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September 23, 2010 5:41 AM   Subscribe

When pop goes bad: novelty records The excruciatingly catchy novelty song was a hallmark of the 1980s. Is it back? And how do you write one? Dave Simpson talks to the experts posted by fearfulsymmetry (132 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think that article knows the definition of "novelty song".
posted by padraigin at 5:49 AM on September 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


What's the "novelty" of I Should Be So Lucky?
posted by londonmark at 5:53 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically every pop song that gets play in clubs is a novelty song? No wonder no one respects Madonna anymore.
posted by giraffe at 5:55 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that one of the members of the Stock Aitken Waterman production team is now a campaigner against Lady Gaga and "the sexualisation of pop aimed at children."

I'd agree with padraigin that the article is at best somewhat confused about what defines a "novelty song." "Tik Tok" is not a novelty song, unless you consider it a novelty that it's been included as the music to the intro to a "Simpsons" episode.
posted by blucevalo at 5:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This just in: most people like music they can dance to, critics like music they can cry to.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:59 AM on September 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


I like music I can cry to while dancing.
posted by kmz at 6:01 AM on September 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


I don't see how "TiK ToK" is a novelty song anymore than, say, "California Gurls." You can criticize it all you want for being bad or disposable or whatever (personally, I'm really fond of it,) but it doesn't particularly share in the tradition. Unless all it takes to be a "novelty" song is to have an artist with a with an overtly manufactured persona. But then, everything Lady Gaga puts out should fit in this category twice over if you're going by that logic. "Critically loathed yet ridiculously commercial record" does not a novelty record make, Grauniad.
posted by griphus at 6:01 AM on September 23, 2010


I don't think that article knows the definition of "novelty song".

In the comments he claims:
I'm not claiming Tik Tok is a novelty record but the similarity between it and Black Lace/Jive Bunny and indeed Jason Derulo is that it has sold absolutely bucketloads and enraged the critics. It takes a special record to do that - many novelty hits have achieved it, and some pure pop records (I Should Be So Lucky, which enraged at the time although is now remembered quite fondly) have as well.
Which isn't massively convincing, to be honest.
posted by ninebelow at 6:03 AM on September 23, 2010


And I think if you're going to mention Star Trekkin', you've got to include The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, surely Leonard Nimoy's career zenith.

Also, I was rather amazed when my wife told me her high school band played the Doctor Who song but I was rather disappointed when it turns out it was just "Rock and Roll Part 2" and not the actual DW theme.
posted by kmz at 6:07 AM on September 23, 2010


I'm not claiming Tik Tok is a novelty record but the similarity between it and Black Lace/Jive Bunny and indeed Jason Derulo is that it has sold absolutely bucketloads and enraged the critics. It takes a special record to do that

Many records have done this. It is not all that special.
posted by josher71 at 6:07 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see how "TiK ToK" is a novelty song anymore than, say, "California Gurls."

Well, they're actually the same song.

This just in: most people like music they can dance to

You'll dance to anything.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:09 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I had no idea who Ke$ha was until last weekend, although I'd heard Tik Tok about a hundred times. It's a fantastic fucking pop song. I mean, seriously, that hook? It's full of musical white space between the drums and synth, the vast majority of which is absolutely overflowing with the huge vocals. It thumps and drives and it's awesome.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:13 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not sure I'd put "Rivers of Babylon" on that list. It shows up regularly on collections of reggae classics. The Soweto Gospel choir has a gorgeous non-funk version of it. (In fact, if the insistence is on having Boney M on the list, I'd put their "Rasputin" there before the earwormingly catchy "Babylon".)

But then I'm pretty sure the point of a post like this is to get a wave of pro and con comments.

(Is not!)

(Is too!)
posted by Mike D at 6:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that William Shatner's Has Been is pretty much the best record ever. No sarcasm. No irony. I fucking love it.
posted by giraffe at 6:21 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Have we all forgotten this one already (Black hotpants jumpsuit and thigh-hi red vinyl boots notwithstanding)?
posted by Mike D at 6:30 AM on September 23, 2010


What's the "novelty" of I Should Be So Lucky?

Possibly that the singer was a soap star and ushered in a wave of soapies turned singers, but that's tenuous at best.

Where do you draw the line? Is Oxide and Neutrino's Bound 4 Da Reload a novelty record, because it samples Casualty? The Tweenies? Dare I say it, but the Ben Folds cover of Bitches Aint Shit?
posted by mippy at 6:32 AM on September 23, 2010


Good god amighty that Ke$ha song is awful. I'd never even heard of or seen her until this post. I can so live without crap like that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:34 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


This thread is useless without Stutter Rap.
posted by No-sword at 6:36 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read this as "when poop goes bad."

Carry on.
posted by swift at 6:41 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I eat cannibals. It's incredible.
posted by gimonca at 6:48 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You want novelty song? This is a novelty song. With a capital N. Back in 1966 it kinda rocked my 9-year-old world (along with Tomorrow Never Knows).
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:49 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


This thread is useless without Stutter Rap .

The NME review was, in total: 'Stutter Rap - Utter Crap'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:52 AM on September 23, 2010


No love for Detatchable Penis?
posted by everichon at 6:53 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


"It is a tongue-in-cheek step by step guide to achieving a No.1 single with no money or musical skills, and a case study of the duo's UK novelty pop No. 1 'Doctorin' the Tardis'."
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a pretty useless idea of what a "novelty song" is.

