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Now is Strange
April 29, 2010 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Given the seeming homogeneity of many hit songs, it might come as a surprise that some very strange and unconventional songs have found their way to the top of the pop charts in the past. Some are novelty songs, some are just weird...

"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is the perennial example of a strange hit, featuring a distorted voice and no musical instruments other than tambourines to keep rhythm. The 'song' reached #3 on the US charts and #4 on the UK charts. The single's b-side was a reversed version of the a-side, cleverly retitled "!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er'yehT". | Wikipedia | Youtube

"Soul Makossa" is a strange proto-disco piece with lyrics in Duala, a Cameroonian language. A chant repeated through the song was adapted by Michael Jackson and used on the song Wanna Be Starting Something. A version of Soul Makossa hit #35 on the US charts. | Wikipedia | Youtube

"O Superman" by experimental musician Laurie Anderson may be the strangest song in this list. With a repeated squeaky blip as a beat and vocoded lyrics, it recalls the more recent Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap. O Superman, however, towers above Hide and Seek in terms of sheer weirdness. The lyrics quote answering machine messages and the unofficial motto of the US Postal Service, and the song incorporates occasional strange instrumentation. The song reached an unexpected #2 on the UK charts. | Wikipedia | Youtube

"Ant Rap" by Adam Ant isn't really a rap so much as an extended, almost structureless chant over rhythm sounds with a chorus (also not sung) to tie it together. Despite being described by its writer as "an attempt to do a record that had no fucking music on it, and take the piss", it reached #3 on the UK charts. (Previously)
Wikipedia | Youtube

"Star Trekkin'" by novelty act The Firm holds the dubious distinction of being the only filk song to hit #1 on the UK charts. It's an oddly patterned piece, with each verse introducing a new line, in the manner of the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The tempo increases through the song. | Wikipedia | Youtube

And it's easy to forget that the Flaming Lips' novelty single "She Don't Use Jelly" was a hit outside of indie circles, reaching 9 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and 55 on the Billboard 100. | Wikipedia | Youtube

The Guardian has a good, but inevitably incomplete, list of strange hits.
posted by LSK (55 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Slip the blood to me, Bud.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:10 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heh. Heh heh. Ghee he he. Hee hee! Waaah-ha-ha-ha!!! EAT SANITY LOSS EVERYONE!

(The title seems to be "Ree Baba Ree Baba." More about it. I like to imagine it sung by a rapidly spinning, accelerating Cookie Monster suffering from withdrawal.)
posted by JHarris at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any thread that references Nervous Norvus is ok by me.

Put a gallon in me, Allen...
posted by foonly at 6:15 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We were listening to the oldies station last weekend and they played "The Name Game." It's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 12 actually singing and dancing to that song.

Gravy gravy bo bavy banana fanana fo favy fee fi foe favy. Gravy!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:17 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


What classifies "She don't use jelly" as a novelty song?
posted by amethysts at 6:18 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't say "O Superman" is a novelty song. Its success was a fluke, certainly, but the underlying message of song seems constructed to me in absolute seriousness. I have always resonated with Greil Marcus's story about having to pull over to the side of the road when he heard it in his car; it has that kind of power for me too. I have to stop whatever I'm doing whenever I hear it.
posted by mykescipark at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


To bring up the Muppets again, they did covers of a few novelty songs on the show that have come up during our tour through the show. I was surprised to hear, in the last episode of Season 3, the "New sound deep down in the ground" song, sung by Scooter. I still don't think I quite "get" that one.....

They've also done a cover of the Goons' "Ying Tong Song."
posted by JHarris at 6:24 PM on April 29, 2010


I give to you the most unwanted song. And apparently, this is the most wanted song.
According to the creators of both, less than 200 people will like the unwanted creation. Which puts me in with a very select crowd, since to me, the unwanted song is head and shoulders better than the wanted one.
posted by cerulgalactus at 6:24 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


At some point in the mid 90s I remember an online discussion of particular keyboard tones creating physiological responses...some chords that, when played in the right progression, made people either weep, or shudder, or...uh, cum. Don't know how much truth there was to any of it, but it was intriguing at the time.

I wonder if anyone has ever analyzed O Superman's chord progressions? I have to stop dead, too.
posted by squasha at 6:25 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cruising around YouTube a few weeks back I came across this:
The Tweets took their version of the "chicken dance" song to #2 on the UK charts on 10 Oct 1981.

My head is still spinning.
posted by biddeford at 6:36 PM on April 29, 2010


squasha - I know that E.S. Posthumus do a lot of work like that, and it works on me at least.

