD player, which was a new technology at the time. And to be honest, I was never sure whether or not I liked it. I found some of the songs hilarious, some of them annoying, and most of them either depending on my mood. As such, I decided it was time to take a look back at this album now that I'm a Big Mature Adult and determine once and for all whether Christmas Comedy Classics is overflowing with Christmas cheer or merely a lump of coal being pounded into your earholes. Let's go!

Track #1: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer



I was watching the news a few days ago, and they mentioned this song, saying that it was impossible to hear it and not have a smile on your face. Which is really interesting, because it is one of the most shockingly dark pieces of music ever recorded. Here is a summary of what happens during the course of the song: an inebriated old woman staggers out into the snow on Christmas Eve, having left her meds at home. Her bloody corpse is discovered by her family the next morning, having been trampled to death (and possibly tortured, depending on what "Claus marks" might be) by Santa's reindeer. Christmas Day becomes a wake, as the surviving family members garb themselves in black and mourn grandma's violent passing, albeit while ghoulishly wondering whether to take her unclaimed presents for themselves. Everyone is devastated by the shocking death except for Grandpa, who reacts in the ambivalent, almost cheerful manner of a man who has just been unshackled from a decades-long, loveless marriage. There is a sinister, metallic noise that pops up throughout, reminiscent of a slashing blade. The song concludes with an ominous warning that the same grisly fate could befall anyone, and some lurid insinuations about the sort of man who "plays with elves."
This is such a cruel and unusual song that I could write a whole article centered around it alone. For example: it's a well-known fact that Santa Claus flies through the sky with his reindeer, right? So why would he ever run over an old woman walking on the ground unless he did it on purpose? You don't see 747s running over schoolchildren. So is the Santa of this universe just a Santa's Slay-esque monstrosity?  He certainly seems unconcerned about this particular homicide. Furthermore, why couldn't someone just go get Grandma's medication for her instead of sending an elderly woman outside on foot in sub-zero temperatures? Was the whole ordeal a plan by the family who, possessed of knowledge of Santa's penchant for vehicular manslaughter, got Grandma boozed up and sent her to her doom? Was Grandpa pulling the strings? We may never know. But the fact that such an intensely evil song, containing lyrics like "when we found her Christmas morning, at the scene of the attack," is a "Christmas Comedy Classic" has some ominous implications.

Track #2: I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day



Now this is a complete 180 from the last song. Sung by the incomparable Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and countless other iconic characters, "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day" is a rather charming portrayal of a child's excitement over Christmas. Sure, some people may find his nasal lisp annoying, but other than that, it's a pretty fun little ditty. I like the fact that this kid somehow believes that he can afford to buy his mother both a house and new fur coat, and I appreciate the frankness that he needs to get his father some money because the old man is broke. Keepin' it real at Yuletide.

Track #3: Green Chri$tma$



Speaking of keepin' it real, this is as real as it gets. Even though this song is nearly 60 years old, Stan Freberg's merciless critique of the jaded commercialism of Christmas applies more now than it ever has, with Christmas ads bleeding into the pre-Halloween season. Now, this is more of a skit than a song, and many of the products on display are hopelessly antiquated. Still, the message is a sound one, and it doesn't offer any forced happy endings, with a defeated Bob Cratchit slinking away, unable to convince anyone of the true meaning of Christmas as cash registers ring. My parents always skipped this track when I was a child. What a couple of soulless corporate shills.

Track #4: The Happy Reindeer



On its surface a harmless little number sung by Santa's animal labor force, the combination of the distorted, high-pitched vocals, disembodied, freaky laughter and the accompanying trippy music video make this song pure drugs. It's very cheery, but it's also a song I could absolutely picture playing in the background as someone is brutally murdered. Also, the closing part, where the reindeer say, "Remember everybody: we're on our way to you...and you...and you...and you..." is vaguely unsettling. The fact that the names of the singing reindeer are Dancer, Prancer and NERVOUS speaks volumes. I think "The Happy Reindeer" is what happens when you drink eggnog a couple weeks past its expiration date.