You want a novelty song from the '80s? Try Pac Man Fever. Here's another novelty song, this time from the 70s. Disco Duck. Here's another 70s novelty song. Convoy.

All the songs linked in the FPP are really just pop songs. Perhaps very catchy pop songs, but they're really just pop songs. (Well, okay... I'll give you "Barbie Girl". That pretty much fits the mold.)
posted by hippybear at 7:03 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I thought I had seen Agadoo all too recently - Popbitch did a list of songs of summer alphabetically: The king of all summer novelties arrived in 1984. And yet Black Lace weren't the first to inflict it on the world. It started off as a French track by Michel Delancray and Mya Symille, called Agadou, in 1971, and was used by Club Med as their theme. It was then covered by Patrick Zabe in 1975, before becoming a Euro hit (complete with special dance) in 1981 thanks to German group the Saragossa Band. This version was brought back from a summer holiday by a DJ in Gossips nightclub, Derby, in 1981. Black Lace saw the staff dancing to it, learned the moves and released the track. The bastards.
posted by HLD at 7:12 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Barbie Girl doesn't count as a novelty because Barbie's been around forever, and "Barbie-doll" is a phrase used pejoratively in a manner that wasn't slang-of-the-moment. The song holds up just as well today as it did back then, even if your mileage varies on how well it holds up.

Any list of novelty songs is woefully incomplete without a decent smattering of songs imploring you to do the associated dance, whether it be the Twist, the Humpty-Hump, or the Bartman.
posted by explosion at 7:13 AM on September 23, 2010


Hot dog, jumpin frog, Albuquerque. Now there was a song about novelty songs.
posted by Ahab at 7:22 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I had no idea who Ke$ha was until last weekend, although I'd heard Tik Tok about a hundred times. It's a fantastic fucking pop song. I mean, seriously, that hook? It's full of musical white space between the drums and synth, the vast majority of which is absolutely overflowing with the huge vocals. It thumps and drives and it's awesome.

Make it a month for me. Now watch (the hell out of) this.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:32 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


And yeah, what everyone else is saying. fearfulsymmetry, hippybear, et al, know what novelty songs are.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:33 AM on September 23, 2010


kmz: Well, that just leaves the Postal Service.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 7:38 AM on September 23, 2010


Shaddup You Face is a way better song than Vienna (speaking unironically).
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:43 AM on September 23, 2010


Judas Priest does Diana Ross? WHY CAN I NOT BUY THIS?
posted by wittgenstein at 7:43 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a pretty useless idea of what a "novelty song" is.

I'm guessing that the term has a slightly different connotation in the U.K. (since the article is from The Guardian) than it does in the U.S.

In the U.S. "novelty" song usually means the sort of comic stuff Dr. Demento plays, but looks like for the Brits it is a bit more generically intended to mean a crappy pop single of any sort.
posted by briank at 7:44 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think around about now I should pimp our very own (prodigiously talented) Major Dundee's Kafkattack (aka Nervous) which he posted to MeFi Music a few days ago and has, in his own words, "horrifyingly, turning into my very own The Laughing Gnome".

No doubt he will curse me for posting this but it is one of the finest novelty songs I've ever heard, in the vein of eccentrics like Stump and Viv Stanshall. If he had released it in the early 80s it would have gone straight to the top of the charts.
posted by unSane at 7:57 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now watch (the hell out of) this.

That is the crowning achievement of civilization.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:01 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The best 80's novelty song is Dog Police!
posted by wires at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2010


Have we really gone 37 comments without the platonic ideal of the novelty songs - the ur-novelty song, if you will - the genre-defining Werewolf Bar Mitzvah?
posted by bicyclefish at 8:06 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's all shite.
posted by chugg at 8:09 AM on September 23, 2010


If it was never on Dr. Demento, it's not a novelty song.
posted by tommasz at 8:13 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


MeFi Music

Ah, shit, this reminds me that I need to get to work on this year's Halloween song.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:14 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this a good place for me to tout my theory that Ke$ha is an extremely subversive, highly creative music act masquerading as ditzy and tipsy party girl schtick? _Animals_ is the _Licensed to Ill_ of 2010; I can only hope she's got a _Paul's Boutique_ in her, fighting to get out.
posted by chavenet at 8:14 AM on September 23, 2010


You call that novelty music? Feh. I owned a 45" of Rappin' Rodney. Yeah, that's right. I'm hardcore.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does the song have to be popular to qualify? The Minneapolis jock-rock radio station KQRS commissioned the song "Polka for the Pennant" as the 1987 Twins rode into the ALCS.

I still remember it fondly: quite catchy. I sure wish I could find online more than a fragment of that song. *sigh*
posted by wenestvedt at 8:22 AM on September 23, 2010


Spitting Image had some great ones. The Atheist Tabernacle Choir still gets played in my house every national holiday.

