Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a 1966 TV Special, originally airing on CBS and based on the 1957 children’s book by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. I’ll be talking more about the special itself and the two theatrical versions in a later post this week (tomorrow if nothing else shows up that demands attention). Directed by Chuck Jones, I’d be surprised if I have to explain this story’s plot to you. It’s that famous a story.
It’s also one of those rare Christmas productions where the song famous from it has actually aired on the radio and been done by celebrities other than the original singer on other Christmas albums. “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” only has one real singer however, and if you only know Thurl Ravenscroft for being the voice of Kellogg’s mascot Tony The Tiger (whatever happened to Tony, Jr?) check out his singing range, while horror legend Boris Karloff acts as the narrator of the special and doubles as the Grinch. The song plays over the Grinch stealing all the Who houses, taking the Who feasts, and all the Who toys. The song is really good on it’s own and don’t be confused when I say…being part of a Christmas classic is the only reason it’s part of stations’ Christmas music. On it’s own it really isn’t a Christmas song.
There’s a second song, both meant to pad out the run time (again, more on that in the next article) of the special. The combined songs of “Welcome Christmas” (which gets a reprise as part of the ending) and “Trim Up The Tree” don’t get nearly as much play, and yet of the songs offered it’s easily the more Christmasy of the two. For this year’s Christmas song examination let’s take a look at them both, starting with the big one.
Personally I would have put the “stink…stank…stunk” at the end of the song but this is a collection of parts played during the special as the Grinch steals the Christmas decorations, presents, and meals, which is interrupted by narration and a two-year-old girl. If you caught the special you remember all of the amazing-for-its-time animation of the Grinch sneaking into and through each house, even robbing the mice. It’s one of the best scenes, if not the best scene, and they created a song that really brings that memory back, while still being interesting enough on its own to listen to by itself.
By itself you get a really good idea of how horrible the singer thinks the Grinch is, but without the context of the story itself it loses a little magic. First of all you know the singer hates Mr. Grinch but he really doesn’t go into why, just dropping a series of insults instead. That’s the other problem when set apart from the special. It’s not really a Christmas song on its own, unlike something like “White Christmas”. Fun fact: That wasn’t from the movie of the same name, which would come later, but an earlier movie Holiday Inn, which shared Bing Crosby and only pieces of the plot. It works on its own as a Christmas song, and still puts it over “My Favorite Things”, which is neither a Christmas song nor from a Christmas movie…unless you’re one of those “die hards” who thinks setting part of it at Christmas is all you need. Another time on that discussion, though. My point is on its own this is just the singer trashing someone royally, which is hardly in the Christmas spirit.
Now what about the other musical moment? “Welcome Christmas” and “Trim Up The Tree” are tied to the Whos’ Christmas celebration, the former being the song they sing in the village square every Christmas and the latter a song about decorating for the holiday. These are actually about Christmas, and the first time they appear in the special it comes together.
As I’ll get into in the next article, Jones wanted to do a Christmas story without the religion (really, Chuck?) or Santa Claus, so he and Seuss put together a song that features a bit of Latin and mock Latin (some people also noticed German and French words) while the tree-trimming song features the typical Seussian nonsense words that’s a signature part of his works. The end result is a pair of songs that actually speak to the holiday despite lacking Jesus and St. Nicholas and their various posses. “Welcome Christmas” sounds like something out of a church songbook while “Trim Up The Tree” speaks more to the festive side of Christmas. I can see singing the latter while decorating and the former while standing together as we do with our families or in the villages Whoville is based on. That’s why it’s “Welcome Christmas” being sung in the square that factors into the Grinch’s temporary reformation, since that’s the one that speaks to the heart of Christmas rather than the part of it the Grinch hates…the spectacle.
However, while it works on its own as a Christmas song neither really has a story to it, and I think in part that’s why the Grinch’s theme ends up the more utilized in playlists. “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is about how horrible the Grinch is. “Welcome Christmas” is just about welcoming Christmas while “Trim Up The Tree” is not a strong a decorating song as the shorter “Deck The Halls” for reasons you’d have to ask someone more into the music than the story. There’s a bit more narrative to “You’re A Mean One” because it plays over an important narrative moment in the song, and it’s a darn good villain song. The others are just background music, which is fine and should work better on a radio station or playlist just meant to be in the background while shopping, decorating, or gathering together.
It’s just the nature of the beast I guess. The narratively important songs beats the additions, even though the additions are the actual Christmas music. As for the special versus its movie counterparts…stay tuned to the Spotlight, folks. I want to talk about them next.
[…] movie, with the Grinch singing his self-viewed praises rather than a narrator condemning his sins, as I went over yesterday. That makes it fall a bit flat as a homage since it recontextualizes the whole point of the […]