|"Christmas at Ground Zero"|
|Single by "Weird Al" Yankovic|
|from the album Polka Party!|
|B-side||"One of Those Days"|
|Recorded||April 23, 1986|
|Genre||Comedy, Christmas carol|
|Label||Rock 'n Roll|
|"Weird Al" Yankovic singles chronology|
"Christmas at Ground Zero" is an original song by "Weird Al" Yankovic, the tenth and final track on his 1986 album, Polka Party! and the final single from the album, released just in time for the 1986 Christmas season. The song is a style parody of Phil Spector-produced Christmas songs.
"Christmas at Ground Zero" is an upbeat song that juxtaposes stereotypical Christmas activities with attempts to survive a nuclear holocaust (e.g., Yankovic sings about "dodg[ing] debris as we trim the tree underneath a mushroom cloud"). Musically, the song is a style parody of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, a Christmas compilation album produced by Phil Spector and featuring The Ronettes, The Crystals and Darlene Love; Yankovic produced the song complete with Spector's trademark "big, glossy Wall of Sound production".
The song was the result of Yankovic's label, Scotti Brothers Records, insisting that Yankovic record a Christmas album. However, after Yankovic presented the song to his label, they relented, because it was "a little different from what they were expecting." After the song was written and recorded, Yankovic wanted to release the song as a commercial single, but Scotti Bros. refused. Undeterred, he used his own money to create a low-budget music video made mostly out of stock footage. Eventually, Scotti Bros. released the song as a promotional single and was released commercially.
The expression "ground zero" was largely connected with nuclear explosions at the time this song was written. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the term was co-opted by the media to refer to the large hole over which the World Trade Center towers that were destroyed in the attacks had stood. Due to the new associations of the title, Yankovic's song received far-reduced airplay since 2001, but continues to appear in novelty programming such as the Dr. Demento show. Yankovic later said:
The sad part is, I can’t really play the song live anymore because too many people misunderstand the connotations of Ground Zero. It’s not a reference to 9/11, obviously. It was written in 1987 [sic] when 'ground zero' just meant the epicenter of a nuclear attack.
The music video was made during the 1980s at the time of the Cold War. This music video was also Yankovic's directing debut. The video is a montage of old film, television, and news footage, including a pre-presidential Ronald Reagan, capped off with a live-action scene of Yankovic and some carolers wearing gas masks, singing with rubble around them. This live action finale was filmed in the Bronx, New York, in an economically devastated area that looked like a bomb had gone off. The video was edited with Yankovic by Darren Bramen, with final edits and effects by John Peterson.
Yankovic stated that the record label did not want to pay for this video to be made, due to associating a nuclear disaster with the holidays. Yankovic instead funded production of the video himself. In the late 1980s, the song was a staple on MTV during the holiday season.
The song has been well received. Julio Diaz of the Pensacola News Journal wrote "While 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer' got old decades ago, this is one musical dose of sick holiday humor that hasn't lost its novelty." He went on to compliment the music video as well, calling it "a lot of fun". Joey Green, in his book Weird and Wonderful Christmas, named the track one of "The Weirdest Christmas Songs of All Time". The song, according to Yankovic himself, is a fan-favorite.
Christmas somehow brings out the corny and the crazy in many artists, providing [disk jockey Lou] Brutus with a wealth of material such as ... Weird Al Yankovic, who once produced a song that you will never again hear on the radio. It was called 'Christmas at Ground Zero,' and was recorded long before 9/11, though it did have to do with a nuclear attack on Christmas Day. Still, the title renders it unplayable, which Brutus laments, 'because it's a great song.'
Of all the artists whose songs were pulled from the airwaves after Sept. 11, pop jester 'Weird Al' seemed an unlikely candidate. ... The lyrics of his first holiday tune, this Phil Spector-ish Cold War reminder temporarily banned in ’01, are so sarcastically macabre you might guess they were written by the Dead Kennedys' Jell-O Biafra. Its great video, consisting almost entirely of stock footage, was Al’s directorial debut.
'While it seems like anything goes, that may not be the case. Dr. Demento (whose real name is Barry Hansen) could think of two songs he says won't be getting much, if any, radio airplay this year: 'A Terrorist Christmas' and Weird Al Yankovic's 'Christmas at Ground Zero.' Both were recorded in the 1990s and have nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, except for an unfortunate resonance. But another Yankovic song is among the most requested on Demento's show: 'The Night Santa Went Crazy,' in which the toy-bringer turns into 'a big fat drunk disgruntled Yuletide Rambo' and goes on a rampage, shouting, 'Merry Christmas to all -- now you're all gonna die!'