If you don't believe in God... clap your hands
If you don't trust the Lord then... clap your hands
If you reject the possibility of a diety then... clap your hands
And join the Atheist Tabernacle Choir

We're not gonna cross that... Jordan River
It don't even exist, that... Jordan River
To be honest it's an outmoded religious metaphor, that... Jordan River
Yes, we're the Atheist Tabernacle Choir

They did do I Never Met A Nice South African as well but I think apartheid jokes are probably a bit passé now.
posted by shinybaum at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010


"Disco Duck" by then-Memphis DJ Rick Dees was the last #1 hit produced and recorded in Memphis. It was released by Estelle Axton's Fretone label. You might have heard of her other label.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:40 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the guardian doing the parents who don't know about pop music but still commenting on it and getting basic definition of novelty record wrong. They also manage to push their prejudices about pop music into it as well. Tik tok is a good pop record as is I should be so lucky.
Novelty records tend to fall into bad pop records category but catchy and parents and aunties buy them around christmas time , coming back from spain etc... Not your normal pop music buyers in other words.
posted by dprs75 at 8:46 AM on September 23, 2010


Rivers of Babylon? An old reggae spiritual covered by a disco/R&B producer for a modern disco market. Sure, it's a little hoary these days, but calling it a novelty is being anachronistic.

Novelty. You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:50 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the U.S. "novelty" song usually means the sort of comic stuff Dr. Demento plays, but looks like for the Brits it is a bit more generically intended to mean a crappy pop single of any sort

I'm not familiar with Dr Demento, but the US definition sounds true here, too. Things like St Winifred's School Choir, or the Amarillo cover linked to in the OP (Peter Kay is a comedian, not a musician). It's a fine line, but if it's marketed at people aged under 5 or over 60, linked to drunken holiday memories, has a TV character performing as themselves, or features a 'comedy' 'accent', it's a novelty song. Daphne and Celeste? Crappy pop single. Bob The Builder singing Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box? Novelty record.

And here's my favourite novelty cover version by a non-novelty band.
posted by mippy at 8:57 AM on September 23, 2010


Many (but certainly not all) on Dumb Ditties would qualify.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:58 AM on September 23, 2010


The SAW thing is weird - their raison d'etre was manufactured pop, often involving ex-soap stars. Jive Bunny (which was MASSIVE when I was a child) , Roland Rat and Bill Tarmey are the closest we'd get to novelty records here. Sure, they cashed in on a craze with the Steps single 5, 6, 7, 8, which was a line-dancing type record, but Steps went on to be a Proper Pop Group.
posted by mippy at 9:00 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]




I'm not familiar with Dr Demento, but the US definition sounds true here, too.

Okay, so it's just the Guardian writer who's made up his own definition then. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by briank at 9:04 AM on September 23, 2010


Don't forget:

Guitarzan
I Wanna be a Cowboy
Paranoimia
posted by papercake at 9:10 AM on September 23, 2010


OK, add to the list: performed by puppets. (I genuinely heart this song)
posted by mippy at 9:10 AM on September 23, 2010


Is this a good place for me to tout my theory that Ke$ha is an extremely subversive, highly creative music act masquerading as ditzy and tipsy party girl schtick?

Isn't that exactly what Lady Gaga is? If anything Ke$ha is just a Gaga clone that was only ever meant to house transplant organs, who has somehow escaped and confused herself with the original.
posted by hermitosis at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


If anything Ke$ha is just a Gaga clone that was only ever meant to house transplant organs, who has somehow escaped and confused herself with the original.

I would watch that movie.
posted by kmz at 9:19 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quiet y'all or I unleash I was Kaiser Bill's Batman or Timothy .

Pop songs are supposed to be epheremal, novelty songs even more so. And leave Kei$ha alone, she's just doing what her handlers tell her to (never have I seen so lost-looking a pop star...)
posted by djrock3k at 9:20 AM on September 23, 2010


Yeah. just listened to Ke$ha and I think writer is confusing her with Frankie's FURB, or Sporty Thievez 'No Pigeons'.

Man, someone needs to do a FPP about answer songs. But only if they mention Everybody Was In The French Resistance...Now!!!
posted by mippy at 9:24 AM on September 23, 2010


Gaga and Kesha can both be trollin', you know. It's not like there's a One Troll Per Medium rule in effect or something. (I agree: Kesha be trollin'. This becomes really, really obvious if you actually listen to the entire album instead of just going I DON'T LIKE TIK TOK or something. Haters gonna hate.)
posted by titus n. owl at 9:29 AM on September 23, 2010


I know it's a bit late in the thread to post something this earth shaking, but all this talk about Ke$ha and "Tik Tok" keeps having this little (quite rare) ditty come to mind:

Jim Henson (pre-muppet) singing Tick Tock Sick.

B-side: The Countryside.
posted by hippybear at 9:33 AM on September 23, 2010


Is this where we list our favorite novelty songs? ... this could take a while ...

Royal Guardsmen - Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron
David Seville - Witch Doctor
Chuck Berry - My Ding A Ling
Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue
Billy Connolly - D.I.V.O.R.C.E.
C.W. McCall - Convoy
Loudon Wainright III - Dead Skunk
Harry Nilsson - Coconut
Weird Al Yankovic - Another One Rides the Bus
The Dead Milkmen - Punk Rock Girl
Afroman - Because I Got High
Ween - Waving My Dick in the Wind
Flight of the Conchords - Most Beautiful Girl [In the Room]

(I, too, wonder if there is a massive semantic difference between British and American "novelty songs"...)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:57 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


As others have pointed out, there is a difference of terminology at work here. Often when I read British writing about pop culture, I am reminded how big the gap still is, because I only recognize about half the names.

