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Small Talk: Songs on the radio have lost their silly

I think we need more silly songs on the radio.

Recently, I found myself humming, “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight?)” and it struck me that I haven’t heard any new, deliciously silly songs become really popular for some time. They just don’t make the charts these days. I fear it is a sign that the nation has lost its sense of humor, or at least misplaced it.

I found some relief when I heard an interview with Weird Al Yankovic, plugging his latest album. I adore that man. He is the 21st-century master. Gone are the days of Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman or even Ray Stevens. Their songs ranged from razor-sharp wit to just plain goofy, and I loved them all.

My family has long been the biggest fans of funny songs. I remember listening to comedy song albums played during my parents’ cocktail parties when I was a sprout. I remember the song with all the goofy sounds by Spike Jones (not to be confused with Spike Lee, who doesn’t write lyrics and reportedly has no sense of humor at all). Another one that made me giggle was “Cigarettes, Whisky, and Wild, Wild Women.” I can’t recall many of the words, but the title is enough.

I remember waiting with wonderful anticipation for the next song by Ray Stevens, from “The Streak” to “Ahab the Arab.” And we all memorized Allan Sherman’s lament from summer camp, “Hello, Muddah, Hello, Faddah.” More classics of my generation were “Purple People Eater,” “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” and “The Little Blue Man.” And how about the Chipmunks’ Christmas song?

As much as we all love Weird Al, even his stuff rarely makes the disc jockey play lists. All of my old favorites made the top 10 and got a ton of airplay. I suspect today’s kids and DJs fear they will be far too uncool if they show too much appreciation for the silly side of music. Pity, really.

Raffi and Sharon, Lois & Bram and other toddler-centered songsters kept me going when my kids were little. I knew all the words but I’m pretty sure you never heard them on the radio.

Other than Weird Al, we do have the likes of Jack Black’s Tenacious D, Jimmy Fallon and Flight of the Conchords. I suspect our sensibilities have changed, though.  Much of their stuff is not for family consumption. The closest thing to a silly song I have heard on pop radio was “Baby Got Back” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Base.” OK, so they made me laugh, but today’s songwriters will need to get a lot sharper to run with the big dogs of yesteryear or even to jam with my buddy Weird Al.

I love using silly songs whenever possible. As my children glared at their broccoli, I would burst into “Eat it! Eat it! Don’t you make me repeat it!” I might share a chorus of Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” at exercise class or when accused, use just the refrain of Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.” But I need new G-rated ammunition. Silly people, it’s up to you.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who gets silly on a regular basis. Contact her at [email protected].


ACcountryFan July 29, 2017 at 8:28 pm

I like comedy/novelty songs and I gravitate toward Ray Stevens. I know that your article laments the bygone days of when radio used to play novelty and comedy songs regularly but as you pointed out there’s still people that continue to make this kind of music. You bring up Weird Al…certainly a legend…but being a huge fan of Ray Stevens I can’t help but let everyone know that he’s still around and recording to this day. A lot of people that have lost track of him or whatever assume he’s no longer active or alive but he is. In a month or two he’ll be opening a brand new venue in Nashville, TN called “Ray Stevens’ CabaRay Nashville”. The venue features a pun on the word cabaret. The name of the upcoming venue is also the name of his syndicated PBS television series. It airs on numerous PBS affiliates all over the country. Most PBS affiliates air it on one of their sub-channels. Ray recorded his versions of other artist’s novelty songs a couple of years ago on a mammoth 9-CD collection called “The Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music”. Some of the songs on the 9-CD project may not be considered novelty songs in the contemporary sense of the word but they’re regarded as off-beat, unusual even if some aren’t laugh out loud funny. He’s uploaded a lot of music videos on YouTube…and there are commercials and promo’s for his TV series on his YouTube channel. He released the 9-CD project in 2012. Some of the novelty songs he recorded for the project include most of the songs you mention in the article. He doesn’t cover Weird Al, though. Some of the songs Ray recorded for the 2012 project are: “Abba Dabba Honeymoon”, “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, “I Went to Your Wedding”, “Mother In Law”, “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”, several Roger Miller compositions, plus “The William Tell Overture”, “Western Movies”, “The Too Fat Polka”, “They’re Coming To Take Me Away”, and in a duet with Lori Stegner, “Temptation (Tim-Tay-Shun)”. The latter song was originally recorded by Red Ingle and Jo Stafford in 1947. Oh yes, as you can see, for the 9-CD project, Ray goes WAY back in music history as he does his versions of novelty and comedy songs. Some others he recorded for the 2012 project: “Little Brown Jug”, “Cigarettes, Whiskey, and Wild, Wild Women”, “King Tut”, and “I Still Write Your Name in the Snow”. The project wasn’t designed to top the originals…only celebrate novelty and comedy songs of the last 50+ years. Here’s one of the YouTube commercials… Ray’s long time business partner and songwriting collaborator, Buddy Kalb, is doing the presentation.

arensb July 29, 2017 at 5:11 am

Before he retired, Dr. Demento’s show was the place to hear all of those silly songs and more. These days, they’re not confined to one show; there’s YouTube, Facebook, and The FuMP, to name but a few.
You’re right that fewer silly songs seem to chart these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there for those who enjoy them.

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