A Sacred Wall Christmas: Top Ten Novelty Christmas Songs

Hi boys and girls! It’s time for the second most wonderful time of the year, A Sacred Wall Christmas (The Greatest Gift Of All!) I know we’re starting a little bit later this week, but don’t worry; we’re gonna get right back in the swing of things with the Top Ten Novelty Christmas Songs! You know what I’m talking about – I’m talking about the silliest, weirdest Christmas songs that seem like they are terrible ideas on paper (and they are), but somehow win us over with their charm. Normally involving animals, upbeat musical cues, and a child singing, these are the songs that we don’t want to admit listening to this time of year, and yet are played religiously whenever we are in private. Now, as it turns out, there aren’t as many songs that meet these qualifications as I thought (when I Googled “Novelty Christmas Songs” the first result was “Little Saint Nick,” which is decidedly not a novelty song), so the Honorable Mentions section will be sparse. All it will include is my declaration of the rules: I will not be considering anything originally written for a Christmas special or film, meaning that “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo,” and Monty Python’s “Christmas In Heaven” are all disqualified. Now that that’s settled, let’s dive right into the Top Ten Novelty Christmas Songs!

10. Snoopy’s Christmas

You see? It is so clear that A Charlie Brown Christmas is the greatest Christmas special of all time that even novelty songs tried to get in on the action! Despite not having the rights to Snoopy, nor asking for the rights to Snoopy, so-so “rock” band The Royal Guardsman managed to make an entire career out of Peanuts-based novelty songs. In 1966, they found acclaim with “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” an adaptation of the weird-as-hell plotline in the Peanuts cartoons where beloved dog Snoopy has a vision that he is a World War I flying ace who battles the famous Red Baron (famously immortalized in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown). The song was a hit, going #2 on the Billboard charts, and despite a lawsuit from Charles Schulz himself (who later cleared the rights for all future Snoopy songs after he won a producing credit in court), the band decided the best possible thing to do in the face of a Christmas special about not getting too commercial was to release the most commercialized Christmas song of all time. The result? A fun little ditty about Snoopy and the Baron duking it out Christmas Eve. And there’s even a fun little ending where, despite Snoopy’s defeat at the hands of the superior pilot (which I originally thought much more depressing until I remembered that Snoopy lost most battles to the Baron), the Red Baron spares Snoopy’s life, and instead declares, “Merry Christmas, my friend!” It’s goofy, it’s sweet, and it captures the heart of the season.

9. Jingle Bells – The Singing Dogs

You already can’t get it out of your head, can you? Despite setting out to make a list of all original novelty Christmas songs, ones that didn’t rely on older staples to get by, it is hard to not include The Singing Dogs’ rendition of “Jingle Bells.” Why? Because it is such an insane idea for a Christmas song, it has to qualify as novelty. Why? Why did someone say, “I wonder if my dogs can bark out famous songs?” Why did he dedicate so much of his time to accomplishing it? Was this person Ross Gellar? Was this some sort of Andy Warhol experiment, or was this person Tommy Wiseau earnest? No matter to the answers to these questions, we still have an entire song where dogs bark out the music to everyone’s first Christmas song (because it’s so simple), “Jingle Bells.” Not many people know this, but “Jingle Bells” is not the only song from the Singing Dogs’ album. They did a whole litany of hits, including “Patty Cake,” “Three Blind Mice,” and “Oh Susanna.” And this album hit #22 on the Billboard Hot 100! Any time an older person says they had better art “back in my day,” I want you to remind them of this fact. They cannot get away with this lie any longer. Still, as truly baffling as this album is to me, in terms of its conception and success, it is hard to deny the absolute joy inherent in the sound of a bunch of dogs barking out a Christmas classic.