Anyway, I think Dave Simpson would call a lot of songs "novelty records" that I would term "one-hit wonders." Where I come from, this is a novelty record.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:01 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Minneapolis jock-rock radio station KQRS commissioned the song "Polka for the Pennant" as the 1987 Twins rode into the ALCS.

I still remember it fondly: quite catchy. I sure wish I could find online more than a fragment of that song.


I assume you've found this (mp3):

A montage sample of music from the 1987 Minnesota Twins World Championship Season as heard on Twin Cities radio stations including "Win Twins" (WCCO-AM), "The Light, Happy Music" (KQRS-FM), "Polka for the Pennant" (KQRS-FM), "The World Series Shuffle" (WCCO-AM), "Pennant Fever '87" (WCCO-AM), "A Matter of Pride" (WCCO-AM), "Voodoo Magic" (KQRS-FM), "Rev it Up" (KDWB-FM), "Homer Hanky" (Star Tribune), "Win Twins '87" (WCCO-AM/KMSP-TV) and "Win Twins Win" by Slave Raider (KJJO-FM) - 9 MB - ("Win Twins Win" provided by Jay Philpott)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:02 AM on September 23, 2010


Well, now, Weird Al is sort of cheating. All of his songs are novelty songs. ANYWAY!

*does the Super Bowl Shuffle for the merriment of all*

*observes no merriment*

*slinks away silently*
posted by Skot at 10:03 AM on September 23, 2010


The UK definition of a novelty song would appear to be what in North American parlance is called "bubblegum pop," which overlaps heavily but is not always the same thing as the "one hit wonder" phenomenon.

Kylie Minogue, Boney M, possibly even Jive Bunny? Bubblegum.

Whereas:
The 1985 Chicago Bears doing a hip-hop tune about their endzone dance? Novelty.
Former hair metal frontman doing a campy big band number in spandex pants? Novelty.
Rodney Dangerfield in a bespoke prison uniform talk-rapping about the dearth of respect he receives? Novelty.
Madonna's former dance choreographer doing a rap-inflected duo with an animated cat? Novelty.
Snyth-pop ear candy about a classical composer whose name you wouldn't ordinarily associate with cheesball synth pop? Novelty.

It's a fine and blurry line to be sure, and the label embossed on the line itself is Aqua.
posted by gompa at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


damn, I forgot Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company

Chewy Chewy
Yummy Yummy Yummy
Indian Giver
Simon Says
1-2-3 Red Light
posted by mrgrimm at 10:08 AM on September 23, 2010


Madonna's former dance choreographer doing a rap-inflected duo with an animated cat? Novelty.

One of these things is not like the other ... Paula Abdul and Kylie Minogue seem to be in the same genre.

I realize now the definition of "novelty song" is far from cut and dry. To me, the primary premise of the song itself has to be comedic.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:11 AM on September 23, 2010


Agadoo. Haven't heard that in years!

Was that ever popular in the U.S., or was it really a Euro thing?
posted by madajb at 10:11 AM on September 23, 2010


Well, now, Weird Al is sort of cheating.

Yeah, but check out the video with the fart-sound percussionist. (The sweet video was the only reason I stuck him in...)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:12 AM on September 23, 2010


You call that novelty music? Feh. I owned a 45" of Rappin' Rodney.

I have a 45 of Pac-Man Fever sitting right next to me.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2010


I can't believe no one has posted about Yolanda Be Cool's hit* We Speak No Americano which to my ears is a a novelty song. You could argue that Sadeness by Enigma is a similar type of novelty song even though it's not particularly wacky.

* three weeks at #1 on the UK Singles Chart!
posted by vespabelle at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2010


Is The Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl" really novelty? If so, pretty much all their music is.

A Boy Named Sue? "Well, my daddy left home when I was three / And he didn't leave much to Ma and me / Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze" ... and hilarity ensues.

And in looking up Fish Heads (the song), I found 1) that there is a wiki page for fish head (singular), and Barnes & Barnes had a weird juvenile humor streak.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


By calling pop songs "novelty" songs, the author's just attempting to trivialize them in order to reinforce his point. Not much of an article, really.

Having said that, I'm pleased as punch to say I can't identify any of the songs listed in the FPP summary.
posted by davejay at 10:21 AM on September 23, 2010


The UK definition of a novelty song would appear to be what in North American parlance is called "bubblegum pop," which overlaps heavily but is not always the same thing as the "one hit wonder" phenomenon.

That really helps explain a Leonard Cohen lyric I found confusing. Thanks!
posted by Green With You at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2010


One of these things is not like the other ... Paula Abdul and Kylie Minogue seem to be in the same genre.

Ah, but there's the line right there. "Straight Up" is bubblegummy dance pop; "Opposites Attract" w/MC Skat Kat is pure novelty. As far as I know, Kylie Minogue never did a duet with a cartoon cat, so she remained pretty much exclusively on the bubblegum side of the line.

It's kind of a literal manifestation of the distinction: if the song's basic tone and feel are cartoony (intentionally or not), then it's novelty, whereas bubblegum can be (and often is) totally self-serious and meticulously crafted. Aqua's "Barbie Girl" is pretty much in the middle: it's pretty carefully crafted, but it's corny as heck and it's hard to tell how seriously it's taking itself, which I credit to its Danishness.

