This holiday season, as we've all been surrounded by loved ones in front of the television, chances are someone in the room smirked when this year's T-Mobile "Hottest Holiday Gifts" commercial aired. It may have even been you. If it was you, that means you recognized the music as being a punk rock cover of the (cult?) classic kids song "Hooray for Santa Claus." It's fitting that the song is getting such huge exposure now as, this month, "Hooray for Santa Claus" turns 50!
Originally released in December 1964 by Milton DeLugg and The Little Eskimos, it's one of those 60s children's song where the kids singing it are so enthusiastic you can't help but believe every word they're saying. Milton DeLugg wasn't some fly-by-night cheap carol casher. He'd already had a successful career, most notably penning "Orange Colored Sky" for Nat King Cole. A master of infectious melodies, it's not a surprise that DeLugg was tapped to compose the song for the silver screen.
That's right, if you haven't been able to pinpoint exactly where you've heard it before, it's probably most known for being immortalized as the theme for the cult classic film Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (which also turns 50 this month), that featured future Golden Globe winner Pia Zadora. A whimsical staple of "worst movies of all time" lists, Conquers has earned a special place in the hearts of Christmas fanatics for both its unforgettable title and premise, which for the uninitiated is Santa winning over the martians who kidnap him. The song's something of a rallying cry for Santa fans, making it a great recurring track in the film to get behind. The song also had a trumpet heavy version released at the same time by trumpet great Al Hirt.
The film received a particular popularity boost in the 90s when it was riffed in an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000". "MST3K" creator and star Joel Hodgson tells us he pushed to feature the film after remembering seeing the preview for it in theaters as a child. In writing jokes around the film, Hodgson likely had to hear the song more than pretty much anyone else on the planet. "The [song] is real infectious, but for its time it's real contemporary. At the time you weren't used to hearing actual rock-and-roll Christmas songs. That's what's kind of neat about it, they tried to make a contemporary song in the 60s. I also found it really weird, it's also a great idea, at the end of the movie they knew it was such a great song that they gave you subtitles and expected you to sing-along with it. It's possible they knew it was a great song to cross-promote the movie."
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and its subsequent lampooning on weird movie showcases like Hodgson's "Cinematic Titanic", "Elvira's Movie Macabre" and last year's Rifftrax Live event have lead to the song becoming something of a calling card for fans of the film, which perhaps is what lead to the track being so embraced by the punk community and covered by bands like Sloppy Seconds and The Fleshtones. Perhaps it's the unbridled enthusiasm, and wanton disregard for the status-quo (the kids spell our bearded hero's name "S-A-N-T-A" but are clearly pronouncing it "Santy") that the kids in the original share for Santa that has lead to the punk audience's desire to give their take on the track.
Perhaps most interestingly is how Milton DeLugg himself went on to an amazing television music career, including being the one-time band leader for "The Tonight Show" and "The Gong Show" and doing the theme songs for "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game." Yes, DeLugg is a certified Hollywood legend. He's still alive and very active. In fact, he was the musical director of last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
While DeLugg has make the industry's biggest stars smile, his seasonal 45" will also ensure his talents' continued celebration into immortality. "Jumpin' jimminy" indeed.