8. The Night Santa Went Crazy

Not quite a novelty song as much as a comedy song, I couldn’t help but include “Weird Al” Yankovic’s dark, morbid ode to the holiday season “The Night Santa Went Crazy.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just a morbid guy (check out my #6 song on the list for further proof), and maybe the song doesn’t play as well in an era when this kind of stuff is on the news 24/7, but I still believe there is something funny in Al’s send-up to the forced cheeriness of Christmas songs novelty or non. Telling the story of a Santa who has gone postal, bombs his workshop, butchers the reindeer, and holds the North Pole hostage as the National Guard and FBI are forced to restore order, the song carried a satiric resonance in the wake of Waco. Add in Al’s unparalleled musical talents and a series of hilarious lines (ranging from the subtle, like clarifying that the toys are for the Gentiles, something that goes without saying, to the hyperbolic, like Santa “slashing up Prancer just like Freddie Kruger”). And I’m only focusing on the released version – in concerts and on certain albums, Al performs the “Extra Gory” version, which somehow makes an already bad song worse (in all the right ways). Listen, I’m not going to pretend that this one has the staying power of the others, or that this one is as easy to listen to as, say, singing dogs. But this list isn’t just about influence, or continued airtime. It’s also about quality. And you will not find another song on this list with the same level of quality and care that “Weird Al” put into his graphic magnum opus.

7. Dominick The Donkey

And now we’re into the heavy hitters. And there is no hitter as impressive as CHINGEDY CHING, HEE HAW, HEE HAW, IT’S DOMINICK THE DONKEY!!!!! Somehow logically and yet still inexplicably written in 1960, Lou Monte wrote what must be referred to as the only Italian Christmas anthem, regardless of its ridiculousness and possible use of Italian-face (boy they really get every stereotype in there, huh). A send-up to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Dominick is an Italian hero, called upon by Santa when he visits “his Paesans” because, and I’m not making this up, “the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy” (which is not a reference to Santa’s reindeer walking the hills, just that they’re so high, only a donkey could fly over them properly). And if that’s not crazy enough, despite the fact that Dominick is clearly needed for the Old Country, Santa makes sure that all the clothing he gives out were made in Brooklyn. Is this a song for Italians? Italian-Americans? Both? Neither? Honestly, who cares. It’s a song that sounds like a lost track to The Godfather with Christmas bells stuck in, and ends with Dominick “hee hawing” for almost a full minute. This is a novelty work of art. It is exactly what you think of when you think “novelty Christmas song”: an earworm that you vocally hate but secretly love, with which you can annoy your friends who feel the same way. And fun fact: the song inspired a Christmas special that was completely reworked, eventually titled Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

6. The Chimney Song

Remember when I said I liked dark novelty Christmas songs? This parody/wholeheartedly earnest Christmas ditty is perhaps the embodiment of that. Written by Twisted Christmas creator and radio personality Bob Rivers, “The Chimney Song” is a send-up to your traditional child-sung novelty hits. In it, the child explains that Santa never came to her house that year, much like the child in “Nuttin’ For Christmas” (see: #5). She is confused, however, because she had actually been good this year. Even more confusing, however, is the fact that something had become “stuck up in the chimney, and we don’t know what it is.” As the song progresses, it becomes more and more clear that Santa fell into the chimney, broke his neck, and died, Gremlins-style (except the song came first, damn it!). Throughout the song, the little girl makes morbid little comments like “There’s something stuck up in the chimney/and it doesn’t move around,” or “It’s jammed up tight above the fireplace/Now the house smells funny, such a big disgrace.” Each verse of the song progresses further and further throughout the year, until finally next Christmas arrives, and the protagonist wants to wait up for Santa, but is informed by her more-jaded brother that “he’s already here,” and that he’ll “be here every Christmas.” A great novelty Christmas song does two things well: makes you want to sing along, and makes you laugh, whether with joy or with horror. “The Chimney Song” does both in spades.

