Music

Country Rewind: Elmo & Pasty's 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' Draws Success, Controversy

Although "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" now resides well outside of Billboard's Holiday 100 chart, it once reigned supreme over Christmas classics, due in part to controversy that's every bit as silly as the song's music video.

Dr. Elmo Shropshire, a Kentucky native, Auburn University graduate and veterinarian, and then-wife Patsy Trigg learned the song in the late '70s from its writer, Randy Brooks. Elmo & Patsy first recorded the song in 1979 while living in San Francisco. The over-the-top tale of holiday season hit-and-run brought even more levity to playlists dominated by tales of Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

What started off as a regional hit spun on country radio stations became a widespread phenomenon by 1983. If that reads like hyperbole, consider this: "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" was more popular for several years in the '80s than the undisputed king of Christmas songs, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."

A funny thing happened in between the song's 1979 debut and its 1983 supplanting of more serious Christmas carols. An anti-ageist group called the Gray Panthers started speaking out against what they considered a tacky song that, for lack of better words, mocks someone's dead grandma. Coverage of the song's opponents by MTV and other outlets only made Elmo & Patsy's intentionally absurd song a stronger force on the holiday charts.

Read More: 10 Essential Country Music Christmas Albums

Elmo & Patsy weren't just moonlighting as country performers for the sake of a novelty song. They cut a serious bluegrass album together in 1974. Before that, the couple played bluegrass, gospel and country music together in the band Homestead Act.

After the runaway success of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," Elmo & Patsy embraced their newfound role as musical jokesters, cutting bizarre love song "Doomsday Waltz" (1984) and other novelties that would've worked as Ray Stevens singles.

Since the song's heyday, the rechristened Dr. Elmo recorded a rap version and lent his voice to an animated special based on the original lyrics.

"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" Lyrics:

One, two, three, four
Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

She'd been drinkin' too much egg nog
And we'd begged her not to go
(Don't go, grandma)
But she'd forgot her medication
So she stumbled out the door into the snow

When they found her Christmas mornin'
At the scene of the attack
(Let me tell you something)
She had hoof prints on her forehead
And incriminatin' Claus marks on her back

Two, three

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin' home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

Now were all so proud of Grandpa
He's been takin' this so well
See him in there watchin' football
(Hallelujah)
Playin' cards and drinkin' beer with cousin Mel

And it's not Christmas without Grandma
All the family's dressed in black
(Amazing grace)
And we just can't help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts or send them back?
(send them back?)

Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin' home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

Now the goose is on the table
And the pudding made of fig
And a blue and silver candles
That would just have matched the hair in Grandma's wig

I've warned all my friends and neighbors
Better watch out for yourselves
(Sing it right)
They should never give a license, no
To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves

And that's why grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walkin' home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there's no such thing as Santa
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe!
But as for me and Grandpa, we believe!
Yes, as for me and Grandpa, we believe!

Now Watch: Country Music's Best Christmas Songs

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Country Rewind: Elmo & Pasty's 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' Draws Success, Controversy