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There’s a song in the air | News, Sports, Jobs

This past week, Mirror newsroom staffers have been humming Christmas tunes, not because we were listening to the radio, but rather because we were looking up readers’ favorite songs — and their least favorite, too — in an effort to get the whole picture of why some songs bring out feelings of Christmas joy and others make us want to shout “bah humbug.”

We’ve yet to figure it out as some of us admitted to liking the sheer silliness of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” but according to readers, it is the No. 1 worst song on the airwaves today.

In fact, who would have thought one reader’s worst Christmas song also sounds like his cherished Christmas memory?

The song is “I want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and Roy Crichton of Everett said his sister got the 45 record about 1955 and played it over and over and over again.

“Drove the family nuts,” he wrote. “Both of us now are in our 70s and it is still the worst song.”

According to various news reports, Gayla Peevey recorded the song in 1953 when she was 10 years old. A child star often confused with Shirley Temple, Peevey lived in Oklahoma City and was contracted to sing children’s songs with the hippo song being the first. That Christmas, the song sold a half million copies, according to reports, and the Oklahoma Zoo capitalized on it by starting a campaign to buy Peevey a hippo for Christmas — the catch was that she had to donate it to the zoo. The statewide fund drive had children donating dimes to purchase a hippo with a goal of collecting $3,000.

Mathilda, a 2-year-old hippopotamus, arrived by airplane on Christmas Eve. Peevy was at the airport to greet her and turn her over to the zoo. On Christmas Day, 10,000 visitors went to see the zoo’s first hippo, news reports state.

Mathilda lived about 50 years, and in 2017, Peevy again welcomed another hippo to the zoo, 26-year-old pygmy hippopotamus Francesca.

‘Mary, Did You Know’ is tops

The top vote getter for the best song was “Mary, Did You Know,” co-written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene when both were on tour with gospel singers Bill and Gloria Gaither. It was first released in 1991 by Christian recording artist Michael English.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Lowry imagined being an overly enthusiastic angel on the day Jesus was born, an angel bubbling over with questions.

While his song has been panned by some critics, because according to the Bible, Mary did know, Lowry told Religion News Service’s Bob Smietana that he hopes “the song makes people think about the baby Jesus. I hope it sends them running to Luke 1 to find out what Mary knew.”

The song has been covered by dozens of artists over the years, including Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna Judd, Mary J. Blige, Clay Aiken and Pentatonix, an a cappella vocal group.

Another song that has been covered by a number of artists over the years, including Ray Stevens, is a song that national polls have placed in both the best and worst Christmas songs — “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Considered a novelty Christmas song, readers had strong feelings about the tune.

“It’s almost sacrilege,” said Duncansville resident Darla Witmer, who said she never found it funny. She was joined in her assessment of the song by Sharon Dryburgh, who said it is “just stupid.”

Altoonans Sue Burket and Julia Plummer Schokker also agreed “Grandma” is the worst. “I cringe when that comes on,” Schokker said.

The “Grandma” song dates back to 1979. Written by Randy Brooks, the song was first performed by husband-and-wife duo Elmo Shropshire and Patsy Trigg. In an interview a few years ago, Shropshire said of the song, “people either loved it or hated it.” Shropshire and Trigg divorced, and Shropshire became a veterinarian. Now 85, he continues to sing and is a competitive runner.

In addition to “Grandma,” Burket said she also dislikes “Alvin the chipmunk singing.”

She’s not alone.

Reader JoAnn Johnston of Hollidaysburg finds “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” “abrasive,” though she admits children probably love it.

The song was written by Ross Bagdasarian, under the stage name of David Seville, in 1958.

According to the Alvin fandom website — yes, dear readers, there is such a thing — the original version was released in 1958, 1968 and 2007.

If you’re among those trying to avoid the tune, the song is sung in “The Alvin Show” episode “Overworked Alvin” and has been sung in multiple episodes of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” television series, including “A Chipmunk Christmas” special. The song is also sung in the first CGI/live-action film, “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” is a part of most of The Chipmunks’ albums, and is included in the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” video games.

