So, here we are, the last weekend before Christmas. And it would seem that a lot of you are hankering for the soundtrack to one of my favorite holiday films, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I aim to please. This piece first ran in December of 2009 and since then, has seemed to be one of the most searched for Soundtrack Saturday posts. Hopefully, it brings you as much joy now as it seemed to back then.
I know you’re all completely engrossed in the joy of Mellowmas, but I figured you might be up for some holiday music that doesn’t aurally assault you (well, for the most part, anyway).
Written by John Hughes and directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik (Benny & Joon), the third installment of the Vacation films brings us a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” with the Griswolds: Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Johnny Galecki), and Audrey (Juliette Lewis). As we count down the days till Christmas, we witness the family get into one ridiculous situation after another as they try to celebrate the holiday.
Clark desperately wants to host the perfect Christmas at his house, and he goes to great lengths to do so. First, he drags his wife and kids out to the middle of the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree, almost getting them all killed in the process. Then he spends hours covering the outside of the house with Christmas lights, only to have them not work. Needless to say, Christmas isn’t turning out as Clark had planned.
Soon, the extended family arrives — Clark’s parents, Clark Sr. (John Randolph) and Nora (Diane Ladd), and Ellen’s mom and dad, Art (E.G. Marshall) and Frances (Doris Roberts) — and the holiday tension starts to mount in the Griswolds’ home. Even though a bright spot eventually emerges, literally, when Clark finally gets the Christmas lights to work — or, rather, Ellen does — things quickly go south once her redneck cousin-in-law, Eddie (Randy Quaid), arrives unexpectedly in a dilapidated RV with his wife, Catherine (Miriam Floyd); their two youngest children, Rocky (Cody Burger) and Ruby Sue (Ellen Hamilton Latzen); and their disgusting dog, Snot. Since they can’t say no to family, Clark and Ellen agree to host Eddie, Catherine, and their brood for the holidays.
As the countdown to Christmas continues, things around the Griswold house go from bad to worse. Everyone is complaining about how crowded the house has become; Clark is stressed out about whether he can afford the secret Christmas present he’s purchased for his family — a swimming pool he intends to pay for with his Christmas bonus, which hasn’t arrived yet; and Ellen and he discover that Eddie and Catherine can’t afford to buy their children gifts, forcing Clark to offer help he really can’t afford.
On Christmas Eve, Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) and Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) arrive for dinner with a special gift for the Griswolds: Bethany’s cat, which she’s thoughtfully gift-wrapped. As the evening wears on, the holiday disasters mount: First, Catherine overcooks the turkey, which basically ruins the entire dinner. Next, Aunt Bethany’s cat gets electrocuted when it chews through a strand of Christmas lights. And Uncle Lewis burns down Clark’s beloved Christmas tree, which Clark replaces by cutting down a tree from his own yard. Unfortunately, the tree turns out to be home to a squirrel that ends up terrorizing the Griswolds.
Just as Clark thinks the night can’t get any worse, a delivery arrives from his company. Everyone expects it to be his Christmas bonus, but instead of a check, Clark discovers that he’s been enrolled in the “Jelly of the Month” club, which prompts him to angrily tell the family that if they want to get him the perfect gift, they should bring his boss back to the house so Clark can tell him what a jerk he is for giving out such a shitty bonus. Naturally, Cousin Eddie takes Clark seriously and kidnaps the boss, Mr. Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray).
After meeting the Griswolds and hearing their story — and dealing with the police, who were called by Mrs. Shirley — Mr. Shirley apologizes for suspending his employees’ bonuses. He agrees to give Clark his bonus plus 20 percent.
As the Griswolds celebrate their reversed fortune, the children think they see Santa’s sleigh streaking across the night sky. Uncle Lewis’s cigar then ignites gas from the sewage Eddie dumped down the street drain when he emptied his RV’s “shitter,” blasting a Santa Claus lawn decoration into the sky and prompting Aunt Bethany to lead everyone in a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. As he watches this bizarre sight, Clark realizes he’s had the perfect Christmas after all.
Christmas Vacation turned out to be a huge holiday hit in 1989, debuting at number one and eventually grossing $71 million. Through video and DVD and annual holiday airings on several networks, it’s become a modern holiday classic. In fact, as I write this, it’s being shown on AMC.
As far as the soundtrack goes, there actually wasn’t one at the time of the film’s release. But to celebrate Christmas Vacation‘s tenth anniversary, a limited number of soundtrack CDs were pressed and sold at Six Flags Magic Mountain, where scenes from the first Vacation (1983) were shot. That pressing included all the songs featured in the film, clips of dialogue from the movie, and portions of Angelo Badalamenti’s score (yes, that Angelo Badalamenti).
The soundtrack album also has bonus tracks, including the theme song for the first two Vacation films, Lindsey Buckingham‘s “Holiday Road”; another tune by Buckingham that appears in the first Vacation, “Dancing Across the U.S.A.”; an unnecessary cover of “Holiday Road” that the CD credits to Limp Bizkit but is apparently by a band named Limp; the audio of the film’s trailer; and the radio version of Mavis Staples’s “Christmas Vacation.” I’m not including the Buckingham tracks and because I love you, I’m not including that terrible cover of “Holiday Road.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Soundtrack Saturday. In the words of Clark Griswold, “Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, merry Christmas, merry Christmas, kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Hanukkah.”
Mavis Staples – Christmas Vacation (Opening Credits)
Take It Russ
The Moonglows – Hey, Santa Claus
Ray Charles – That Spirit of Christmas
Oratorio Society of New York – Hallelujah Chorus
Bing Crosby – Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas)
Shitter Was Full
Aunt Bethany’s Arrival
Feeding the Dog
Gene Autry – Here Comes Santa Claus
Rocket’s Red Glare
Angelo Badalamenti – Joy to the World
Angelo Badalamenti – Christmas Vacation Medley
Mavis Staples – Christmas Vacation (End Credits)
Mavis Staples – Christmas Vacation (Radio Version)