Uliad
Oraanu Pi
posted by cerulgalactus at 6:45 PM on April 29, 2010


Little Boxes, the shortest song to make it to the top ten, by The Womenfolk
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:27 PM on April 29, 2010


"O Superman" by experimental musician Laurie Anderson may be the strangest song in this list.

Well, I must be desperately cool or something (maybe just cold), but I just had the O Superman vinyl on the stereo not ten minutes ago, trying to prove a point to somebody (way too trivial + complicated to go into right now). Anyway, I proved it and we are now listening to Kraftwerk's Radioactivity, which seems to have gotten stuck about a third of the way through.

It must be Thursday night or something.
posted by philip-random at 7:36 PM on April 29, 2010


Any thread that references Nervous Norvus is ok by me.

Put a gallon in me, Allen...


Pour the crimson in me, Jimson
posted by Copronymus at 7:51 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Little Boxes, the shortest song to make it to the top ten, by The Womenfolk

My favorite one-minute song.
posted by marsha56 at 8:11 PM on April 29, 2010


"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"

Classic Dr. Demento material. Star Trekkin', too. Welcome to my childhood. It is a bit weird that they charted with the norms, though, yeah.

What I'd like to see is someone turn Ha-Haaa around as a meta-parody mashup as "They're Coming to Take On Me, A-Ha". We need to keep this shit rolling generationally.

"O Superman" by experimental musician Laurie Anderson may be the strangest song in this list. With a repeated squeaky blip as a beat

It's not really a squeaky blip so much, certainly not squeaky; it's just a pulsing sample of her voice giving a brief "ah" or perhaps "ha" sound, as far as I can tell. Possibly pushed through a bit of effects processing in building the sample. I always felt like the juxtaposition there of the mechanical repetition with the human element, like some sort of iron-lung percussion, was a pretty nice foundation for the song.

and vocoded lyrics, it recalls the more recent Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap.

Which is also a nice song, but really what they seem to have in common most is just woman + vocoder. The comparison says as much about the relative rarity of vocoder texture in modern pop (even while its second cousin Autotune is a running joke slash runaway success) as anything.

But I've kind of thought about this one awhile, so I may be beanplating a bit.

And, yeah, She Don't Use Jelly doesn't really seem like a novelty tune so much as just kind of a silly poprock song. I mean, Big Balls, that's a novelty rock song. It only ever hit 26, though.
posted by cortex at 8:19 PM on April 29, 2010


What classifies "She don't use jelly" as a novelty song?

I agree. Weird guy writing weird rhyming lyrics to a song does not equal 'novelty song.'

Does that make "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da," a single from The Police that made the top ten in both the UK and USA, a 'novelty song'?

The closest you could call 'She Don'f Use Jelly' would be a one hit wonder, but IIRC, the did have a few charting songs with the albums 'youshimi battles the pink robots' and 'the soft bulletin'
posted by chambers at 8:31 PM on April 29, 2010


The backwards version of "They're coming to take me away".
posted by Sparx at 8:32 PM on April 29, 2010


Booka Shade remixed O Superman a few years ago; it is awesome.
posted by empath at 9:00 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


How about The Time Lords? #1 in the UK.

Or Sesame's Treat
posted by empath at 9:04 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


With a repeated squeaky blip as a beat and vocoded lyrics, it recalls the more recent Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap

Um..... no. If anything, Imogen Heap somehow ended up with electronic circuits very similar to the ones Laurie developed as her "background singers", and has been using them as a main force in her own recordings. Imogen was 4 years old when "O Superman" was released.
posted by hippybear at 9:05 PM on April 29, 2010


Ye canna change the laws of physics, laws of physics, laws of physics, ye canna change the laws of physics, laws of physics Jim!
posted by WCityMike at 9:16 PM on April 29, 2010


We were listening to the oldies station last weekend and they played "The Name Game." It's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 12 actually singing and dancing to that song.

Totally true and tangential story --

A childhood friend of mine took Latin during high school, and one day the teacher called on him and asked him to conjugate a Latin verb. However, he completely blanked on the proper conjugation.

So instead, after a second's hesitation, he started singing "The Name Game" with it. ("Cado cado bo-bado, banana-fana-fo-fado, fee-fi-mo-mado, cado...") ....Sadly, history does not record the teacher's response.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Little Boxes, the shortest song to make it to the top ten, by The Womenfolk
Tom Lehrer described Little Boxes as "the most sanctimonious song ever written".
A-fuckin'-men. Even a minute of that set my teeth on edge.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:28 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Little Boxes, the shortest song to make it to the top ten, by The Womenfolk
Tom Lehrer described Little Boxes as "the most sanctimonious song ever written".