Track #5: The Chipmunk Song



You've heard this, I'm pretty sure. Undoubtedly one of the most lasting Christmas novelty songs, "The Chipmunk Song" combines the high-pitched squeals of "The Happy Reindeer" with the foreboding good cheer of "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." I know the ostensible premise here is that respectable svengali Dave Seville coaches his merry band of singing forest creatures in a Christmas chorus, and that darn Alvin just keeps horsing around. But let's take a closer look here. We start off with Dave readying his "boys" to sing, and when Alvin doesn't immediately respond to his prompts, Seville starts screaming at him. This is understandable, as one of my biggest pet peeves is repeating myself, but let's keep going. The 'munks launch into their first verse, which sounds as pleasant as possible considering it is composed of normal human voices yowling at unnatural speeds. After this, Dave goes down the line, complimenting each chipmunk's performance (and eliciting a delightful chuckle from Theodore that is unquestionably the highlight of the song), but when he gets to Alvin, he has nothing positive to say whatsoever; instead, he tells Alvin that he's " a little flat," warning him to "watch it." Now, go back and listen to that verse. Did Alvin sound flat to you? Can you even tell which one was Alvin? Or is Dave just being needlessly cruel and antagonistic to the talent? THEN it gets even worse, because when Alvin doesn't respond to Dave's insults, Dave screams at him yet again. Is it any wonder that Alvin acts up, when his taskmaster is bellowing vague threats and groundless insults at him? It's bad enough that, due to being both a child and an animal, Alvin probably isn't getting paid for his efforts. And if the first take was so bad, why doesn't Dave just have them do it over? Instead, he actively discourages the chipmunks from singing the song again, to their great displeasure. As the song fades out, they appear to finally mutiny on Dave, possibly ending his Davetatorship once and for all. Such is the fate of tyrants.

Track #6: I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas



Probably my favorite song on this album, "I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas" starts off as a jaunty tune sung by a depressed-sounding fellow with a thick Swedish accent. He notes the difficulties of buying gifts for his wife, and the fact that giving his children the presents that their little hearts desire means dealing with The Ghost of Christmas Debt. Then, we segue into a spoken-work passage, wherein we find our narrator sneaking out of the house at midnight on Christmas Eve to go get drunk, then being badgered through his hangover the entire next day by screaming kids and assorted other annoying relatives. In the end, the tune picks back up as he wearily wishes us all a Merry Christmas.
I don't have much to add to this except for the fact that I completely relate to this song in nearly every conceivable way.

Track #7: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer



Well, it's the Chipmunks again, and Dave Seville is being just as much of a grinch as before. Just look at his face in the image the used for the video above! He absolutely loathes the fact that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are enjoying their Christmas morning. Ebenezer Scrooge would tell this guy to lighten up. This is a pretty standard Christmas song, though Rudolph sounds quite congested. You wonder if he's been hitting that snow a bit too hard. We also learn that Alvin never got the one present he asked for in "The Chipmunk Song" (a hula hoop, if you've somehow forgotten). And though Dave doesn't yell at anyone this time (he actually sounds quite subdued and, due to having been wandering the North Pole for a couple days, possibly suffering from hypothermia), he ABANDONS THE CHIPMUNKS that he is the acting father figure to in order to go off by himself in search of a "warm igloo." He leaves them alone in freezing temperatures, pantsless, and unless Rudolph takes pity on them and helps them out, they will almost certainly perish out there. Dave is the worst.
One more quick note on The Chipmunks: even though the high-pitched vocals can be grating, and the humor is pretty one-note, I'll gladly take any Chipmunks Christmas song over The Muppets' version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the Holiday Standards Performed by Cartoon Animals category. The Muppets manage to take an already quite repetitive song and make it nearly unlistenable by having it center around Miss Piggy's obnoxious, hellish caterwauling about gold rings. That song is one of the leading causes of Yuletide Rage around my house, right up there with running out of Wild Turkey and that Jim Carrey Grinch movie.

Track #8: Nuttin' For Christmas



This song focuses on the original face of the Stop Snitchin' movement, some brat who did a bunch of terrible things and is now paying the price by being denied Christmas presents. Personally, I prefer the version by Art Mooney and his Orchestra with Barry Gordon, which at least has an actual child sing the song. In this case, the singer has an incredibly grating voice, like a wacky cartoon dog, and repeatedly falls behind or chokes on the lyrics. It just feels like this song was written specifically to piss parents off. What's more, this iteration of the song ends with a skit in which the rotten kid not only helps a burglar steal his parents' belongings for a cut of the ill-gotten loot, but indicates he has done so before as well. It's enough to make you wish that this little bastard was one of the kids in Flowers in the Attic. It might have done him some good.
And if you think I was kidding about the Stop Snitchin' reference above, check out this song by Tony Yayo that samples "Nuttin' For Christmas."