As in so many matters of semantics and semiotics, it may help to think of things in terms of Tone Loc and Young MC:

Young MC's "Bust a Move"? Bubblegum.
Tone Loc's "Wild Thing"? On the line.
"Funky Cold Medina"? Novelty.
posted by gompa at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia seems to have defined "novelty song" and provided a pretty comprehensive list already.

It goes back to Tin Pan Alley, eh? Who knew?
posted by hippybear at 10:33 AM on September 23, 2010


That said, I don't agree that all of the songs on the list at Wikipedia actually ARE novelty songs... I agree that Weird Al really doesn't fall into the category very well, and am not sure that Don't Worry Be Happy is really a novelty song....

But then, I also don't agree that Opposites Attract or Funky Cold Medina are novelty songs, either.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2010


Leonard Nimoy - The Legend of Bilbo Baggins

Is The Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl" really novelty? If so, pretty much all their music is

Yeah. As gompa mentions, it's a blurry line. I would say "Punk Rock Girl" more so than my Ween selection.

That really helps explain a Leonard Cohen lyric I found confusing. Thanks!

The maestro says it's Mozart, but it sounds like bubblegum.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:37 AM on September 23, 2010


But then, I also don't agree that Opposites Attract or Funky Cold Medina are novelty songs, either.

Half of the one is, as I noted, sung by a cartoon cat, and the other explicity namedrops Spuds McKenzie. QED.
posted by gompa at 10:38 AM on September 23, 2010


I think if you're defining a song based on its video, you're probably not doing it right. There's certainly no cartoon cat appearing on my CD of Forever Your Girl.

I'd agree that some of the tracks on the MC Skat Kat album that came out might be novelty songs.

But that also brings up the difficult issue of whether Stray Cat Strut from The Stray Cats is a novelty song or not. I don't think it is, but I bet you disagree.

And namedropping doesn't really mean anything. Funky Cold Medina cites Spuds McKenzie specifically for two reasons -- he's talking about how his girl is so hot that he's "got every dog in the neighborhood breakin down his door", and deliberately mentions two (at the time) well known alcohol-personality media dogs in relation to 1) his metaphor of dogs, and 2) his use of the word "poodle" in the previous verse as a metaphor for women.

It's also a song which talks about how his Medina is a better aid for getting laid than alcohol, so using advertising mascots in relation to telling the story makes a lot of sense in the context.

If it were a song ABOUT Spuds McKensie, I'd agree that it's a novelty song. But it's not that, and therefore it isn't.
posted by hippybear at 10:48 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the Wikipedia list didn't include the original 1981 Stars on 45 medley. The songs that the medley consisted of were not novelty songs, but all together, mashed up by Stars on 45 -- definitely a novelty song.
posted by blucevalo at 10:49 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


if the song's basic tone and feel are cartoony (intentionally or not), then it's novelty, whereas bubblegum can be (and often is) totally self-serious and meticulously crafted.

...

the other explicity namedrops Spuds McKenzie

I think you need an addendum to your rule that includes pop-culture references, although only certain sorts of pop references (excluding perhaps rap/hip-hop artists?)

For me, it's mostly about the lyrics. If the lyrics are meant to be taken non-seriously/comedically, it's a novelty song.

Songs like Funky Cold Medina and The Humpty Dance are tricky to classify. They are obviously humorous, but I wouldn't call them novelties. The Beasties' Girls? Novelty.

Half of the one is, as I noted, sung by a cartoon cat

Again here I must disagree. The duet with the cartoon cat is only in the music video. The song as it stands itself has no cartoonery (I don't think; I'm not super familiar). Not novelty.

Damn. Forgot one of my faves:

Johnny Wakelin - Muhammad Ali - Black Superman
posted by mrgrimm at 10:52 AM on September 23, 2010


They are obviously humorous, but I wouldn't call them novelties

Hmm. Half (or more) of the Barenaked Ladies catalogue?

Crash Test Dummies Superman's Song, or Mmm mmm mmm mmm?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2010




Where does Piero Umiliani's Mahna Mahna fit?

It was originally part of the soundtrack to a soft core porn 'documentary', before being re-purposed by Henson....
posted by nomisxid at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2010


What's the "novelty" of I Should Be So Lucky?

To expand on mippy's answer: because Kylie was best, and mostly only, known as a soap actor. Neighbours was huge in the UK at the time; her crossing over to pop was a genuine novelty at the time.

Although to undermine myself: I think The Locomotion came out first?

I do think I Should Be So Lucky is a bit of a gimmicky song -- the stuttering I-I-I, the obvious pitch-correction.

But yes, the article does seem to conflate "novelty song" with "catchy earworm".
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2010


St Winifred's School Choir

Prototypically: Clive Dunn, Grandad (YouTube).
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2010


Steve Martin, "King Tut"
Steve Martin, "King Tut" (Bluegrass Version with Steve on banjo)

Not a novelty, but came up on the recommended videos on YT when I was looking up Steve Martin. Given that I heart Béla Fleck, I had to post it:
Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, "The Crow"
posted by dhens at 12:00 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Kylie started out as a soap actress, and The Locomotion did come first.

