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Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics

Trey Parker
Matt Stone
Rick Rubin

Trey Parker
Matt Stone
Marc Shaiman

Isaac Hayes
Mary Kay Bergman


Red-numbered tracks are instant classics and are recommended by this reviewer

1. Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo
Merry Fucking Christmas
3. O Holy Night
4. Dead, Dead, Dead
Carol of the Bells
6. The Lonely Jew on Christmas
I Saw Three Ships
It Happened in Sun Valley
O Tannenbaum
10. Christmas Time in Hell
What the Hell Child Is This?
Santa Claus Is On His Way
13. Swiss Colony Beef Log
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
15. Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel
16. The Most Offensive Song Ever
We Three Kings
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Parental Advisory - Explicit Lyrics
Running time:
U.S. release: November 23, 1999
Availability: CD
Official website

See also:

- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Some songs are maddeningly catchy without being any good: they stay in your head all day and drive you nuts. Other songs, though, are welcome to put down roots in your cerebellum -- especially funny ones. Trey Parker is a modern master at hilarious songs that catch in your brain like a fish hook, and probably no album of the past year has altered my consciousness more than last summer's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack. I can't count the number of times I've been at work, performing some harmless boring function, when suddenly my inner jukebox starts blaring "You can see your breath hanging in the air/You see homeless people but you just don't care." Or, "Blame Canada/Blame Canada/With their beady little eyes/Their flapping heads so full of lies." Or, "Shut your fucking face, Uncle Fucka/You're the one that fucked your uncle, Uncle Fucka." These songs have no real reason to take up so much space in my brain; they just do.

Well, Parker and musical collaborator Marc Shaiman have gotten together again to add some more tracks to my mental MP3 player. Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, despite some dead spots, is easily the most cheerfully obscene and blasphemous album to come down the pike in many a season. Even when it isn't gut-busting, it's still highly listenable, and sometimes it's even unexpectedly touching (more on that later). Rather than being dirtied by his association with South Park, Shaiman has at least partially redeemed himself after years of cranking out scores for such vomit-inducers as Patch Adams; it turns out Shaiman has this whole other bad-boy side to him, and Parker, for his part, has a genuine appreciation for show tunes -- if part of him didn't love this stuff, he couldn't parody it nearly as effectively.

About half of the 18 songs on the disc were visualized on a South Park episode a couple weeks back; some are Parker-Shaiman originals, while others are renditions of Christmas songs South Park-style. Oddly, one of the lamer bits in the episode -- a Santa/Jesus duet, enlivened only by Santa's impromptu cover of "Rio" -- isn't on the album, to which I say, Good riddance. There are a couple of songs on the disc, like Mr. Mackey's "Carol of the Bells" and Shelley Marsh's "I Saw Three Ships," that don't stand very well on their own; it helps to see the accompanying visuals (like Stan and Kyle goofing on Shelley in the background). But most of the other stuff here stands alone quite nicely (though, like the previous South Park albums, it's not really for newbies -- if you play this for someone who's never seen the show, or even just seen a few episodes, don't expect lotsa laffs).

What's most important is that "The Lonely Jew on Christmas" is here. This song, when I first heard it while watching a four-episode South Park marathon back on New Year's Eve 1997, was the song that convinced me that South Park wasn't just a collection of fart jokes -- that it had real wit and, yes, sensibility. A sort of morose answer to Adam Sandler's proud-to-be-Jewish "Hanukkah Song," it's also a dead-on parody of the old Rankin-Bass Christmas-special tunes. It's here in its full unbleeped splendor (though I have to say that the bleeps on the show made it funnier), along with a "special celebrity guest" whose identity I wouldn't dream of spilling. Every week on South Park we're told that "celebrity voices are impersonated -- badly," but they managed to get someone (maybe Parker himself?) who absolutely nailed Elton John's voice in "An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig," and the celebrity guest on "Lonely Jew" is likewise pitch-perfect mimicry. It's probably Parker, too. I stand in awe of this guy's talent.