By the way, it’s Alvin who wants a hula hoop.

Readers vote

So, without further ado, readers’ picks for favorite and least favorite Christmas songs can be found below.

The Mirror newsroom hopes this list helps spur conversation around the Christmas table. From our table to yours, Merry Christmas.

Reasons for ‘Mary’

Despite what critics think, “Mary, Did You Know” is a favorite among readers.

Dryburgh, who, like many readers, couldn’t pick one favorite, said the song is among her favorites “because it pictures how Mary may have pondered about the child she held in her arms.”

Paula Kensinger also chose “Mary, Did You Know?” as did Burket.

Burket said she has “many, many favorite Christmas songs,” but she chose “Mary, Did You Know?” because it’s her son’s favorite.

Pam Holland of Altoona is another who couldn’t narrow down a favorite, but “Mary, Did You Know?” is among her top 5.

“This year, Christmas is an especially sad time due to my mom passing away in April,” Holland wrote. “I always feel a little melancholy at this time of year and with the pandemic still affecting the world and missing my mom, my favorite Christmas songs have always brought back memories and reflections over the holidays.”

Holland’s other picks are “What Child is This?,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Last Christmas.” She also joined the list of those who picked “Grandma” as her least favorite song.

Second place tie

There was a three-way tie among readers for the second most favorite Christmas song, and, interestingly enough, one of the songs on the list is also on the list for readers’ worst Christmas tunes.

“O Holy Night” is joined at the No. 2 spot by “Joy to the World” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

ö Dryburgh picked “O Holy Night” because it is about Jesus’ holy birth.

Jeannette Rutherford of Altoona also picked “O Holy Night.”

“It’s a song I love to hear, whether in my church, on the radio, concert. … It is the absolute reason for Christmas,” Rutherford wrote. Hearing and singing “O Holy Night” at a Christmas Eve candlelight service “can bring tears to my eyes.”

Mike Sinisi of Hollidaysburg agrees.

“‘O Holy Night’ is the consummate, powerful and yet beautiful, moving piece that most defines the birth of Jesus Christ,” he wrote.

ö John Elder of Duncansville said the “Percy Faith version of ‘Joy to the World’” is his favorite. “No other song captures the raw majesty and beauty of the season so well.”

Also choosing “Joy to the World” was Cheryl Magill of Altoona, who said the reason is “because it says it all: Why we rejoice at Christ’s coming.”

Schokker admitted to having a hard time picking just one song, so she chose several, among them “‘Joy to the World’ because it was the only song I knew both melody and harmony.”

ö Also tied for the No. 2 spot was “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which also happens to be on the worst list, mainly due to the artist who covered the song.

Gena Strawmire of Altoona placed the Mariah Carey version of the song on her worst list.

“Just her version,” she said. “Because it is played way too much. Leave it to Darlene Love, she sang it best of all.”

Steve Kleiner of Lakemont also has Carey’s version on his worst list. “Reason being with all the vocalizations and over the top, super peppy upbeat music, it just doesn’t seem to cut it as a Christmas song for me.”

But Kleiner also has “All I Want” on his favorite list — the version by Vince Vance and the Valiants. “The untitled singer is Lisa Layne of Texas, who can belt out a beautiful, evocative melody that captures what’s in her heart and the feeling of Christmas,” he said.

Layne continues to perform and record songs and won the role of Patsy Cline in a national tour of “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.”

In 2005, she was inducted along with Vince Vance and Valiants into the Louisiana music Hall of fame.

Schokker also listed “All I Want” among her top choices, noting that she “always loved this song, but the movie ‘Love Actually’ sealed the deal.”

Chuck Gojmerac of Roaring Spring agrees with Schokker, writing that “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a “true Christmas romance song.” It was among Gojmerac’s six favorite songs — the Faith Hill version of “Where Are You Christmas?” is his preferred artist rendering and he “loves” the Bon Jovi version of “Baby Please Come Home for Christmas.”

The new Elton John and Ed Sheeran song “Merry Christmas” is “lively and unique,” while “Dominick the Christmas Donkey” is a fun holiday parody, Gojmerac wrote.