At this point, however, she's huge everywhere BUT the US. Wikipedia says over 68 million albums sold worldwide. I think maybe only about 3 albums sold in the US, though.
posted by hippybear at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2010


Wait, you-all's novelty songs have actual words? Amateurs.

I give you Chacarron Macarron.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 12:12 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Alright, this isn't Brit or Yank. It's all Canadian. In 1971, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Truideau was detected by several House of Commons members who swore they heard him telling another honorable Member to "F**k Off". Trudeau, however, swore he never... well, swore. What he said, he said, was...
posted by Mike D at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2010


Trudeau, dammit. Not "Truideau".
posted by Mike D at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2010


What is "Finnegan's Wake" but a novelty song? That dates back at least to the 1850s.

They date back as far as music itself does. And some went on to be classics.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2010


Ok I probably should have said that I was listing most of what was mentioned in the article before adding some notable novelty songs.

However this is probably one of those tomayto tomarto things... you can probably only understand the true horror of Black Lace if you've lived through it. Like the Dresden fire bombing. They were 'novelty' but they went way beyond that. They actually had a whole career with multitude hit-records and burst out of novelty into the mainstream. You would always hear them played at weddings, sub-par discos, holidays etc. It probably didn't help matters but they also produced 'rude' (as in Carry On) versions of all their hits. This is not an exaggeration.

'I Should Be So Lucky' is brought up in the article mainly as an example that though they might sound simple some of these songs are fairly complex and well crafted ('it's got four cord changes and complicated ones at that'). However Kylie, as others have already said, as a soap actress was very much a novelty act when she first started, had zero musical credibility and was a long long way from Can't Get You Out Of My Head. SAW at the time were utterly reviled at a critical level but smashed through the charts and for a few years pretty much dominated music over here for a few years. Even you Americans might have heard of one or two of their offerings.

When Jive Bunny when it came out was an enormous thing at the time and for some signalled The Death Of Music. Though I find it a bit of a toe-tapper today. It's probably true to say that mainstream British music went through a bit of bad time until the rise of Brit Pop something like ten years later (if you ignore indie stuff like Shoegaze)

I think what the article is trying to say that a lot of modern (and past) hits whilst not strictly according to Hoyle, Novelty Records were produced with much the same spirit by people who could (and do) produce 'better' stuff. Hooky tunes that sell by the bucket load with the eye on the main chance.

The other day I was reading an article about the Black Eyed Peas and for me they fit this like a glove. I mean what is this but a novelty record. Well apart from being utter shit of course.

Actually I think on the whole I'd rather have the Lace than the Black Eye Peas
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2010


Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:41 PM on September 23, 2010


Father of a Boy Named Sue, also by Shel Silverstein.
posted by nomisxid at 1:53 PM on September 23, 2010


The Beatles' Revolution 9, and various other songs from the White Album, including Piggies, Rocky Racoon, Why Don't We Do It In The Road, Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey, Honey Pie... novelty songs all.

John Cage's 4'33" should be considered a novelty composition, done by others before.

Radiohead's Paranoid Android could also be seen as a novelty song: according to Wikipedia "Colin Greenwood said that the song is "just a joke, a laugh, getting wasted together over a couple of evenings and putting some different pieces together." "Colin Greenwood admitted the band, in attempting it to see if they could make the disparate elements work together, "felt like irresponsible schoolboys who were doing this ... naughty thing, 'cause nobody does a six-and-a-half-minute song with all these changes. It's ridiculous"."

With wacky lyrics like

"Please could you stop the noise, I'm trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head",

and funny voice effects from a Macintosh computer, Radiohead probably made more money on "Paranoid Android" than Black Lace did on "Agadou". Thom Yorke & Co must have laughed and laughed all the way to the bank.
posted by iviken at 2:23 PM on September 23, 2010


Whenever there's mention of "that ketchup song" I always hope that it's this ketchup song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MGmugjxBjg

(It never is)

Cheers.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:06 PM on September 23, 2010


clicky
posted by humboldt32 at 3:12 PM on September 23, 2010


kmz: I like music I can cry to while dancing.

Alphaville: Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:32 PM on September 23, 2010


*does the Super Bowl Shuffle for the merriment of all*

Bad rap from the '80s is like ... well, like bad rap from the '80s.

Is this a good place for me to tout my theory that Ke$ha is an extremely subversive, highly creative music act masquerading as ditzy and tipsy party girl schtick?

No, I believe that would be Lady GaGa. I think others have already mentioned this ...
posted by krinklyfig at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2010


Whenever there's mention of "that ketchup song" I always hope that it's this ketchup song:

Ketchup y salsa!

Isn't that the only ketchup song?
posted by krinklyfig at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2010


Or, it's salsa y ketchup.

