"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a song based on the story of the same name, created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of his employment with Montgomery Ward. It tells the tale of Rudolph, Santa's ninth and lead reindeer, who possesses an unusually red-colored nose that gives off its own light (bioluminescence), powerful enough to illuminate the team's path through inclement winter weather.
The story is owned by The Rudolph Company, L.P. and has been sold in numerous forms including a popular song, a television special done in stop-motion puppetry, and a feature movie. Character Arts, LLC manages the licensing for the Rudolph Company, L.P.
Robert L. May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money. In its first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph's story were distributed by Montgomery Ward. It is written as a poem in the meter of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Johnny Marks, May's brother-in-law, decided to adapt his story into a song. Marks (1909–1985), who was Jewish, was a radio producer and wrote several popular Christmas songs. He was born in a New York City suburb and graduated from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, before going off to Paris to study music. He had a heroic World War II combat record, winning the Bronze Star and four battle stars.
It was first sung commercially by crooner Harry Brannon on New York city radio in the latter part of 1948 before Gene Autry recorded it formally in 1949 and again in 1957. It has since filtered into the popular consciousness.
The lyric "All of the other reindeer" can be misheard in dialects with the cot-caught merger as the mondegreen "Olive the other reindeer", and has given rise to another character featured in a Christmas special of her own.
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?
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They'd never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say
"Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
You'll go down in history!"
Appearances in Christmas specials
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948) - Plays over the opening credits and the short reprise at the ending.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) - Performed by Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives) with the backup choir on the special's closing scene/credits. An instrumental of the song is also used as part of the medley in the opening credits.
- Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976) - Performed by Red Skelton (the voice of Father Time).
- Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979) - The song is first sung during the flashback to Rudolph's backstory, and again at the very end.
- Disney Sing Along Songs: Very Merry Christmas Songs (1986) - Gene Autry's cover plays over clips from the Max Fleischer short.
- A Claymation Christmas Celebration (1987)
- "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (1989) - Covered by the Simpsons during the end credits, with Grampa on the piano, and Bart constantly making snide remarks after each line.
- Kidsongs: "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
- A Flintstone Family Christmas (1993) - Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble briefly sing a parody version titled "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Pterodactyl".
- "Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas"
- "It's A Hi-5 Christmas"
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998) - Covered two times:
- The first version plays over the second set of the opening credits and over the first half of the closing credits.
- The characters version plays right at the ending sequence.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys (2001) - Covered by Tony Bennett over the first half of the second set of the opening credits.
- Annoying Orange: Midget Rudolph (2011) - There’s a parody of the song called "Midget the Tiny Apple".
- Christmas with the Chipmunks (1961)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
- Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm Singing Songs of Christmas (1965)
- Christmas with the Brady Bunch (1970)
- Raffi's Christmas Album (1983)
- Sesame Street Christmas Sing-Along (1984)
- A Pooh Christmas (1994)
- Rudolph, Frosty and Friends' Favorite Christmas Songs (1996)
- Nick at Nite: A Classic Cartoon Christmas (1996)
- Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas (1996)
- Happy Holidays Love, Barney (1997)
- Elmo Saves Christmas: Holiday Favorites (1998)
- A Flintstones Motown Christmas (1999)
- Santa Claus is Coming (1999)
- It's A Hi-5 Christmas (2001)
- Rugrats: Holiday Classics (2004) - Sung by Kimi Watanabe-Finster and Susie Carmichael. This version was later reused on Nick Holiday (2006).
- Disney's Merry Little Christmas (2006)
- Bob! from Sesame Street: Christmas Sing Along (2006)
- A Looney Tunes Sing-A-Long Christmas (2006)
- Disney's Merry Little Christmas (2006)
- A Very Special Charlie Brown Holiday Collection (2010)
- Jingle Bell Fun (2012)
- Chipmunks Christmas (2012)