...and yet, it is the PERFECT opening theme song for Weeds. Plus, it's an old-fashioned social protest song. I'm sure that most of Pete Seeger's catalog would sound sanctimonious to the 2010 year.
posted by hippybear at 9:32 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


(I should have indicated that I know that Pete Seeger didn't write that song... Didn't mean to imply that he was involved with it, although he did record it.)
posted by hippybear at 9:39 PM on April 29, 2010


That first YouTube link, the Napoleon XIV one, is a good reason to limit the amount of annotations someone can add to a video. Twat.
posted by Dreamcast at 9:48 PM on April 29, 2010


So... many... to... choose... from....
In the mid-70s. I did my college radio station's "Doctor Demento Clone" show because I had the record collection for it. But let's focus on the ones that hit the Billboard charts.

Weird Al, of course... most of his parodies feature excellent approximations of the sound of the songs being parodied, but his first hits had nothing more than a accordion and 'Bermuda' Schwartz's unconventional percussion: Another One Rides the Bus (live with Tom Snyder).

Ray Stevens... in the summer when Streaking was the latest 'craze', there were hundreds of novelty songs on the subject, but Ray's The Streak was the one that hit #1 for three weeks (longer than the craze lasted)

...not to mention the song that surprisingly did not earn Ray Stevens a Jihad: Ahab the Arab.

Another '70s cultural oddity brought about lots of C.B. Radio-themed novelties (mostly country songs) but C.W. McCall's Convoy was the only pop hit.

And I would argue strongly for the novelty-ness of Kung Fu Fighting.

And Dr. Demento spotlighted lots of old novelty records, but the only one to be re-released over 30 years after its first release and hit the charts: Shaving Cream

more to come...
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:51 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]




I'd argue for Taco's remake of the 40's hit Putting on the Ritz (but why is there no mash up with this replacing the soundtrack of the Young Frankenstein version? or the YF soundtrack onto the Taco music video?)

How about a little 1960 Nuclear Novelty?

Some novelty songs are called campy... this one was TOTALLY CAMP (Granada).

Okay, 1980's... would the B-52s' Rock Lobster qualify as novelty? WHY AM I ASKING?

Hey, Daft Punk was NOT the first to do "Robot Rock"... from 40 years earlier, here are Bent Bolt & the Nuts

more to come, dammit...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:08 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uncle Remus rock and roll!!!

You know this was one of the Bonzo Dog Band's more normal songs...

The Classic Song About Cannibalism...

...well, okay, there's this one too.

Some songs tied to TV shows are NOT novelties. THIS ONE CERTAINLY IS.

And I'll see your "Neanderthal Man" and raise you a "TROGLODYTE"... and the inevitable sequel...

I'm only to the letter C...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:21 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite threads yet.

I 50% agree that O Superman isn't a novelty song. If you're a music head, it's art music - otherwise, it's a novelty song. Now you know.

I think the Señor Coconut covers of Kraftwerk count as novelty songs. Ditto for pretty well every DEVO song ever.

(Obligatory relevant plug - I play tons of novelty songs on my radio station...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:26 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And it's easy to forget that the Flaming Lips' novelty single "She Don't Use Jelly" was a hit outside of indie circles, reaching 9 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and 55 on the Billboard 100.

Zuh? They played this song on fricking Beverly Hills, 90210. Everyone* knows this song.




*a figurative "everyone"
posted by 23skidoo at 10:34 PM on April 29, 2010


Okay, 1980's... would the B-52s' Rock Lobster qualify as novelty? WHY AM I ASKING?

Um.... no, it's not a novelty song, and it was released in 1978.
posted by hippybear at 10:38 PM on April 29, 2010


Disco Duck

Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor...

Tie Me Kangaroo Down

Wot!

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Junk Food Junkie

Justified and Ancient (the guys who did Doctorin' the Tardis + Tammy Wynette = the greatest song ever recorded... okay, I need some sleep now)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:42 PM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


E.U. - Da Butt, #35 on the Billboard Hot 100

(LSK got a big ol' butt)
posted by hydrophonic at 11:23 PM on April 29, 2010


Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads
Fish heads, fish heads, eat them up yum
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:34 AM on April 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


We were listening to the oldies station last weekend and they played "The Name Game." It's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 12 actually singing and dancing to that song.

is it hard to imagine divine singing it?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:39 AM on April 30, 2010


Another '70s cultural oddity brought about lots of C.B. Radio-themed novelties (mostly country songs) but C.W. McCall's Convoy was the only pop hit.

although it was pretty damned hard to avoid red sovine's teddy bear

if you've never heard it, don't click on it - you'll hate me forever if you do
posted by pyramid termite at 12:47 AM on April 30, 2010


Hubba Hubba Zoot Zoot.
posted by scruss at 1:02 AM on April 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Three instrumental oddities from the 1972 of my mind ...

