Elmo & Patsy, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” (1979)
The first time I heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” I thought it was the best Christmas song ever—which makes sense, as I was about 7 years old at the time. It’s a song that’s perfectly targeted to little kids: With wacky lyrics about a little old lady being trampled by Santa, and the somewhat lackluster response from Grandpa, it’s the epitome of “novelty holiday song.” And with every repetition of the track since that initial hearing, one thing becomes clear: This song is annoying as fuck.
Written by Randy Brooks and recorded by the then-husband-and-wife duo of Elmo and Patsy Trigg Shropshire, it began as a goof, with Brooks playing it onstage with the pair during a performance at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe in 1979. (That the song began as a throwaway lark for some hotel lounge musicians should come as a surprise to no one.) Within a year, the Shropshires were selling 45s of the track from onstage, with a cover image of Brooks dressed up in drag as the titular matriarch. It slowly grew in popularity, as they re-recorded and reissued the single, until Epic Records finally bought the distribution rights, and the song became a permanent staple of holiday radio and Christmas jingle playlists. These are all easily searchable facts online that you could learn in a matter of minutes, but now you don’t have to, because I just did that for you. The less time anyone has to spend with this song, the better.
That’s the problem with novelty songs: Once the novelty is gone, there’s not much left. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” is pretty damn striking the first time you hear it, but after the initial play or two, it very quickly goes from quirkily endearing to nigh-unlistenable. Unless it also has the proper hook to transform it from novelty to earworm (See: “Monster Mash”), most songs of this ilk are best treated like bubble gum, in that they’re meant to be fleetingly enjoyed, then almost immediately disposed of. And by that metric, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” has very little to recommend itself, once the shtick has made itself known. It’s not a very catchy tune, despite the nursery-rhyme level of difficulty, and even if it does manage to get lodged in your head, it’s nothing a quick spin of “Shake It Off” won’t cure.
And thank God for that, because every Christmas, avoiding this track becomes my personal Mission: Impossible quest. I have a soft spot for holiday tunes in general, and the chance to revel in some syrupy sentimentality during December is always a welcome one. But more and more, I find myself building these playlists in advance, and avoiding any non-prescreened radio or Spotify stations, for fear of stumbling upon this monstrous and ill-conceived creation. Elmo and Patsy got divorced in 1985—hopefully triggered by “Grandma”-related shame—but their inhuman offspring lives on.