One track you can play for South Park newbies with a sick sense of humor (though name someone with a sick sense of humor who hasn't seen South Park) is "Dead, Dead, Dead," performed by Juan Schwartz and the South Park Children's Choir. "Juan Schwartz," as hardcore SP fans know, is Trey Parker; he acted under that name for Cannibal! The Musical. It's a gentle, lulling tune about how we're all going to die -- I loved it. There's also "Christmas Time in Hell," Satan's rousing number, which deserves to become a radio standard (a lot of the other tracks wouldn't make it past the censors). It seems sort of mean-spirited to put Gene Siskel in Hell (did he pan BASEketball or Orgazmo? is this revenge?), but there are viciously funny digs at more worthy celebrities.

As always, Eric Cartman steals the show. Here we find his non-cattle-prod version of "O Holy Night" (I miss the cattle prod, though). He still screws up the words: "Fall on your knees/And hear the angels ... something ..." He also makes his presence felt in the South Park Children's Choir's performance of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," in which he sometimes seems on the verge of shitting his pants. Cartman also shines in "Swiss Colony Beef Log," easily the album's "what-the-fuck?" showstopper; I hear a distinct Meat Loaf influence here -- an apt comparison.

Cartman also turns up on the disc's masterpiece, "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel," which begins with Kyle's simple tune ("Second verse, same as the first," remember?) and works it up to a stunning five-part harmony involving Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kyle's parents. It would've been nice if they could've gotten Kenny in there too, but we can't have everything. Kenny does, however, appear on the album's second-best track, the accurately titled "The Most Offensive Song Ever," in which the muffled, perpetually dead third-grader duets with Mr. Hankey. The fun here is figuring out what Kenny is singing (it took me two or three spins); once you do, you get the joke, and the joke is awfully one-note but also awfully funny.

Speaking of Mr. Hankey, he also turns up here and there, including the first track (a dead-on stab at "Frosty the Snowman") and his historic first appearance in Kyle's toilet. Truth to tell, Mr. Hankey has always been funnier as an idea than as a character; he isn't really even the funniest part of the episode that introduced him (that honor would have to go to Cartman's first-ever rendition of "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch"). Partly it's his voice, which annoys me and almost wrecks his otherwise hilarious duet with Kenny. Another annoying voice here is Mr. Garrison, who has never sung before and probably should not sing again. His hostile "Merry Fucking Christmas," in which he aggressively brings Christmas cheer to "heathen" countries, might have sounded better coming from, say, Uncle Jimbo and Ned. (Some will be relieved that Ned's voice-box version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" isn't on the album.)

There are some other "eh" numbers. "We Three Kings," sung by Mr. Ose (whom only the most rabid SP fans would even remember), feels like filler. So does Adolf Hitler's rendition of "O Tannenbaum," another bit that doesn't stand well alone; on the disc, it's just a guy sobbing in German. Chef also weighs in with "What the Hell Child Is This?", which takes the old standard and puts that special Chef lovin' on it -- somehow this segues into the song Chef performed on SP's first Christmas special. It's okay, but I think Chef is funnier when doling out advice to the "chi'dren" than when he launches into one of his predictable stud numbers.

The track that stops laughter and ushers in a solemn mood is "It Happened in Sun Valley" as sung by Stan Marsh and Wendy Testaburger. Not because of the song itself, an upbeat number punctuated by Stan's usual projectile-vomiting on Wendy, but because of its unintentional tragic subtext. It reminds us that this is the last time we'll hear Wendy sing -- Mary Kay Bergman, who did almost all the female voices on South Park, killed herself last month. There was a nice moment near the end of the South Park special promoting this album in which all the female characters were spotlighted, as if Parker and Matt Stone were paying tribute to their friend and integral collaborator. Bergman can also be heard in Shelley Marsh's number and as Kyle's mom in "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel." But the duet between Parker and Bergman has an extra poignance. You can picture Bergman having a great time doing it, and that just makes it sadder. A great toon voice to rival Phil Hartman's was silenced last month.

So will I go to work tomorrow humming these tunes? Probably not -- it took a week or so for "Blame Canada" and "What Would Brian Boitano Do" to lodge in my brain. But I'm betting that by Christmas morning, while everyone else is singing "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells," my mental jukebox will be playing such sweet lyrics as "Mother tries to comfort me/She says 'Here son, have some eggnog'/But I fuckin' hate eggnog, se'iously" or "What the fuck is up with lighting all these fucking candles, tell me please" or especially "Mmph mmph hmmf mmph hmmf mmmph hmmf hmmf mmph/And still be a virgin, Mary." The best part about that last one is that I can sing it aloud and nobody'll know what the mmph I'm talking about.