Novelty Songs

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Novelty songs are comedy or nonsensical songs that first became popular in the 20s and 30s, and later had a resurgence in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And occasionally, a novelty song will be released even today.

From 1950 to the mid 70s, there were 15 novelty songs that actually made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The first was in 1950 – The Thing by Phil Harris, a song about a box found on the beach and a man’s effort to get rid of it – the listener never finds out what was in the box, as every time its contents comes up in the lyrics, the vocals pause for 3 percussive knocks. The most recent #1 was in 1976 by Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots, for Disco Duck. It has a Donald Duck-sounding lyric about a man at a party who dances like a duck, and everyone ends up dancing the same way. Dees and the Idiots performed it on American Bandstand and The Midnight Special, and it even had an appearance in the film Saturday Night Fever – though unfortunately for Dees, he did not permit including it on the soundtrack for the film, which went on the become the second best-selling soundtrack of all time.

Chuck Berry – Rock & Roll legend – had only 1 song in his career hit #1, and it was a novelty song – My Ding-a-Ling. Released in 1972, it was a cover of a song originally recorded by Dave Bartholomew in 1952. Berry’s version was recorded live in Coventry England at a festival that also included Pink Floyd, George Carlin, Slade and Billy Preston. The song is about a toy that has silver bells hanging by a string, but by the second verse, it is clear that the Ding-a-Ling could be a penis. Amazing that of Berry’s 45 singles released in his career, the one that topped the charts is such a silly song.

Ray Stevens is the only artist to have 2 novelty songs hit the top 5. He did it with Ahab the Arab in 1965 at #5, and again with The Streak in 1974, which peaked at #1 – a song about the streaking craze that was popular at the time. While Stevens was well known for his novelty songs, he won 2 Grammys in his career for the legitimate popular songs Everything Is Beautiful and Misty.

Other songs that I remember well growing up were Convoy by C.W. McCall in 1976, Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen in 1966, Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen in 1963, and Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt Kickers in 1960 (see my November 1, 2017 post on Spooky Songs to learn more about this one).

The best known artist who has made of career of novelty songs is Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al has won 4 Grammy awards and has released 14 studio albums of song parodies in his career. I have many favorites – best on my list are Amish Paradise, a parody of Gangsta’s Paradise (see my April 18, 2018 post on Coolio), and Bob, a parody of Bob Dylan’s promotional film for Subterranean Homesick Blues. 

Even Christmas music has a novelty song – Elmo & Patsy recorded the song Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer in 1979, and it has become a Christmas standard.

Probably the most recent novelty song that was hugely popular was 2013’s The Fox (What Does The Fox Say), by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis. The song reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the video for the song has over 750 million views.  You will add to that when you click on the link below.





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