5. Nuttin’ For Christmas

No novelty song speaks more clearly to our times in 2018 than “Nuttin’ For Christmas.” The perennial classic, originally released and a hit in 1955 (honestly, were the 50s just a completely messed up time that we keep forgetting about?), the song is sung by a child (most notably six-year-old Barry Gordon, who went on to voice Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Clamhead from Jabberjaw), the song is a list of the truly reprehensible things this child, whom we must assume is Damien from The Omen, to prevent Santa from coming to his house this year. The list ranges from “accidents” (yeah right, kid) like spilling ink on Mommy’s rug or tearing your pants while climbing a tree to slightly aggressive pranks like hiding a frog in your sister’s bed and filling the sugar bowl with ants to literal crimes like assault and counterfeiting. That’s right: counterfeiting. And what’s amazing is that in some sort of “Boys Will Be Boys” credo, these are all treated as the exact same. Again: he beats a kid with a bat, and it is as bad as ruining your Mom’s garden. 50s got issues, brah. However, the most iconic part of the song, and my personal favorite, is the fact that, according to the narrator, whom I will heretofore refer to as Alex DeLarge, constantly notes that the real villain of the song is the snitch who told on him. That’s right: Alex tries to spin this into an anti-snitching song. “Nuttin’ for Christmas” is a predecessor to the anti-snitch argument used by John Gotti and currently used by a certain fellow in the Wh…nope, not gonna go there, not ruining Christmas for everyone. At any rate, Alex DeLarge here has to be one of the funniest narrators in Christmas novelty history, and the song is an absolute must during the season.

4. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Arguably the most known, and also arguably the worst novelty song on this list (again, while quality helps, it is not the only deciding factor here today), Elmo & Patsy‘s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” is a funny Christmas song until you remember that most of the ditty focuses on the family trying to process grief. That’s right: only the first verse is a funny bit about the Grandma getting into a hit-and-run with Santa. The rest of the song is about a family who has the holidays ruined for them after a maniacal man in red murders a loved one, and must learn to cope. The second verse is about the entire family mourning and dressing in black, and the third verse takes a dramatic turn to confront drunk drivers and the fact that Santa has no credentials. And sure, there are rumors out there that Grandpa secretly murdered his wife, due to his fairly unfazed nature later in the song and the fact that the “Cousin Mel” he constantly hangs out with is usually portrayed as an attractive younger woman. However, don’t let this theory fool you: it was created by Santa’s lawyers to throw the blame off of himself. It would all be so silly if it weren’t so morbid. And the funniest part is that people love this song. It even inspired a Christmas special, and one that most critics have hailed as “not good” and “unwatchable” and “one of the worst of all time.” However, as harsh and as sarcastic as I’m being about this song, it is hard to deny its bonafides as a novelty song classic. This is pretty much the staple of the genre, and it deserves its spot at #4 on the list.

3. All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)

Ah, yes, a novelty song about facial deformity. I kid, I kid (but let’s be honest: based on how dark some of these novelty songs are, you wouldn’t be surprised, would you?). The story behind the song is actually fairly amusing: music teacher Donald Gardner asked his class of second graders what they wanted for Christmas, and was confused when every child answered him with a lisp. He realized that they had all lost one or more of their front teeth, giving them a speech impediment, and like all great teachers, he immediately capitalized on their suffering. The lyrics themselves aren’t too complicated, if lightly humorous: a little girl (or occasionally boy, depending on the version), asks Santa for her two front teeth to finally come in so she doesn’t sound like a moron when wishing friends and family “Merry Christmas” this year. She also laments the fact that she can no longer whistle or recite tongue twisters like “Sister Suzy sitting on a thistle.” However, the real fun of the song comes in the form of how the singer chooses to represent the lisp. Normally they go slightly subtle, but every once in a while you get someone who goes all out on the “Thithter Thuzy Thitting on a Thithtle,” which is so hilariously cruel I don’t know where to begin. It’s not high art like some of the other novelty songs on this list, or even as entertaining as the others. But its simplicity and its legacy help make it one of the greatest novelty Christmas songs of all time.