I need to rewatch "Straight to Hell" soon ...
posted by krinklyfig at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


When Jive Bunny when it came out was an enormous thing at the time and for some signalled The Death Of Music......It's probably true to say that mainstream British music went through a bit of bad time until the rise of Brit Pop something like ten years later

Jive Bunny was '89, Britpop began - if we take the Yanks Go Home Select cover as our starting point - in '93 and went mainstream in '94/'95. (Between that, I remember a weird period where rave and Eurodance went mainstream and the charts seemed to be full of dance versions of 1970s kids show themes like Sesame's Treet and Trip to Trumpton.) Round about the time Kylie was shagging Michael Hutchence. If Paul Morley was here he'd come up with some theory about how La Minogue is an avatar for our times.
posted by mippy at 4:06 PM on September 23, 2010


Hairy Lobster: Alphaville != Ultravox. Trust me, I know.
posted by hippybear at 4:10 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I truly hope that none of the miners in the Chilean blocked shaft have heard the song "Timothy." Either that, or I hope they've all heard it, and use their spare time to make an arrangement and perform it a cappella for the video feed they have down there.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:20 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but any Novelty Record thread that seems to specifically omit Weird Al is full of fail (as the kids say).

"Eat It", "Fat", "Amish Paradise" and "White and Nerdy"... no matter where it got the melody from, any hit song titled "White and Nerdy" is pure Novelty.

Too bad Weird and his record companies haven't pushed his not-direct-parody songs more. It's like everybody BUT Al has made videos for "Hardware Store".

But since I was actually doing a Demento-Clone show in the mid-70s, I know it was the Golden Age of Novelty Songs (and Borderline Almost-Novelties).

Ray Stevens, whose "Gitarzan" was a classic '60s novelty, had a BIG comeback with "The Streak".

It was like there was a rule of ONE novelty hit per fad, with "Disco Duck", "The Streak", "Convoy" for CB Radios (but there were lots of similar country hits) and "Kung Fu Fighting".

In addition to "Convoy", C.W. McCall had a lesser crossover-country hit about a runaway truck titled "Wolf Creek Pass". Major country novelties included the anti-feminist "Put Another Log on the Fire" (written by Shel Silverstein!), the life-sucks saga "Making the Best of a Bad Situation" and employee anthem "Take This Job and Shove It".

Charlie Daniels had "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" AND "Uneasy Rider" (later taking a hard right turn with "Uneasy Rider 88")

Jim Stafford started borderline with the 'coming of age' "Spiders and Snakes" and went total novelty with the gender-bent "My Girl Bill" and the potty "Wildwood Weed".

Shel Silverstein was truly the master of writing novelty songs, with Cash's "Boy Named Sue", "Put Another Log..." and Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" (the silly melodrama of "Sylvia's Mother" was borderline), plus the '60s "The Unicorn".

Loudon Wainwright III's career was sadly defined by "Dead Skunk".

Larry Groce's "Junk Food Junkie" is INCREDIBLY just as funny and appropriate today.

Cheech & Chong's "Earache My Eye" was half father/son dialogue and half Glam Rock parody "Alice Bowie"

And do NOT forget Rupert Holmes, who wrote "Timothy" and whose "Pina Colada Song" was a classic borderline-novelty, mostly because his earlier efforts at pure novelty records never sold. Example: "Our American Pastime", "Soap Opera", "Brass Knuckles". (IF YOU CLICK ON ONLY ONE LINK IN THIS COMMENT, MAKE IT ONE OF THESE)

These were all U.S.A.ian hits, so it doesn't including such U.K.an novelty hitmakers as Bennie Hill and The Wombles.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:36 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Argh! I always get myself confused there... :/
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:51 PM on September 23, 2010


"They're Coming To Take Me Away!" - Napoleon XIV

The neat thing about this one is that the song on the flipside of the 45 was "They're Coming To Take Me Away!" played BACKWARDS in it's entirety! Even the label was reverse-printed!

That's about the coolest thing ever that you can give a 12-year-old kid!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010


You post Rupert Holmes and never mention HIM? Sacrilege!
posted by wittgenstein at 5:31 PM on September 23, 2010


Beastie Boys - Girls is NOT a novelty record. That songs still gets people on the dance floor.
posted by empath at 6:45 PM on September 23, 2010


I think all of the novelty songs I remember have already been linked, except the first one I thought of - Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman.
YouTube link, if you want to listen - and I chose the video with an overhead shot of the record being played, crackles and all, because it somehow suits the nostalgia and the whole "this was the early concept of a mashup" that I loved listening to on the radio. Or at least on early morning FM shows or Doctor Demento.

Also I think I currently have Napoleon XIV on my ipod - but I know I have mp3s of Falco and Kung Fu Fighting. I'm afraid to go through the list to check for more because I'll become worried of my tendency toward novelty.
posted by batgrlHG at 6:53 PM on September 23, 2010


Forgot to add - I have to love YouTube for preserving all this. It's like a bizarre musical pop culture museum in there. I also love that some people have preserved and love their Mr. Jaws vinyl.
posted by batgrlHG at 6:54 PM on September 23, 2010


How soon we forget Prisencolinensinainciusol.
posted by subbes at 7:09 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can't forget Hubba Hubba Zoot Zoot, although maybe it was just WLOL in Minneapolis that played it back in 1981-1982.
posted by umbú at 7:22 PM on September 23, 2010


There are few better British novelty songs than the Solid Gold Chartbusters' I Wanna 1-2-1 With You.

It's a high energy, professionally produced pop song based on the default Nokia ringtone. It features a man ranting on his cell phone in the song's verses. There are dancing cell phones in the video. It was released as a Christmas single. It will drive you completely insane. It's kind of wonderful.

