By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Letter dated Oct. 1, 1949
Dear Mr. Johnny Marks,
I received the single you sent me — “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It’s got a catchy beat, but I’m going to be frank with you, these lyrics are a mess. I’m going to go through them, and I hope you’ll consider a pretty extensive rewrite. Let’s begin:
“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?”
Now kid, right out of the gate you’ve lost me. You’re asking the listener if they recall the MOST FAMOUS reindeer? If they’re going to recall any of them, the famous one seems the most likely candidate. It’s like going up to a guy who’s really into the Three Stooges and saying, “Hey, I know you remember Shemp and Joe Besser and Joe DeRita, but have you ever heard of this guy Curly?” It’s a dumb question. Next verse.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows”
Now this isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s repetitive. You’ve written a five verse song intended to tell a complete story, and you’re going to spend an entire verse just talking about the specific way in which the reindeer’s nose looks shiny?
“All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games”
Jeez kid, this is pretty harsh. I mean, I have no idea what a “reindeer game” is, but you’re making these beloved characters out to be a bunch of jerks by excluding Rudolph. I’m guessing his nose is some kind of a deformity, right? Third verse in, and your song is about everyone making fun of a deformed reindeer. And where’s Santa in all this? Doesn’t he notice that the other reindeer are bullying Rudolph? Or does he just turn a blind eye as long as the trains still run on time?
“Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say
Rudolph with your nose so bright
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
All right, this is where I have some serious problems. So Santa doesn’t care that all the other reindeer mock Rudolph, but the moment his unusual physical handicap benefits the old fat man, suddenly it’s, “Rudolph with your nose so bright, you’re the best now that the thing everyone mocks you for has proven useful!”
I mean, I get it. I’ve been in the record industry 35 years, so I know what it’s like to be persona non grata until you suddenly have your breakthrough single and become the toast of the town. One minute your boss tells you you’re never going to make it in the business, then you cut a little single called “Shame on You” with Spade Cooley and suddenly he wants you to join him for dinner in the VIP lounge at the Chateau Marmont. I didn’t even touch my oysters and I spent the whole dinner wishing the old buzzard would choke on his lobster thermidor.
“Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
You’ll go down in history.”
Oh yeah, that’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? A couple of hit singles later and everyone is shouting out with glee. They think you don’t remember when they were kicking you while you were down, down in the gutter with the winos and the roaches. They don’t know that you had to pawn off the Mauser C96 you brought back from the Great War just so you could afford another three nights at The Cecil, the whole time wishing you still had that Mauser so you could plug the rats that keep crawling out of the radiator at night. And after all the sacrifice, all the beating your head against the wall, you cut that one magic record, and suddenly you’re a hit. And every time the vultures smile at you, clap you on the back, send a Rob Roy over to your table, you know in your heart that the moment you take a misstep, the second the next record sells worse than the first, you’re done. They’ll ride you out on the rail and pelt you with rotten fruit as you go, and their once-honeyed words will taste like a mouthful of lye.
Look kid, I forget where I’m going with this, but the point is, I don’t think this Rudolph song is going anywhere. No commercial potential. I’m giving it a hard pass.