2. I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas

“I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” is a near-perfect song. No, I’m being serious. I truly believe there are few songs, Christmas or otherwise, that have the same level of passion behind them or the level of lyrical and musical genius as “Hippo.” It takes real skill to be as deceptively simple and as effortlessly fun as this song turns out to be. I mean, while most novelty songs use the simplest lyrics possible (“Two Front Teeth”) or make up words to get by (“HEY CHINGEDY CHING!”), “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” utilizes an overly-dramatic musical score and a series of clever, intelligent lyrics (sung by a ten-year-old!) to make the case to both Santa and her parents that a hippopotamus is truly the best Christmas gift. First, the girl shoots down her mother’s arguments (“Mom says a hippo would eat me up, but then/Teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian!”), works out the logistics, like Santa bringing the hippo through the front door (escaping the dirty chimney) and housing her new best friend in the two-car garage. And there’s even a subtle running gag involving the continuously mispronounced word “rhinoceros.” How many songs do you know that have running jokes? Now, being fair, as lyrically brilliant as this song is, all credit for its genius goes to original singer Gayla Peevey, who was ten at the time of its release. Gayla is perhaps the most earnest – and best – singer on this list. Her enthusiastic declarations of her passion for a semiaquatic mammal is unrivaled by any other singer or song in the genre. It’s a powerful performance, sung with the power that Mahalia Jackson reserved for gospel hymns. And best of all, it’s good, clean, silly fun! I wholeheartedly believe that “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a high water mark for novelty Christmas songs, Christmas songs in general, and even music as an art form. Of course, I can’t in good conscience pick it as #1. Not when there’s still the greatest of all time…

Side Note: Watch Gayla Peevey strut around this music video like a ten-year-old Freddie Mercury. Girl is a freakin’ legend

1. The Chipmunk Song

That’s right, the only novelty Christmas song to make the list of Best Christmas Songs outright (it came in at #6, in case you’ve forgotten), there was no way I was picking anything other than “The Chipmunk Song” as the best novelty Christmas song of all time. Dave Seville’s weird novelty act surrounding his so-called singing “chipmunks” is a song for the ages, spawning sequels, multiple albums, numerous animated series, variety shows, and a cinematic adaptation that most critics call “unnecessary” and “a nightmare-inducing uncanny valley.” However, few Chipmunk adaptations are better than the original, which stands alone as an unrivaled achievement in Christmas music lore. Perhaps the reason “The Chipmunk Song” is so brilliant is because it’s got layers. Sure, there’s the song itself, a fun ditty about being excited for Christmas and wanting a hula-hoop (well, demanding, actually – Alvin declares that he still wants his hula hoop, meaning its non-delivery did not go unnoticed and will not stand). However, there’s also a self-contained plot surround Dave backstage coaching the chipmunks to musical greatness, like he’s the Murray Wilson of the band. And the plot is great because you don’t need to know anything more than what the song tells you to understand everything – you know that Dave is frustrated and put-upon (or an abusive stage parent), Simon’s a bit of a show-off, Theodore is nervous and sensitive, and Alvin has a big head, forcing Dave to shout at him constantly. All of that information is conveyed to the audience in just two minutes and twenty-one seconds. And I haven’t even addressed the fact that the song is accomplished through the groundbreaking usage of speed settings on a tape recorder – that’s right, “The Chipmunk Song” is the Christmas version of Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. No novelty Christmas song has enjoyed the longevity, the artistic merit, or the actual popularity of “The Chipmunk Song,” and none ever will. It is an achievement the likes of which mankind will never see again.

This wraps up this week’s Christmas list. I’ll be back alter this week with another special Yuletide treat in order to get us back on track, so just like when your parents get divorced, you guys are getting two Christmases! In the meantime, please enjoy your special Christmas gift this week! See you all soon!

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