Rumor has it that the Solid Gold Chartbusters were comprised by half of British musical pranksters The KLF. The KLF wrote The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), which explains how to have a number one single. Austrian band Edelweiss took it to heart and created the monstrosity Bring Me Edelweiss, the unholy union of The Sound of Music and Abba.

But if you're looking for the pinnacle of the British novelty single, a song of good humor and brilliant production, so good at mocking Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles that people thought it was The Beatles, there is the L.S. Bumblebee.
posted by eschatfische at 8:42 PM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was listening to the Top 40 UK songs from 1984 earlier today (no, really) and heard that Black Lace song for the first time in over 20 years, and here it is being mentioned on MeFi. Woah.

I've noticed that the UK Top 40 is more likely to have room for weird novelty songs (at least one or two every year) than the US charts. Songs like Neil from The Young Ones' Hole in My Shoe got to #2 in 1984 and Crazy Frog's Axel F stayed at #1 for 4 weeks in 2005. Whereas their US counterparts like The Electric Boogie (highest chart position was #51) and Who Let the Dogs Out (topped out at #40), are less frequent and don't seem to spend as much time on the charts, and are soon relegated to wedding receptions and middle school dances.
posted by shannonm at 9:09 PM on September 23, 2010


If Paul Morley was here he'd come up with some theory about how La Minogue is an avatar for our times.

From Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, I think it's safe to say he's already come up with it.
posted by Lazlo at 11:47 PM on September 23, 2010


Who Let the Dogs Out (topped out at #40)

Yeah, we took that one to our hearts, one of the US ones that crossed over - I remember it being massive over here. Though I'm a bit staggered that according to wiki it got to #2 in the Singles Chart, was the 4th biggest-selling single of 2000 in the UK, and went on to become the highest-selling single of the 2000s not to reach #1.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:46 AM on September 24, 2010


Yeah, my first year of university seemed soundtracked by Baha Men and DJ Otzi's Hey Baby.

Lazlo, I was referencing Words and Music, ta. That book became a joke in a house I once shared - every time a Kylie video came on the TV one of us had to solemnly intone 'Kylie Minogue is speeding into the heart of pop.'
posted by mippy at 1:51 AM on September 24, 2010


Dead Milkmen's song "Punk Rock Girl" a novelty? NO.

Their song "Instant Club Hit - You'll Dance to Anything": YES.
posted by readyfreddy at 3:08 AM on September 24, 2010


And what of all the Shatner spoken word craziness?
posted by readyfreddy at 3:12 AM on September 24, 2010


Dangit, third post… Dash Rip Rock's Let's go smoke some pot is also classic novelty.
posted by readyfreddy at 3:16 AM on September 24, 2010


Thanks, this has been fun.
posted by Goofyy at 6:23 AM on September 24, 2010


Tom "Poptimist" Ewing claims that novelty songs are an obsolete genre in the age of YouTube:
Novelty records-- gimmick dances, comedy songs, et al.-- regularly turn up in "worst song ever"-type polls. Their decline should have been a canary in the record industry coalmine, though: A track like "Macarena" got big by appealing to people who didn't usually buy records, which made them an index of the extent to which buying a record was seen as a normal thing to do. The market for novelties hasn't gone away, of course-- it simply relocated to YouTube.
posted by acb at 6:26 AM on September 24, 2010


I just have to add in "Happy Boy". (Uncertain if "California Kid" qualifies as novelty, but this is a beautiful Rock and Roll moment.)

The 20s and 30s were loaded with novelty songs, many of which have become sanitized through folklore as children's ditties. The Two Men Gentlemen Band does a lot of work in that style.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:10 AM on September 24, 2010


acb: The art of a well-crafted novelty song is that it's superficially juvenile, bad, and annoying. At the same time, it's distinctive enough to stick out from radio homogeny, catchy enough to earworm you for hours, simple enough that people can sing along, and often offensive enough to bug your parents.

I don't think anyone ever thought that "Purple People Eater" was a great song. But it's one that keeps going strong at 50.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:33 AM on September 24, 2010


Beastie Boys - Girls is NOT a novelty record. That songs still gets people on the dance floor.

So does the Macarena. Or the Chicken Dance (Birdie Song).

*ducks*

I'm sorry, but any Novelty Record thread that seems to specifically omit Weird Al is full of fail (as the kids say).

Ctrl-F FAIL

Dead Milkmen's song "Punk Rock Girl" a novelty? NO.

Their song "Instant Club Hit - You'll Dance to Anything": YES.


OK, OK, I'll stay neutral on the DM. But how about:

1. Bitchin' Camaro
2. Smokin' Banana Peels

Also, what, no FG fans?

The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird

Surfin' Bird is actually a meta-novelty song--it's the combination of two songs by The Rivingtons: Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and The Bird's the Word.

The funniest part of the whole Surfin' Bird phenomenon is that the best song of all the "Mow-Mows" is Mama-Oom-Mow-Mow.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:46 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well if we're going there:
Rubber Biscuit (The Chips, 1956, Ignore the intro)

And an almost-obscene version of Surfin Bird (by The Cramps).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:13 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rubber Biscuit (The Chips, 1956, Ignore the intro)

Excellent. I don't think I've ever heard that original. Thanks.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on September 24, 2010


Well if we're going there:
Rubber Biscuit (The Chips, 1956, Ignore the intro)


I find myself curiously drawn to this song.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:34 AM on September 26, 2010


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