25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 11

Various Artists – Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Novelty Records of All Time, Volume VI: Christmas [Rhino Records RNLP 825, 12″ LP, 1985.]

And now for something completely different: the larch. Oh, sorry, I meant to say Christmas novelty songs! (I wonder, did Monty Python ever do any Christmas songs? {insert Google search here} Oh, how could I forget “Christmas In Heaven” from their film The Meaning of Life?! You’ll have to find that yourselves – it’s Not Safe for Work – wink, wink.) But I digress. And I apologize in advance for any tunes discussed herein that worm their way into your brain from whence you can not root them out, but we must at some point cover crazy Christmas tunes.

Dr Demento back med-lg Ah, Dr. Demento. How many of you listened to his Sunday night radio show? I was a fairly loyal listener of the program and tuned into it on his Los Angeles-based home radio station, KMET 94.7 FM. The good Dr. started his show featuring vintage and modern novelty songs in 1970. The Dr. Demento Radio Show became a big hit and then ran in syndication from 1974 until its demise on the airwaves in 2010. But it lives! Dr. Demento still streams his weekly wackiness on the web, where you can listen to it at your will – for a wee fee. I’ll never forget some of the great laughs I had upon hearing such nuggets as Benny Bell’s “Shaving Cream,” any number of Tom Lehrer’s witty tunes, Allan Sherman’s “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh,” Barnes and Barnes’s “Fish Heads,” Weird Al’s “My Bologna,” Cheech & Chong’s “Earache, My Eye,” or the great Napoleon the XIV’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha!” Is it sad that I still find some of those as humorous as I did in my adolescence? Tom Lehrer is timeless, for sure.

Dr Demento Liner Notes hi-lg

Click on an image to enlarge it.

All kidding aside, Dr. Demento (real name Barry Hensen) is almost a real Doctor, of Philosophy, that is. He earned a Master’s degree in Folklore and Ethnomusicology from U.C.L.A., so he is actually very serious about his love of novelty music. He has often written liner notes and articles about novelty and comedy songs, and apparently has a vast personal archive of records. I’d love to be able to browse that collection! He really has been the driving force behind the preservation of a huge, albeit strange, part of musical history that might’ve been lost if not for the likes of him. Read his liner notes on the back cover of his Christmas novelty compilation for some great information about all these songs and artists. I was really happy when Rhino Records released this album in 1985, as the sixth volume in Dr. Demento’s Greatest Novelty Records of All Time series. I probably bought it soon after it was released so I could have all, or at least most, of these wacky tunes that I liked in my collection.

Dr Demento Label med-med

I knew I was going to include this album at some point in these 25 Days, and remembering our family Christmas traditions in the Day 10 post yesterday made me think about how much my Dad loved Spike Jones and His City Slickers. They have the lead-off track on the Dr. Demento record, and it’s one that most of us are familiar with, for good or ill: “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” I still think no version beats the looniness of the original. And my Dad would laugh and laugh every time he heard this tune! He loved Spike and the boys. My Dad was normally a pretty buttoned-up kind of guy, but he could loosen up enough to enjoy this kind of stuff. He was always a big fan of the Looney Tunes “Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner” cartoons as well. Maybe it was part of growing up in the Depression and War years that made him really like this crazy music so much; Spike Jones provided a much needed dose of sheer off-the-wall comedy that a lot of people loved. They were really excellent musicians with a gift for the goofy and much of their music was quite complex and sophisticated in a nutty kind of way. It takes a lot of talent to pull off that kind of craziness.

For a little taste of that craziness, here’s an early 1950s television performance of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” which features the 28 year old trumpeter of the band, George Rock, on the kiddie vocals. And away we go…

I’m sure you can track down most of the other songs on the Dr. Demento collection too, if you care for this sort of thing and dare to seek it out. Most of it is pretty funny, some not so much. I think I’ve heard “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” one-thousand times too many and it’s worn a bit thin for me. I do highly recommend taking a listen to Cheech and Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady.”  This was released as single in 1971 and features them in their East L.A. hippie heyday and it’s always been one of my favorites. It appeared on LP for the first time on this compilation. But do yourself a favor and do not go looking for “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” by Gayla Peevey. Seriously, don’t do it. No, really, listen to me, I implore you not to. Oh, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re going to have that ear-worm stuck in your head for days now…

“Stay demented!” Those are Dr.’s orders.

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