Rounding out his top picks is “War is Over,” the John Lennon version, because it is a soul-searching song that “makes you think about what good you may have done the past year.”

Third place tie

“Angels We Have Heard on High,” “White Christmas” and “Silent Night” round out the top songs for readers with a three-way finish for third place. There is also a song on this list that is a reader’s least favorite song.

ö Witmer, among those who dislike “Grandma,” said she discovered “Angels We Have Heard on High” in junior high school chorus and it has remained her favorite since. “The lilting choral structure has always appealed to me,” she wrote.

Emma Brooks of Roaring Spring also picked “Angels” as her favorite because “it is a beautiful song.”

ö “White Christmas” is in the top 3 for Strawmire, who said it’s a classic, but “only sung by the one and only Bing!” Strawmire’s other picks are “Old Toy Trains” by Roger Miller, because it reminds “me of my two sons when they were little and rediscovering the magic of Christmas.” She also likes “I Believe in Father Christmas” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer because “it also holds some magic and a haunting feel, reminding me to always hold on to that magic feeling.”

Schokker, too, put Crosby’s “White Christmas” on her list. For Schokker, “Santa Baby” sung by Eartha Kitt is her top pick. “No one can deny the appeal of her sultry rendition of this great and funny holiday song.”

“White Christmas” and Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are Schokker’s “cocoa and fireplace go-to songs that instantly bring back memories of childhood Christmases and carols around the piano. My mother played and all our friends and family sang along.” Another group favorite is “Adeste Fidelis” in Latin, she added.

ö “Silent Night” is Glasgow resident Nancy Wilson’s favorite Christmas song. Though, she, too, joins the list of those who consider “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” as the worst Christmas song ever.

Holland also lists “Silent Night” as one of her top picks, but two readers don’t share her enthusiasm for the song.

Magill said “Silent Night” is her least favorite song. “I don’t know why,” she wrote, “but I cringe whenever I hear it.”

Brooks noted she doesn’t like the song because it’s too slow.

Other favorite picks

Other songs readers suggested for top Christmas song status include “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams, which brings back fond memories of Christmas’ past, said Lesley Ventre of Duncansville.

“When I was young, in the early 1970s, my mom, Linda, would play Andy Williams’ Christmas album on her stereo on Sunday mornings at Christmastime,” Ventre said. “The stereo was a piece of furniture in our living room, the lid opened and the record player and albums were stored inside. She was always so full of Christmas spirit and excitement. Everytime I hear that song, I think of her and know she’s letting me know she’s still with me.”

The “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a favorite of Johnston. “It fills my soul,” she wrote, noting that the first time she heard it was about 1970 as a gift on a 78 vinyl record. “Fabulous compositions. Tears flow,” she stated.

“My favorite Christmas song is the hymn, ‘Away in a Manger,” said Sue Graupensperger of Altoona. “The lyrics sweetly describe the new born baby Jesus in the humble surroundings of his birth. The final verse really touches my heart by describing Jesus’ love for all of his children and the affirmation that I will one day be with him.”

Continuing on with reader’s favorites is Renee Grigg of Hollidaysburg who chose “This Christmas” by John Legend and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” chosen by Nancy Dick of Evansville, Indiana. The Blandburg/Glasgow native said she likes it because “it’s an upbeat song.”

“Please Come Home for Christmas” by the Eagles was nominated as top song by Scott McCommons, who wrote that the song has been played each Christmas morning in his home — before anyone opens Christmas presents — for the last 25 years.

The Altoona native said he has two brothers who served more than 60 years total in the U.S. Army, including in three wars.

One year, “Please Come Home for Christmas” was playing when his brothers, Calvin and Dennis, came home.

“Our family thanks God every day they both came back home from fighting a war overseas As the song ends. It says ‘And I’ll be happy, Christmas once again,’” Scott wrote.

Scott said the song has new meaning for his family this Christmas as Dennis is in need of a liver transplant and Dennis is also expecting his first grandchild in February.

Scott notes that he is the oldest of five, followed by Tim, Calvin, Ronnie and the youngest, Dennis.

