Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer – A Christmas Music Countdown

“Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Walking home from our house Christmas Eve.
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa,
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.”

Today would be my maternal grandmother’s 105th birthday. She would probably have preferred playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the piano than this novelty song, written in 1978 by Randy Brooks for Elmo and Patsy Shropshire, and originally recorded by the Irish Rovers. She would certainly dispute who the drinker in the family was. My grandmother was a tea-totaler.

This song was originally released as a 45. Do kids today even know what records are? The next time The Nephew’s over, I’ll hand him one and see what he makes of it. I just bought a combo blu-ray/DVD/VHS/CD player for my mother’s house. It’s hard to keep up with the technology these days. She was angry when I told her it was $100. She paid $150 for her last DVD player and thought it was a bargain. When you break that $100 down, it comes to $25 per device.

My own stereo is a CD/cassette/turntable contraption. It doesn’t record, unfortunately (the recording version was too expensive), but I can record on my computer. I have a device that can record tapes to DVD in the basement. It’s just that it’s a real Rube Goldberg way of having to recapture my cassettes before they wear out and it’s just easier to buy a CD version.

But back to Grandma and the reindeer.

According to Brooks, he played the song while sitting in with Elmo and Patsy at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe in December 1978, and after the show they had him make a cassette of the song for them to learn. A year later, they were selling 45s of the song from the stage, with Elmo himself appearing in drag on the album cover as the titular Grandma.

The song was originally self-released in the San Francisco area by the Shropshires in 1979 on their own record label (“Elmo 'n' Patsy”), with the B-side called “Christmas.” By the early 1980s, the song was becoming a seasonal hit, first on country stations and then on Top 40 stations. In 1982, the “Elmo 'n' Patsy” record label changed its name to “Oink” when the song was re-recorded. Oink Records, still based in Windsor, Calif., continued distribution of the 45 rpm record in the western U.S., with Nationwide Sound Distributors of Nashville, Tenn., pressing and distributing the song on its Soundwaves Records in the eastern U.S., peaking at No. 92 on the Country singles charts.

In 1984, with the song now a big hit nationally, CBS Records was interested and signed Elmo and Patsy to Epic Records. A new recording was made with a new B-side (“Percy, the Puny Poinsettia”). By the end of 1984, it was reported that sales of “Grandma” were, by record label:

• Oink: 50,000 45s

• Soundwaves: 175,000 45s

• Epic: 150,000 45s and 90,000 LPs. The Epic Records version charted at #64 on the country charts in 1998 and #48 in 1999.

Following the Shropshires' divorce (gee, what a surprise), Elmo re-recorded it solo in 1992 and again in 2000. The song has twice been recorded by The Irish Rovers; the original version and again in 1999. Family Force 5 (in the song, the word “beer” was edited out and replaced with root beer) recorded the song, and in 1996 it was recorded by Poe. Grandma also tok a hit from Less Than Jake on their album Goodbye Blue and White. A sequel “Grandpa's Gonna Sue the Pants Offa' Santa” was released by Elmo in 2002. A rock version is on the album, “We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year.”

A parody “Grandpa Got Run Over By a Beer Truck” was released by Da Yoopers in 1993. Radio personality Bob Rivers recorded his own parody titled “Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” The popular song was made into an animated children’s special and a film.

For Grandma E’s sake, we’ll also give a nod to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (it is her birthday, after all).

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a character created in a story and song created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. The story is owned by The Rudolph Company, L.P. and has been sold in numerous forms including a popular song, a television special (done in stop-motion animation), and a feature film. Character Arts, LLC manages the licensing for the Rudolph Company, L.P. Although the story and song are not public domain, Rudolph has become a figure of Christmas folklore.

Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. In its first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph's story were distributed by Montgomery Ward. The story is written as a poem in the meter of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".

Johnny Marks, May’s brother-in-law, decided to adapt the story into a song. Marks was a radio producer and wrote several popular Christmas songs. It was first sung commercially by crooner Harry Brannon on New York city radio in the late 1948 before Gene Autry recorded it formally in 1949, and has since filtered into the popular consciousness.

Autry's version of the song also holds the distinction of being the only number one hit to fall completely off the chart after hitting No. 1 the week of Christmas 1949. Nonetheless, it sold 2.5 million copies the first year, eventually selling a total of 25 million, and it remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s. The Jackson Five recorded the song in 1970 on their The Jackson 5 Christmas Album.

In 1964, the song was made into an animated feature film. But Christmas movies are another story for another year.  * Source: Wikipedia

Grandma and Grandpa were an awful lot like Elmo and Patsy, although they were New Yorkers, not country bumpkins from California. If one of them was likely to get hit by Santa’s sleigh,, it would have been Grandpa, not Grandma. They didn’t get along very well. Still, Grandpa did do one thing for her.

The Academy where Grandpa taught had a recreation room for the cadets, with a collection of music and a record-player, something Grandma didn’t have. When the rec room equipment was updated, Grandpa took the old record player home and fixed it. The Academy tossed out a lot of records. Other records which have now passed on to me I believe were my Grandmother’s. One of the recording is of Enrico Caruso singing “Ave Maria.”

It’s a one-sided disc and certainly sounds old, but Caruso’s powerful voice still comes alive between the cracks. “Ave Maria” is Latin for, “Hail, Mary.” Most of the text of the Hail Mary can be found within the Gospel of Luke. The word “hail” in translation isn’t a greeting but a command: “Rejoice! Be glad! (The Lord is with thee).”

Ave Maria is more commonly used in the Roman Catholic Church and is the essential element of The Rosary. The prayer contains 150 Ave Marias, echoing the 150 psalms. The Hail Mary or Ave Maria in Latin has been set to music numerous times. Among the most famous settings is the version by Charles Gounod (1859), adding melody and words to Johann Sebastian Bach's first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Antonín Dvořák's version was composed in 1877.

Another rendition of Ave Maria was written by Giuseppe Verdi for his 1887 opera, Otello. Compositions also exist by Mozart, Elgar, Verdi, Saint-Saëns, Rossini, Brahms, Stravinsky, and Schubert, as well as numerous versions by less well-known composers. In Slavonic, the text was also a popular subject for Eastern European composers, including Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.

It’s quite a leap from a children’s song, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, to a solemn hymn, Ave Maria (which is sometimes sung at Christmas, in tribute to the Virgin Mary). But then, it’s Christmas and my grandmother was a good musician with a merry laugh (except when she was with Grandpa), an eighth grade education, and an eclectic taste and talent in music.

Merry Christmas, Grandma, wherever you are. Fa la la la lah, la la la laaaah!


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