Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christmas with the Shropshires

You know Dr. E. Shropshire, right?

Hint 1: As well as being a famous musician, he's a retired veterinarian. Hint 2: His first name's Elmo.

Yes, Dr. Elmo teamed with wife Patsy to record the novelty classic "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

Don't laugh, the song made the duo and songwriter Randy Brooks rich folks. Royalty checks continue to arrive in their mailboxes on a regular basis. In fact, at 10 million copies, that "Grandma" song is the best selling independent single of all time.

The song was first aired by a San Francisco radio station in 1979 and later picked up for national distribution by Epic Records.

Elmo & Patsy made four albums together, none as successful as "Grandma," before the partnership ended in divorce. Dr. Elmo, now in his 60s, has since remarried and lives on his rural estate in California. He founded a label called Laughing Stock Records to market his products and hosts his own website. Ex-wife Patsy, meanwhile, keeps a low profile.

"Grandma" was the top charting song in for two consecutive years in the Eighties and continued its popularity with another spike in sales in 1997.

In fact, when MTV began airing the "Grandma" video in 1983, it topped Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" on Billboard's holiday chart. That was quite a feat, considering....

Crosby's label first released "White Christmas" for the 1954 holiday season. It went to the lucky No. 13 position on the pop charts and sold strongly every Christmas through 1962. The following year, Crosby took "Do You Hear What I Hear" to No. 2 on the pop chart.

In his career, Crosby also released other seasonal hits including "Silver Bells," "Silent Night," "How Lonely Is Christmas," "Oh Come all Ye Faithful," and "Peace on Earth/ Little Drummer Boy." (The last song was revived in 1977 when David Bowie joined Crosby in a version which appeared in Bing's TV Christmas special).

The color of Christmas 1964 changed when Elvis struck holiday gold. "Blue Christmas" was the top selling holiday single and an evergreen selection since.

Another perennial favorite is John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Actually, the song is performed by John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir. The song, first released in 1971, has charted in each decade, reaching No. 32 on the adult contemporary chart in 1995.

Lennon's fellow Beatles have also recorded holiday songs throughout the years. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" reached the No. 10 position on the Christmas chart in 1984. George Harrison reached No. 36 on the pop singles chart with "Ding Dong Ding Dong" in 1975, while Ringo Starr has recorded an entire album's worth of Christmas material, including his own take on "Little Drummer Boy."

Most everyone has a favorite Christmas tune. In the Upper Peninsula, Da Yoopers' "Rusty Chevrolet" has been popular since being released in 1986.

In 2000, the country group Shedaisy took "Deck the Halls" to No. 61 on the pop singles chart. That's no big deal, but the song took me back to 1961 at Lemmer Elementary School. Fifth grade teacher Mrs. McEachern, eager to make a good impression at the annual Christmas program, made her class practice singing "Deck the Halls" virtually from the first day of school. Fifth graders today would giggle at "Don we now our gay apparel." And, don't forget the seemingly endless "Fa la la la la, la la la la....

With a snappy chorus like that, even Dr. Elmo would be proud.

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