I think it’s found in Jeph Loeb’s unbelievably awesome The Long Halloween, but the single greatest panel in comic book history shows the Joker, tiptoeing through the empty house of Harvey Dent, wearing a Santa hat and goofily singing the following to himself:
Jingle bells, Batman smells
Robin laid and egg
The Batmobile lost a wheel
And the Joker got away…
In terms of meta-jokes, there can be none finer. First time I read those panels, I laughed out loud – not because of the Joker’s obvious insanity, but because I immediately went back to the fifth grade, or whatever year it was that I first heard that song. Sung, obviously, to the tune of “Jingle Bells”, it stuck with me because A) it was horribly catchy, B) it combined Christmas with Batman, every boy’s two favorite things, and C) it was more than slightly irreverent.
For a kid whose rebellious streak began and ended with taking small sips of milk directly from the carton late at night when no one else was awake, this song was a delicious little piece of devilment.
It was also my introduction into the world of Christmas novelty tunes, a world that – too often unfortunately – has expanded considerably over the years.
Novelty songs are taken for granted now, but once upon a time they really were novel because they took the over-inflated sentimentality out of Christmas by poking fun at it. It’s hard to be schmaltzy when you’re singing songs that seemingly encourage arson in the local hall of education.
(For the record, I found the subversive “Deck the Halls” to be hysterical when I was a kid. My classmates and I used to hum the melody – sans words – while sitting in class during our seventh grade year at Shiloh Middle School. We were stuck in a trailer just outside of the gym that felt more like a Siberian work camp than a classroom on a chilly winter day. I suppose the idea of setting the school on fire was as much for warmth as anything else. But, all that to say – we had a kid get suspended from school for singing the song in the hallway. The principal heard him and decided the song was tantamount to a terrorist threat and she ran his little butt out of school for a few days. Suffice it to say, Christmas cheer went down considerably after that.)
Of course, the novelty song epoch peaked with Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, a country-inspired ditty that combined a nifty little hook with some naughty little lyrics. Naturally, all of us kids loved it, and we were quite surprised when most of the adults did too.
Who knew geriatricide was so popular?
Heck, that song was so popular that even in the small, ultra-conservative church where I grew up, a place where instruments weren’t allowed to be plugged in (not even the organ), someone sang the song as a Christmas special – and got away with it!
That being said, on a dreary, wet December day, a day where there is literally little sunlight, allow me to brighten your life with my list of The Best Christmas Novelty Songs Ever. No, it isn’t an authoritative list, and I’ll happily take recommendations for alternate titles should you be able to make your case for another song. But this is a pseudo-scientifically compiled list based on literally minutes of searching Google, so you’ll really have to come with a strong argument to get me to change my mind (or at the very least point out a song that I like that I forgot about).
So, without further ado, here are my five Best Christmas Novelty Songs Ever, from least to greatest:
5. The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen (parody of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen): the link is to Bob Rivers’ version, but I first heard it on Randy & Spiff in the morning, back in the days when Atlanta had decent radio stations. Randy Cook and Spiff Carner were the morning hosts on Fox 97.1 and they were known for their comedy bits, one of which happened to be parody songs by a group called The Shower Stall Singers (boy, am I dating myself – and the sad part is, I didn’t have to Google one bit of that info).
Anyway, during Christmas one year they trotted this song out and my mother nearly drove off the road. We were rolling with laughter. To this day, it’s one of the most memorable radio bits I’ve ever heard – and no, I don’t know why that is, other than I’m just weird.
4. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer: I’ve probably covered this enough in the preceding paragraphs, but still, this song stands out for its sheer ubiquity when I was a kid. Did you know that it was originally recorded in 1979? I didn’t either. The things you learn…
3. The Hippopotamus Song: the linked video is a strange bit of noir absurdity, but it matches well with what is easily one of the silliest, strangest, and catchiest of all Christmas novelty songs.
My grandfather, Pop Emmett, thought this song was hilarious and somehow that thought infected that entire side of my family. I seem to recall that there were at least two Christmases in which this song played a prominent role of some sort, including one Christmas where my mother lost her mind and sang it repeatedly for some unknown reason. The things you remember. On a personal note, my favorite word in any Christmas song, ever, is “rhinoceroususes.”
2. Run Rudolph Run: ah, the inimitable Chuck Berry. It’s a little slower than I actually remember it; for some reason, I recall the song has having a scorching guitar intro and then keeping a frantic pace throughout. Maybe I consumed too much sugar as a kid, because the linked version is about half the speed I remember. Oh well – the song still stands the test of time, even if it does sound like every other Chuck Berry song. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot more fun compared to the Gene Autry song about Rudolph.
(What? Don’t look at me like that. I still love the original Rudolph, but come on – Berry’s song is easily the more fun one.)
1. The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late): the original version is still the best, and the artwork shown in the YouTube clip is exactly the artwork I remember for the Chipmunks. When you’re a kid, there’s just something priceless about the sound of those little rodents singing – a fact that has recently been re-emphasized in my household through my kids. We put in the big screen version of Alvin, Simon and Theodore just last night, and my kids bobbed along and sang happily with the version of The Chipmunk Song that they re-mixed for the movie. It’s still catchy, but has a much edgier sound, which is absolutely ridiculous to type about a song performed by high-pitched tree rats, but somehow summarizes life as a parent.
So what do you think? Are your favorites on this list? Which ones did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!