Mouldy Old Dough

Popcorn

Amazing Grace (bagpipe version)
posted by philip-random at 1:10 AM on April 30, 2010


and there's the topical song by the barron knights, a parody of supertramp's logical song dealing with the gas crisis

the rodeo song, (NSFW) which was a huge jukebox hit that got bleeped to death on country radio - (this was back in the early 80s when country didn't suck)

david allen coe's you never even called me by my name - make sure you hear the last verse on this one, it's the funniest country verse ever written

johnny paycheck's take this job and shove it

and ray stevens went on to do the mississippi squirrel revival - and there's his older classic, guitarzan

unfortunately, with his latest, we, the people, he's shilling for the tea party - i guess he thinks we should all take jeremiah peabody's pills

still, it's hard to hate a guy who can come up with a version of in the mood that's udderly twisted
posted by pyramid termite at 1:36 AM on April 30, 2010


Purple People Eater
posted by empath at 1:39 AM on April 30, 2010


I don't think, personally, that 'Kung Fu Fighting' is a novelty song. Or, anyway, it wasn't the only song recorded by a Jamaican who liked karate movies (here's another comp along vaguely-similar lines).

Oh, and why not also this?
posted by box at 3:49 AM on April 30, 2010


And if you don't like 'The Name Game,' you also won't like Shirley Ellis' 'The Clapping Song' (or pretty much anything else she ever sang--I love Shirley Ellis).
posted by box at 4:01 AM on April 30, 2010


the guys who did Doctorin' the Tardis

The KLF AKA Kopyright Liberation Front AKA The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu AKA The Timelords AKA The K Foundation aren't a fucking novelty act. (Though setting fire to £1M of their profits was a bit cheesy, admittedly.)
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 4:20 AM on April 30, 2010


That said, the group Edelweiss had a novelty number one across Europe with their Abba-infringing yodel-rave smash 'Bring Me Edelweiss', having followed the instructions in The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) by The Timelords.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 4:35 AM on April 30, 2010


I've been tempted to have a go at The Manual myself recently.
posted by empath at 5:28 AM on April 30, 2010


That's the first time I've seen lyrics for Hide and Seek. I think I may be more mystified than I was when it was mostly gibberish. It didn't bother me that I didn't understand the song, but at least now I know why. Figuring out one sentence gives you absolutely no lever on the next. They seem largely unconnected.

I love that whole album. In her hands, I don't mind the vocoder and auto-tune type stuff. She's not using them because she needs them, she's using them for specific effects. It's not at all like the no-talent hacks pitch-bending themselves into minimal acceptability.

Imogen can sing, and if she wants to play with technology, I'm okay with that.
posted by Malor at 5:44 AM on April 30, 2010


Discounting genuine novelty singles (Amarillo/Teletubbies/Bob the Builder and the like) this is probably the weirdest No.1 single of the past ten years or so.

NB if you're American - the sample is from here

Another very odd Top 40 hit I find myself singing. Short enough to be a ringtone.

I wonder if The Housemartins' acapella cover of Caravan of Love counts? It sounded a novelty in 1986, yet from listening to their music I couldn't doubt it was straight-faced.
posted by mippy at 7:44 AM on April 30, 2010


The KLF AKA Kopyright Liberation Front AKA The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu AKA The Timelords AKA The K Foundation aren't a fucking novelty act.

I agree.

(Though setting fire to £1M of their profits was a bit cheesy, admittedly.)

I disagree.
posted by philip-random at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2010


That's the first time I've seen lyrics for Hide and Seek. I think I may be more mystified than I was when it was mostly gibberish.

I always figured Hide and Seek was a post-colonialist reflection.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:40 AM on April 30, 2010


Shaddap You Face, by Joe Dolce, #1 in Australia and the UK, only #53 in the States.

Ah, those were the days. When Kasey Kasem still ruled the airwaves like a benevolent dictator and novelty songs were still sure to make the Top 20.
posted by blucevalo at 10:46 AM on April 30, 2010


I wonder if The Housemartins' acapella cover of Caravan of Love counts? It sounded a novelty in 1986, yet from listening to their music I couldn't doubt it was straight-faced.

It was very much straight-faced.
posted by blucevalo at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2010


I have to add Didn't you Kill My Brother?. I remember seeing it on TV and, even at 13, thinking WTF?
posted by CaseyB at 5:08 PM on April 30, 2010


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