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I just happened to be the target demographic for the the first great wave of Christmas children's TV specials. Born in 1960, I was a wide-eyed preschooler when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), and How
The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) hit the airwaves. My fervent devotion to these half-hour fantasies plays perhaps as great a role as anything else in my ongoing fascination with Christmas music. Long before the cynicism of age cast its long shadow, I would wait eagerly every year to root for these animated anti-heroes. Still do, actually, so maybe there's still a little innocence in these aging bones.
Of course, much like Rudolph (one of dozens of Rankin-Bass productions) and Charlie Brown (the first of many specials based on Charles Schultz's Peanuts), How
The Grinch Stole Christmas is part of an extensive legacy - that of legendary children's author Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Published in 1957, The Grinch tells the story of a strange, Scrooge-like spelunker who hates Christmas, as well as the guileless residents of nearby Whoville, who celebrate Christmas as a veritable raison d'être. The Grinch was originally published in 1957 - right at the height of Dr. Seuss's career, the same year as his most famous book, The Cat In The Hat.
It's a marvelous story, for sure, but I mention it within these pages for the music that accompanies it, and that boils down to, literally, three songs. The original soundtrack as released on CD contains the audio track from the entire TV show (roughly 22 minutes), plus two versions of "Welcome Christmas," the inestimable "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch," and the largely forgotten "Trim Up The Tree," all with lyrics by the good doctor and music by Albert Hague, a composer of pop standards ("Young and Foolish") and Broadway musicals (Plain & Fancy); years later, Hague also played the music teacher in the movie and TV show, Fame.
Certainly, "Welcome Christmas" is a lovely song - a fact borne out by latter-day renditions by rock groups like Red Red Meat. But, I come mainly to praise "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch," a song so perfectly malevolent that it sounds mean-spirited 50 years after the fact. It is sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, a deep-voiced singer and actor who many assume is Boris Karloff, the legendary horror movie actor (Frankenstein) who narrates The Grinch TV show. (Ravenscroft is also well known as the voice of Tony the Tiger, pitchman for Kellogg's Sugar-Frosted Flakes - they're great!)
The lyrics of "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch" are incredibly vivid. In fact, I can't imagine how it got past the censors in 1966, but it did. "Your soul is an appalling dung heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots," sings Ravenscroft, and he's just getting started. Not surprisingly, "Mr. Grinch" has proved popular with punk and alternative rock groups when they assault the holidays. I own about 10 versions of it by artists as diverse as punk group D.I. and alternative thrush Aimee Mann, and almost all of them are great. My favorite is by the Whirling Dervishes (1992) who manage to amp up the volume while preserving Thurl Ravenscroft's leering, literate disapproval.
Many years later, comic actor Jim Carrey attempted to embody the Grinch in a live action film, Dr. Seuss'
The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Opinions vary as to how well he succeeded (I've actually never seen the movie), but the soundtrack that accompanied the film delivered numerous pleasures including original songs by Barenaked Ladies, Smash Mouth, and the Ben Folds Five. None is as delightful, though, as "Christmas Is Going To The Dogs" by The Eels. It tells the story from the perspective of Max, the Grinch's long-suffering pooch. "We'd rather have chew toys than yule logs," sings Max, and if you've seen the show, you'll understand why.
Over the years, How
The Grinch Stole Christmas has been issued on CD several times. I own the original 1995 CD, which includes separate tracks containing the complete songs from the TV show. But, parents of young kids might value the 1999 version which includes both The Grinch and Horton Hears A Who, one of Dr. Seuss' deepest allegories. Regardless, though, The Grinch has transcended the realm of children's literature and entered our collective consciousness as a morality play about why we celebrate Christmas - even as more and more of us reject formal religion and the divinity of Christ. Thanks to Christmas, the Grinch's heart "grew three sizes," and most of us can only aspire to that level of self-improvement.
- Better Do Right (Smash Mouth, 2000)
- Christmas Is Going To The Dogs (The Eels, 2000)
- Christmas Of Love (Little Isidore & The Inquisitors, 2000)
- Green Christmas (Barenaked Ladies, 2000)
- Lonely Christmas Eve (Ben Folds Five, 2000)
- Welcome Christmas (orchestra & chorus, 1966)
- You're A Mean One, Mr Grinch (Thurl Ravenscroft, 1966)
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Now, you can hear the Christmas music I write about! My Christmas Jukebox is bulging with over 350 tracks, and I'll be adding more rockin' Yule tunes throughout the year. [listen now]