You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch….usually shortened to Mr. Grinch, puts to music the vileness and foulness of Dr. Seuss’s character, The Grinch. A character so wicked, so villainous, he would dare try to ruin Christmas for everyone around him. Why, the Grinch was so evil, he makes an earlier version of the archetype (Scrooge) look relatively calm. After all, Scrooge only truly tried to ruin Christmas for a handful of people, not an entire village! Any version of Mr. Grinch, be it in the 1966 animated special or the 2000 live action movie, should portray a character so deplorable. we just can’t describe him as we’ve run out of synonyms for heinous and malevolent.
Back to the music. Like any onscreen version of the Grinch, any musical version of Mr. Grinch should make your heart hurt. You should feel sick to your stomach just hearing about the repulsive Grinch. So, which version of Mr. Grinch paints the nefarious Grinch as so evil? So viscous? So undeniably bad that even Satan himself might tell the Grinch to take it down a notch? While we’re at it, which versions simply, and I quote….stink, stank, stunk?
Original – Thurl Ravenscroft (1966)
What can I say about the original You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch! that hasn’t already been said? Taken out of the context of a 1960s cartoon, the song is pretty frightening. Thurl Ravenscroft’s judge like, even god like Baritone/Bass voice sends us tones of an authoritative and judging. Of course, we can’t discount the beginning of the song – that Halloween-esque horn section. Within seconds, we know You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch! is not a cheerful song.
The over the top, descriptive insults tell us the Grinch really sucks, and we hear it through lines such as: Your heart’s an empty hole. Your brain is full of spiders.You’ve got garlic in your soul.. There’s also the line The three words that best describe you Are as follows, and I quote “Stink, stank, stunk!” It just gets more hyperbolic as the song goes on – the second to last verse features this lyric: Your soul is an appalling dump-heap. Overflowing with the most disgraceful. Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable. Mangled-up in tangled-up knots! This lyrics is perhaps the most over the top lyrical assassination I’ve ever heard!
The original Thurl Ravenscroft version of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch gets under your skin, and into your soul. The song makes you want to do send justice to terrible people! Of course, this serves the narrative of the story well, as the Grinch becomes a character we love and cheer for – only to forgive at the end. Still, that’s a song for another day.
Cover – Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors (1992)
Mojo Nixon, one of the 80s biggest pop culture assultists, covering of Mr. Grinch seems a match made in heaven. Sure, Mojo and backing band (The Toadliquors) don’t sound as pretty and polished as Ravenscroft’s original version. Nixon’s voice sounds gritty, rough, and unprofessional. Oh, but how Nixon pours the insults out! If you don’t know Mojo Nixon’s work, he performs songs such as “Debbie Gibson is pregnant, with my two headed love child” and “Orenthal James (Was A Mighty Bad Man).” So, yeah….Nixon certainly does not shy away from the insults….and while he might not have the baritone of Thurl Ravenscroft, he certainly does Mr. Grinch justice.
While the instrumentation totally changes to that of a jazz band, as opposed to the ominous horn section of the original, there’s not a whole lot of other changes in the Mojo Nixon version of Mr Grinch. Nixon even keeps true to the lyrics, adding only one line at the very end (Nixon shouts “Go To Hell!” and then belches in insult).
Mojo Nixon may not sound pretty like Thurl, but he certainly catches the spirit of Mr. Grinch.
Cover – Sixpence None the Richer (1996)
When I first read that Sixpence recorded a version of Mr Grinch, I kind of cringed. Sure, I knew they could do justice to ….pretty much anything. Matt Slokum is a musical genius after all. But Leigh’s voice just doesn’t have much of a punch. Well, I was wrong…Leigh’s vocals may take Mr. Grinch in a different direction than the original, but she keeps the spirit of the song.
So how does Leigh Bingham portray the song? Think Gloria Gaynor’s liberation in I will survive. There’s the same feel of freedom – the same feel of…telling someone “there’s the door, don’t let it hit you on the way out!” In other words, the Sixpence version of Mr. Grinch sounds like a hymn of personal deliverance. The Grinch becomes a symbol of all that’s wrong in someone’s life….the Grinch is the trash – and it’s time to take the trash to the curb!
Instrumentally, we have a horn section, though not as ominous as the original version. Still, Sixpence keeps the song going – providing a decent skeleton with the accompaniment. Clacking percussion mimics chattering teeth, violins play a slow tempo while we hear about how the Grinch naseautes the singer.
I will say that Brigham struggles with the infamous “dump-heap” line from the second to the last verse. Still, if that’s the only flaw in the Sixpence of Mr. Grinch, I deem this version a worthy cover.
Cover – Jim Carrey (2000)
Jim Carrey, (or rather his Grinch character) sings a self congratulatory ode to himself (or rather his character). This changes the dynamic of Mr Grinch quite a bit, as the original was the narrator singing to the Grinch. The dynamic Carrey presents sounds more like when Wile E. Coyote calls himself a “super genius.” Carrey’s character praises his own foulness (perhaps in a subtle nod to Chuck Jones, who wrote Roadrunner cartoons and produced the 1966 How The Grinch Stole Christmas).
While this dynamic works, Carrey cuts out a few lines….particularly the “Stink, Stank, Stunk” and “dump-heap” lines. This, of course is tragic as I’ve already stated these to be the best lines of the song. Still…I guess if you’re singing a song to yourself, there’s just some things you draw the line at saying to yourself.
All in all, the Jim Carrey version of Mr Grinch finds its own path, while keeping rooted in the original.
