December 13-19, 2006

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'Dinosaur Christmas Song'

Dino might: The sharp-eyed reader will notice the distinctive oaks of Coddingtown's adjacent Los Robles Lodge.

Crazy Christmas Carol

The maddening mystery of the 'Dinosaur Christmas Song'

By Gabe Meline

Once upon a time in 1994, I was cruising the record bins at Goodwill when I discovered, tucked between the dusty easy-listening LPs and housed in a white paper sleeve, a small, red flexi-disc called "Dinosaur Christmas Song" (mp3, 2 minutes, 44 seconds; 3.1M). It was weird. It piqued my interest. It was 35 cents.

I bought it and took it home, completely unaware that I had just welcomed into my life what would eventually become my favorite Christmas song of all time.

The record's label was credited to "Coddingtown Center," the Santa Rosa shopping mall where I'd spent many a listless childhood afternoon, and sure enough, when I put the needle on the flimsy piece of plastic, I was treated to a zany song all about how the very first Christmas ever was celebrated by dinosaurs on the land now known as the Coddingtown Shopping Center. What's more, it was sung by a ridiculous man with a terrible thespian-reject British accent, fleshed out by a chorus of female backup singers and the constant groaning of dinosaurs in the background.

In the song's story, the dinosaurs of Coddingtown have a collective prophetic dream foreseeing the future ("There was singing and laughter in a funny kind of prehistoric way") and work together to reenact their vision by scraping together some decorations ("They didn't have bells and they didn't have lights / But they had good feelings, so that's all right") and giving each other gifts ("just rocks, that's all") where Coddingtown now stands. I was instantly enamored with its godforsaken wackiness, and I promptly used it to torment my roommates.

But something happened during the ensuing 12 years of pulling out the "Dinosaur Christmas" record every December and playing it for anyone unlucky enough to be in my vicinity. I found that I secretly liked the song, even aimed, as it is, at atheist children who have accidentally swallowed PCP. In fact, Christmas just isn't Christmas for me without hearing its utterly absurd lyrics, bizarrely recited by the high-minded singer over the song's innocuous hook.

As the "Dinosaur Christmas Song" was plucked from my record collection each year, I would ask myself a long list of questions. Why does this record exist? Who in the world came up with this song, and who is that crazy guy singing it? How was it distributed to the public, and how could it have possibly benefited Coddingtown Shopping Center?

This year, I finally decided to try and find some answers to the riddle of "Dinosaur Christmas Song."

I knew that I had to head first to Coddingtown. But I also knew that I couldn't just stroll into the office wielding an arcane artifact from over 20 years ago, demanding an explanation. Therefore, I prepared myself as best I could. I had the record, but I also brought along a copy of the song on a CD and a small cassette recorder, cued up and at the ready. Even as I explained my case to the receptionist, I held out very little hope that I would be taken seriously.

But the holiday season does something to people--it touches them with humanity and opens them up to what in any other month would merely be a stupid idea. Soon the whole office had spilled out into the waiting area to try and figure out where my record came from, and as I played my cassette, I witnessed a huddle of office workers break into wide eyes and aghast smiles. Unfortunately, nobody knew anything.

"Ask the janitors. They've all been here longer than us," someone offered. "Maybe it's the same guy who sang 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,'" guessed another.

I did get a tip, though. The woman who was assistant manager at Coddingtown in the 1980s--the era we estimated the record was made in--still worked for Codding Enterprises. I got her name and drove straight to the Codding offices, which, as one approaches, is a lot like the ascent to Hearst Castle: a long, lonesome road with an imposing and largely empty building at the end. Luckily, the woman I was looking for was down with my quest; she popped the CD straight into her computer.

"I totally remember listening to this in the office!" she quickly exclaimed, her face lighting up with the memory. She tapped her feet, and for a moment I even thought I caught her humming along--the only other person on this planet besides me who seemed to actually enjoy the "Dinosaur Christmas Song." Prospects, all of a sudden, looked good. But alas.

"I have no idea where it came from," she admitted. She seemed sad to say so. She also couldn't recall how the record was distributed to the public. "It could have been one of the many marketing ideas we had at the time," she sighed, explaining that she'd lost touch with the marketing director who might know.

But she gave me a tip to look up the 1980s Coddingtown manager, now working across town at Montgomery Village Shopping Center, and once again the future seemed bright. I clutched my record, kissed it and whispered sweet nothings into its grooves.

It seemed strange to me that no one had another copy of the "Dinosaur Christmas Song." The record's manufacturer, Eva-Tone, was the last plant in the United States to make flexi-discs, and checking with them in the early '90s about prices, I discovered that the minimum order for flexi-discs was 10,000. That's part of the reason they were given away in magazines and on cereal boxes for so many years, and also the reason why I was sure I'd find someone, somewhere, who remembered it.

Recording studios are where records are made, so over the weekend I stopped by Zone Recording, where decades of radio jingles--in fact, many for Coddingtown--have been recorded. "Nothing as cool as this, though," said the engineer. I also got in touch with as many old-school radio veterans as I could find, who were all stumped. In a deranged stroke of abject desperation, I even started e-mailing the mp3 to total strangers. Nothing.

Word had been getting around, I suppose, because when I introduced myself at Montgomery Village on Monday morning, I was recognized as "that guy with the dinosaur record." The manager was in, and finally I found out why the three-minute song that had been dominating my Christmases for the last 12 years was brought into the world.

"It was a promotion," she cheerfully explained, "where a dinosaur came to Coddingtown for Breakfast with Santa, and everyone who came got a record to take home." Most likely, I was told, the song belonged to an outside marketing company who reused the music, each time changing the lyrics to suit the needs of their ideas for shopping-center promotions. This one, naturally, just happens to involve children sitting around eating muffins with Santa Claus, hanging out with a huge fake dinosaur--and a pile of 9,800 leftover flexi-discs containing the greatest Christmas song of all time.

But unfortunately, that's where it all ends. The old marketing director? Long gone. The name of the outside company who would have recorded the song? No clue. The Montgomery Village manager shook my hand and wished me luck, but honestly, if I am ever going to meet the man who wrote and sang my cherished "Dinosaur Christmas Song," I'm going to need a lot more than luck.

I will need, as they say, a Christmas miracle.

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