Track #9: The Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg



Another Mel Blanc joint, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure if this song would fly today. As in, it might be considered racist. It's goofy and not mean-spirited, but it's also a song sung by a white guy in an exaggerated Mexican accent painting its subject as a bit of a buffoon. Personally I think it's more just a product of its time than something offensive, but I'm not particularly sensitive either, so who knows.
All that aside, this one is pretty funny. It's an absurdist tale of a man who is given an overly large hat for Christmas and for some reason feels the need to constantly wear it anyway, causing him no end of troubles. His health and well-being suffer immensely, and he harbors some intense resentment toward Santa Claus for what he views as a "dirty trick," though he ends up thanking Saint Nick at the end of the song. This seems strange, but then, there are several things about this story that don't quite add up. The most glaring example is the fact that, allegedly due solely to the sombrero grande, this fellow ends up married to his brother. Married. To his brother. Because his hat is oversized. So you mean to tell me that just because his eyes were covered with hat, he was unable to discern that his bride to be was in fact his brother? The voice, the tendencies, the physique...none of this tipped him off? And even if this was the case, what's his brother's excuse? Had he been waiting to pounce his whole life, finally seeing an opportunity present itself when his sibling found his vision impaired by a gargantuan chapeau? It's frankly quite bizarre, but if the two of them are happy together, who am I to judge? As the old saying goes, it ain't Christmas without a gay incest wedding.

Track #10: Monster Holiday



I don't think I had ever heard this song before today. I'm thus assuming that my parents must have hated it. And I suppose I could see that, since it's just a Christmas-themed takeoff of "The Monster Mash." But it has its redeeming factors, considering that the Wolfman himself, Lon Chaney Jr., provides the vocals, and the story being told here is fairly heartwarming. You see, the monsters want some Christmas presents, so they decide to attack Santa and steal the objects of their desire. Upon cornering the fat man, however, they learn that he already knows what they want for Christmas, and happily gives it to them without any need for bloodshed. For a song featuring a bunch of grotesque freaks, that's pretty sweet.
And there is a 310% chance this song was the inspiration behind Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, which, I mean, if you've never heard it, here you go.

Track #11: Jingle Bells (Laughing All the Way)



The first time I heard this song, I loved it. Thought it was hilarious. The second time, I loved it even more. The third time, even more! By the fourth time, however, I noticed something very strange: I loved it less than I had the previous time, thus breaking the previously established pattern. I needed to listen to it again to see what would happen next. To my dismay, upon my fifth listening, I found I liked it even less than the fourth! By now, the level of appreciation had dipped below what I felt upon the second listen. I had almost evened out to where I was when I began. Grimly, I listened a sixth time, hoping against hope that the pattern would reverse itself. It did not, and I was definitely at sub-first listening levels of enjoyment. Things were in decline, and the good times seemed so far away. What was once a mirthful experience had become a morose death slog. My faith in the magic of laughter itself began to flicker like a candle's flame in a monsoon. As laughter was the language of the soul, was my soul itself dying? A tear ran down my cheek as I accepted the horrific truth, the candle being snuffed out at last and everything falling into darkness.
It is worth noting that this is the least necessary Youtube Lyrics video of all time.

Track #12: Auld Lang Syne



The CD cover indicates that this is a bonus track, but I'm still baffled as to its inclusion here. The name of the CD is Christmas Comedy Classics. This is neither a Christmas song nor a comedy song, though I'll concede the classic thing. In terms of thematic relevance, they may as well have included "It's Halloween" by GT on here.

So that's Christmas Comedy Classics. Is it magical, or just obnoxious? You make the call. Personally, I've decided that I like it quite a bit. Several of the songs are darker and more disturbing than they seem at first listen, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I would absolutely be hitting the Skip button on a few of these songs if I were to go back in time to a society in which CD players were still a thing, but I like or at least respect the majority of the material here. And the fact that this album made enough of an impression on me to write an article about it 20ish years after it came out means it's certainly memorable. You can buy it right now on Amazon.com for the mere price of a gently used kidney if you for some reason want to relive my childhood. Merry Christmas everybody!


OK, fine. He's angry because they're opening their presents a few days early. I don't care, Dave Seville is still a bastard.

Joey Marsilio has written about weird Christmas music before. He also wrote the novel Henry Garrison, which you can preview here.

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