“‘Please Come Home for Christmas’ has been a blessing to our family for some reason. It continues to be. We will always play this song every year at my home and in my brothers’ homes.”

The song was written by Charles Brown and Gene Redd in 1960 and recorded that same year by Brown. Brown was a Texas blues musician, who also recorded “Merry Christmas Baby” in 1947. Redd was a Yew York producer who went on to guide Kool & the Gang.

The Eagles’ version was released in 1978.

Vying for worst status

In addition to songs listed above, readers submitted a number of “worst songs ever,” including “Suzie Snowflake,” a song Dick said “is the longest song” and it was played for years on local TV stations around the Christmas holiday.

According to an internet search, “Suzie Snowflake” was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett and made famous by Rosemary Clooney in 1951.

“Santa Baby” made the list of top songs for Schokker, but for Strawmire, “it just smacks of commercialism and the very worst of what this season can do to people.”

Strawmire also has “The 12 Days of Christmas” on her worst list “because it’s so monotonous and boring and long.” She is joined in that assessment by Gojmerac, who writes the song is “like the ‘Small World’ ride at Disney. Enjoy it for about 30 seconds, but it just drags on and on.”

For Ventre, Elvis Presley’s version of “Merry Christmas Baby” is “just not my style, and it’s very long and drawn out.”

Graupensperger finds “Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season” by Andy Williams is her least favorite, although she admits “its catchy tune gets stuck in my head after I hear it.”

“It has that Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack type of sound to me with over-the-top ‘hip’ lyrics like ‘So leave a peppermint stick for old St. Nick’ and more notably ‘So hoop-de-do and dickory dock and don’t forget to hang up your sock,’” Graupensperger said, adding “What’s a dickory?”

“Two minutes of fingernails on a chalkboard,” is how Elder describes Barbra Streisand’s version of “Jingle Bells.” He also adds “shrill, obnoxious” in writing about his least favorite song. (OK, we will admit that we didn’t even try to listen to this version, as we cringed just thinking about it.)

A song that has garnered a lot of controversy in recent years is “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” but for Rutherford, it’s the new version that is the problem.

She feels it’s “just stupid to change the lyrics to be more sensitive. Women just are not that delicate, at least I hope not,” she wrote.

Rutherford said “I choose to enjoy the music, the beauty of the singing and, to be honest, until it was pointed out to me, I never thought badly of the song. Sometimes you really do choose to see/hear what you want to see/hear.”

Another worst song for Gojmerac is the Jackson 5 version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” He simply wrote it’s “just annoying.”

Kensinger said “Silver and Gold” by Burl Ives was her least favorite song, while “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney and Wings is “nauseating” to Sinisi.

“It makes me very ill when I hear it,” Sinisi said, adding that he attributes his dislike to “the annoying repetitiveness of the lyrics and awful instrumental accompaniment. Please make it stop.”

“Dominick the Donkey” finds itself on the worst list, after also being a best pick.

Holland gave no reason for the dislike of “Dominick,” but internet search results described it as a “cult classic.”

Written by Richard Allen, Sam Saltzberg and Lou Monte, it was first sung by Monte in 1960. Monte was an Italian-American singer best known for singing Italian novelty records in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The song describes a donkey who helps Santa bring presents to children in Italy. On an interesting side note, in some circles it is believed the song was financed by the Gambino crime family.

Rounding out the worst Christmas songs ever — and we’re not sure how you can top a song supposedly financed by the mob — but, the worst song ever could possibly be “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” sung by none other than the legendary John Denver.

The song nearly ruined Denver’s otherwise great 1975 “Rocky Mountain Christmas” album, a Mirror staffer said.

Another search of the internet — where you can find just about anything, though the sources can be a little dicey — had entire pages dedicated to the fact no one could believe Denver actually sang the song and sheer wonder at what he was thinking to do so. What appears to be worse is the fact that it’s been covered by other artists over the years.

The song is credited to Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, the then-married couple who penned “Afternoon Delight” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

If you don’t know the lyrics, don’t ruin your Christmas by looking them up.

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