It arrived 30 years ago, a rebellious little ditty that became the ultimate anti-Christmas carol by killing off an eggnog-loving Grandma in the very first line, says The Dallas Morning News.
But during those 30 years, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” has become a holiday classic. Songwriter Randy Brooks estimates 40 million copies have been sold in various guises, from the earliest version on 45-rpm vinyl to today’s singing ornaments and plush toys and ringtone downloads.
“I was totally surprised when it became a hit, and five years in I was still surprised,” said Brooks, who lives in Dallas and works for American Airlines. “It was written to tell a joke, kind of, and once you’ve heard a joke, you know the punch line.
“But I didn’t anticipate the way kids would like the song. And with new kids always coming along, that keeps the popularity high.”
“Grandma” became so popular that it occasionally elbowed aside holiday classics such as “White Christmas” in annual sales. Its durability and adaptability — Brooks gets royalties from places such as Estonia and Finland — have made “Grandma” one of the most requested, and most loathed, Christmas songs ever.
In December 1978, Brooks had just wrapped up an engagement in Lake Tahoe with the folk-group Young Country. But frozen brakes on their van kept them from moving on.
They trooped back to the hotel in time to catch the act that took their place, the bluegrass comedy team Elmo and Patsy.
“Sight unseen, they invited us up to play,” Brooks recalled, “and then one of the hotel employees sent up a request for ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’ ”
Elmo Shropshire knew immediately that the song was special.
Shropshire pressed copies of “Grandma” on 45-rpm records and sold them at concerts. A drummer playing with them at the time took a couple and gave one to his dad, who happened to be pals with Gene Nelson, a disc jockey on KSFO radio in San Francisco.
People loved it, and the rest was a show-business dream come true.