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The Lost Art of the Novelty Song

A novelty song is a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect. Humorous songs, or those containing humorous elements, are not necessarily novelty songs.

Source: Wikipedia

Novelty songs were very popular in the 50s and 60s, but that is a little before my time. Here’s a healthy list of 100 popular novelty songs of that era.

When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s novelty songs would share the airwaves with pop hits fairly regularly. Maybe the music industry has changed so much that there is little room or little interest by company heads to encourage or cultivate this type of artist or song. While the music industry has always been about money, it seems now that’s all it’s about. Money is made these days on tour instead of from record sales. A 3 minute novelty song most likely wouldn’t make a record company any money and I’m pretty sure AEG and LiveNation aren’t going to promote a tour supporting one song.

The 70s era of novelty songs owes a lot of its popularity to the Dr. Demento Radio Show. The show even introduced most of us to Weird Al, basically (See Ray Stevens below) the last man standing in the novelty song genre. His 14th album, Mandatory Fun, debuted at the top of the Billboard Charts. To me this shows that there is still a demand for these sort of songs.

There are dozens and dozens of novelty songs from my childhood that I remember as fondly as any song from my K-tel “Best of” LPS. Below I’ll share just a fraction of them.

The Streak

For reasons unknown, streaking became incredibly popular in the 70s. Well maybe not streaking per se, but the notion of streaking. Randomly you’d be watching a sporting event or some other form of live TV and then Lo and Behold! here comes a guy (mostly it was guys) running on through in the altogether. I can’t really think of a reason not to have a novelty song about streaking.

Ray Stevens’ The Streak made it to #1 on the US Charts in 1974 and took the top spot on the charts in the UK and Canada as well. Mr. Stevens looks to be still flying his novelty song freak flag on youtube, where his channel has an impressive number of subscribers and views. In 2015 he released a single entitled “Taylor Swift is Stalkin’ Me.” Novelty song or legitimate cry for help? You decide.

Mr. Jaws

Dickie Goodman was a master at the novelty song. This one reached #4 on the charts, was certified RIAA Gold and was one of 17 of his songs to reach the top 100.

Most if not all of Dickie Goodman’s songs were exactly in this format. A reporter asks a question and a song snippet answers it somewhat hilariously. Publishing fees may have eliminated any chance of a song like this making it today.

Bomb Iran

Just maybe political correctness also played a part in killing the novelty song. In November 1979 Muslim Iranian terrorists took 52 Americans hostage by taking over the US embassy in Tehran.  America, as a whole, was enraged.

This novelty song got a lot of play that year.

The sentiment was so popular, in fact, that several versions of this song came out at the same time by different performers. I’m pretty sure Clear Channel and other media companies would not give this any airplay now.

Shaddap You Face

In 1980 Joe Dolce came up with a novelty song so catchy it reached #1 on the charts in fifteen countries. And while it didn’t chart as well here in the US, the local stations where I lived in New Jersey played it all the time. Every kid I knew loved singing the chorus loud and proud. Probably because back then telling someone to “Shut Up!” would get you a smack in the ass for being disrespectful.

Hit play only if you’re prepared to have this thing in your head for the next few days.

If this song came out today I’m sure someone would complain about how this song portrays Italians in a bad light, it would be pulled from the airwaves and Joe Dolce would be forced to apologize for being so anti-Italian (but but but he’s Italian!) and would never work again.

The Rappin’ Duke

I’m really not sure what makes one novelty song more popular than the other. It’s certainly not recording quality, or the quality of the musicians involved. Some of the most absurd premises made for the best songs. Case in point, The Rappin’ Duke. This song was just purely ridiculous and to this day I will occasionally break out in a round of “Da ha da ha da ha ha ha ha ha.”

It seemed to me in the 70s and 80s there was a new and popular novelty song every few months. Some I loved (like the ones above) and some I did not. Disco Duck, The General Hospital Song, Fish Heads. So very bad.

A few google searches will confirm that indeed the novelty song is a lost art. Search separately for novelty songs of the 70s and 80s and google has songs listed at the very top of its search results. A “novelty songs of the 90s” doesn’t bring up its own list and “novelty songs of the 2000s” just points you to some old school songs from the 50s and 60s.

It’s definitely time for them to make a total comeback.


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