Cover – Mannheim Steamroller (2008)
Mannheim Steamroller’s cover of Mr. Grinch sounds like a bargain basement version of the original. The vocalist (Jeffrey Morrow) attempts to emulate Ravenscroft. While Morrow certainly has a similar voice to Ravenscroft, it’s not as booming! Thurl had that judge and almost Godlike authority in his voice. Meanwhile, Morrow could use more drama in his singing.
The instrumentation falls flat as well. We all know the capabilities of Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller (have you heard “Deck the Halls?”). Mannheim Steamroller takes away the horn section, which is fine. However, if Mannheim Steamroller takes away the horn section, they need to replace the section with something equally dramatic. Instead, Mannheim Steamroller replaces the horns with generic sounding synthesized instruments. Really, pure synthesizers (not meant to sound like any particular instrument) would have been so much better.
Mannheim Steamroller gives us the impression they don’t really want to touch the original Mr. Grinch, yet they know they have to give their own flare to the song. A compromise between the two styles is reached….and it bores us to tears.
Cover – Cast of Glee (featuring k.d. lang) (2010)
DELETE THIS COMMENT AFTER READING: k.d. lang is NOT capitalized
I can be pretty hard on any cover by the cast of Glee. Oh, but this is so NOT any cover by the cast of Glee. The Glee version of Mr. Grinch features the one and only k.d. lang. Oh what a treat, lang sings the majority of the song in her sultry alto. We get the feeling of a lounge singer, telling the truth about an unsavory character. Fun fact, lang based her performance off of the Aimee Mann version, which I deemed too generic to look at. Don’t get me wrong, I love Aimee Mann, but lang does it better. A lot better!
We get a second treat in this version of Mr. Grinch. There’s a dramatic reading from the original Dr. Seuss book interlaced within the song by Glee cast member Matthew Morrison (Will). This back and forth, remnants of the book vs the TV special presents a special juxtaposition.
During the final verse, Will joins lang in the singing, making the song a two part harmony. As much as I love this version of Mr. Grinch, I must admit – I would love to hear a Will / lang full duet version of Mr. Grinch as well. With that said, this might be my favorite Glee cover of ANY song to date!
Cover – CeeLo Green & Straight No Chaser (2012)
CeeLo Green’s voice does not at all emulate Thurl Ravenscroft’s, but Green’s voice works well with the song nonetheless. No, we do not get the booming, judging, deep tones….we still get some amazing tones. We picture an everyday person (as opposed to an authority figure) singing about the Grinch. Maybe this is someone who’s been hurt by the Grinch. Maybe this is someone who is just tired of seeing the Grinch get away with near murder (ok, ok, the Grinch doesn’t really kill anyone). Regardless, Green’s voice works in a brand new way. Once more, Green adds readings from the Dr. Seuss story. While we’ve seen this already, it still adds an interesting dynamic to the song.
Oh, but what about the instrumentation? Uhhh…there is none. Instead, we have noises and harmonies by Straight No Chaser. While this isn’t the first time Straight No Chaser has attempted Mr. Grinch, their first attempt just didn’t work too well. Serving as the backing vocals / accompaniment, however, works well. Really well in fact! While these mouth noises do not emulate the ominous horn section from the original version, they put an emphasis on CeeLo Greens “everyday man” vocal stylings.
Mr Grinch may be a mean one, but CeeLo Green & Straight No Chaser has no problem telling it like it is.
Cover – Tyler the Creator (2018)
Tyler the Creator’s version of Mr. Grinch is…nothing like I’ve ever heard before. While I appreciate a full reinvention of a song (especially when an artist makes it their own), sometimes the reinvention doesn’t work. This is a reinvention that doesn’t work! Tyler the Creator rearranges what lyrics he chooses to save, and gives the song a new melody. The melody actually works, once we get used to the fact that it’s not the original. However, the rest of the cover just falls apart. Tyler the Creator takes out too many quintessential lines, especially the over the top insults.
Tyler the Creator does add a few lyrics. Most notably, he raps “Who is this mean fellow with his skin all green and his teeth all yellow?” These added lyrics kind of just exist. I guess that’s what I can say about this cover of Mr. Grinch in general…it just exists. Next!
Which Version of Mr. Grinch works the best?
First, we’ll say which versions Stink, Stank, Stunk. Tyler the Creator’s version stinks. Whatever, it was a cash grab for a cash grab of a remake of a remake. I had no high expectations for the 2018 animated film (which I barely remember), and no high expectations for this version of Mr. Grinch. The Mannheim Steamroller approach to Mr. Grinch shows us the stank. Finally, the stunk goes to two covers I did not even bother to include. The Aforementioned Straight No Chaser version (sans CeeLo Green) and the Pentatonix version, which I started to write about just decided to delete because it was such a boring and vanilla cover.
There’s the bad. What about the good though? What versions make your heart grow three sizes? I love the Sixpence None the Richer cover of Mr. Grinch, and Mojo Nixon’s cover as well. While certainly not “the best,” these covers have their own unique merritt. Likewise, Jim Carrey’s interpretation of the song really deserves a standing ovation. Well done, Jim, well done.
As far as the Glee / k.d. lang version? I. Freaking. Love it! Seriously, I’ve been really hard on Glee before. This time, however, Glee did an excellent job on their version of Mr. Grinch. Sure, this was based on an earlier version (hopefully they gave credit this time), and I’m certain earlier versions (which I skipped over) interlaced lines from the Dr. Seuss story, but regardless….Glee and k.d. lang did an amazing job.
This brings us down to a stand off between CeeLo Green with Straight No Chaser, and the original Thurl Ravenscroft version. Who wins? The everyday person, fed up with the Grinch’s antics, or the judging, booming authoritative narrator? Well….that’s an easy one. The original. Green & Straight No Chaser do an excellent job, but Thurl makes us quiver in our seats in terror. There’s no topping that.