Saturday, June 18, 2011

Novelty Songs: Father's Day Edition

My dad recently suggested doing a post featuring crazy songs from the 1960s. So in honor of Father's Day, here's a wacky post just for my Daddy-O! Enjoy!
(My dad, the guitarist on the left, with his garage band buddies back in 1966!)

Since my dad grew up as a big Dodger's fan, I've got to start off with "The Dodger's Song" by actor/comedian Danny Kaye in 1962, technically titled "The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh Really? No, O'Malley)." As a lifelong fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, Kaye gives a detailed yet fictitious account with the San Francisco Giants, which was a big hit during the real-life pennant chase of '62. I even have my dad's old 45 of this classic.

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Adopting their English-sounding name in the wage of the British Invasion, The Royal Guardsmen were a rock band from Ocala, Florida, who scored a #2 hit with the 1966 novelty song "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron." Based upon the Snoopy character from the Peanuts comic strip, cartoonist Charles Schulz and the United Features Syndicate (UFC) actually sued The Royal Guardsmen for using the Snoopy name without permission. The UFC won the suit and required that all royalties from the song go to them. Remaining in the bestsellers for 12 weeks, this song sold one million records in early 1967 and earned a gold disc.

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Considered the grandfather of the comedy-rock genre, Allan Sherman was an American comedy writer and television producer who became a famous song parodist in the early 1960s. His biggest hit single was "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," a comic novelty song that reached #2 on the charts in 1963. Set to the tune of the classical tune of Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours," it was based on letters of complaint Sherman received from his son while attending Camp Champlain in New York. Winning the 1964 Grammy Award for Comedy, this parody is exactly the kind of music that would inspire future comedic musicians like "Weird Al" Yankovic. Pretty sure the first time I heard this was on a replay of the famous Dr. Demento radio show.

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From the clean-cuts Brits of the 60s, Herman's Hermits had a #1 hit in the U.S. in 1965 with "I'm Henry the Eighth, I Am" (sometimes spelled "Henery" because of the Cockney accent used to sing it). Dating back to 1910, this song was originally a British music hall song (similar to vaudeville) made famous by music hall star Harry Champion, and it became the fastest-selling song in history to that point when Herman's Hermits revived it. Although the band didn't care much for this song, they aimed at the U.S. fanbase, with lead singer Peter Noone exaggerating his Mancunian accent, however, they never released it as a single in the UK. Here's another jolly clip from their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show:

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Napoleon XIV was the pseudonym of American singer-songwriter and record producer Jerry Samuels who is known for his 1966 one-hit wonder, "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha -Haaa!." This successful novelty song was probably the wackiest (and maybe most annoying) of the decade, yet it reached #3 on the U.S. charts and #4 in the UK. The lyrics first appear to be a rant by a mentally ill person who just lost his love, yet as the song continues, it seems like it's about the singer's dog instead (the cover also supports this idea with "Napoleon" holding a novelty "invisible dog" leash. What a crazy hit that actually sold a million records!

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Australian singer-songwriter Rolf Harris wrote one of best known and must successful Australian songs in 1957 with "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." It became a worldwide hit in the early 1960s, even reaching #3 on the Billboard charts after its U.S. release in the 1963. Inspired by Harry Belafonte's calypsos, it's about an Australian stockman (one who cares for livestock) on his deathbed. Harris' recording uses an instrument he designed called "the wobble board," which created a distinctive sound. This song is still popular today as a children's song.
video

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And for my final song today, I'm actually rewinding back to the late 1950s just for fun with a novelty hit by American actor and singer Sheb Wooley. Reaching #1 on the charts in 1958, "The Purple People Eater" was based off a joke told by the child of a friend of Wooley's, and Wooley finished the song within one hour. About a monster (described as a "one-eyed, one-horned, flying, purple people eater") who really just wants to be in a rock 'n' roll band, you'll notice that the monster isn't necessarily purple but that he eats purple people! Speeding up the recording to create the monster's high-pitch voice (like The Chipmunk Song later that year), this has been a classic silly song for decades. And check out this old footage!

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And of course, the "Surfin' Bird" fits right in with these crazy songs, featured a few months ago during Surf Rock Week. Send me any other wacky suggestions and we'll save them for another post!

Happy Father's Day!

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