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Searching for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Song

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 1

Anybody who has ever been teased for being a little bit different can appreciate the plight of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. No doubt, this is part of the reason that the character is so enduringly popular. While the Christmas special by Rankin and Bass remains beloved to this day, many different singers have taken a crack at the bouncy tale of Rudolph. Listed below are some of the most memorable versions of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Gene Autry - This is the definitive version, with the famed singing cowboy smoothly relating the story of poor Rudolph, who suffers neglect and verbal abuse because he is born with a red nose but ultimately saves the day by guiding Santa's sleigh through a snowstorm. The jaunty instrumentals incorporate sprightly woodwinds and jingling sleighbells, with brass, strings and xylophone coming in on the solo part. Back-up vocalists come in later to give the song a fuller sound, but it's Autry's matter-of-fact reading of the song that makes the biggest impression.

Dean Martin - This is the version that I hear on the radio most often. Dino sounds totally sloshed as he sings this one, which is what makes it so amusing. The corny repetition of "Rudolph" in the background doesn't help matters. It seems like he's trying to ooze cool as he sings a snappy salute to the much-reviled Rudolph, but instead he just sounds silly. Then again, that may well have been intentional. At any rate, it's hard to hear him croon about "Rudy the Red-Beaked Reindeer" without dissolving into helpless giggles.

Regis Philbin - Speaking of campy, this gem from The Regis Philbin Christmas Album finds Regis talk-singing the classic song in a manner that might make William Shatner himself proud. There's some great piano and trumpet work at play here, but I have a hunch you'll find it hard to veer your focus away from Regis, especially once he starts babbling toward the end. Best of all, Donald Trump stops by briefly to play the role of Santa Claus in a manner befitting the mogul who comes off as such a bully on The Apprentice.

John Denver - One of my favorite singers, John Denver recorded two versions of this song as far as I know. The version on Christmas Like a Lullaby is annoying, as he is accompanied by a chorus of young children who fill in all those responses that people love to shout out when caroling around the neighborhood. Here, it just sounds monotonous. Fortunately, he also recorded it for A Rocky Mountain Christmas, and that is a fun, fast-paced version with a country flavor to it. Guitar-driven and joyful, it's quite possibly my favorite recording of the song.

Alvin and the Chipmunks - Kids can't help but love these goofy high-pitched brothers, and most adults won't mind making them a brief part of their Christmas celebrations. While the Chipmunks have recorded many different songs, I contend that there's not a lot of point in them doing straightforward renditions. I suppose there's something inherently funny about hearing familiar songs sung by voices that sound as though they were on helium, but I much prefer songs that incorporate a little banter. Thankfully, this classic does, as the boys meet up with a very congested-sounding Rudy and introduce him to Dave Seville, who's rather cranky about having been dragged all the way to the North Pole. Funny stuff.

Paul Byrom - This "swanky tenor" from Celtic Thunder doesn't give Rudolph a whole track to himself on his Christmas album, I'll Be Home for Christmas, but the reindeer is comfortably housed with other classic carols in The Christmas Medley. Most of Paul's songs are pretty serious in nature, which makes sense for a guy with such a solemnly gorgeous instrument, but it's fun to hear him get playful with this tiny tribute to beloved songs of his childhood. What's more, Frosty the Snowman, perhaps the second-most famous Christmas character introduced in a song, turns up in the medley as well.

Neil Diamond - Even though he's Jewish, Neil Diamond can't seem to get enough of Christmas albums. He's done three of them, and the video accompanying his first album runs regularly on PBS. His version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can be found on The Christmas Album: Volume II. I like it because of its distinct sound, which calls to mind a calypso. He also directly addresses the children who are listening, urging them not to let teasing drag them down. A nice rendition, especially for the kids.

Straight No Chaser - After the celebrated a cappella group so cleverly included Rudolph in their viral rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas, it makes sense that they would include him more prominently on their next album, Christmas Cheers. They have a lot of fun with this one, with plenty of doo-woppy background vocals and several notable alterations to the lyrics, including a reference to his nose being "nuclear". Meanwhile, the whole song is framed by an old-timey radio announcer, adding to the playful feel of the track.

Chuck Berry - I mention Chuck not because of the song at hand but because of Run Rudolph Run, which as far as I know is the only other Christmas song out there to include Rudolph right there in the title. I know there are others that mention him somewhere within the song, but here, Rudolph is the main character, and the speaker is urging him on, hoping that he will be able to get all of his deliveries in on time. Like the original Rudolph song, it was written by Johnny Marks. To be honest, this song annoys me a bit, but that's largely because of the way Chuck pronounces some of the words. I especially dislike the use of the word "reindeers". When I hear the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem's cover of this song, however, I get caught up in the raucous joy.

Clearly, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gets around. These are only some of the artists who have sung about "the most famous reindeer of all"; others include Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Ella Fitzgerald and the Supremes, to name just a few. But if you're looking for a good musical ode to Rudy, this is a good place to start.



Feb 3, 2011 4:28pm
great stuff here
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