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Oldies Music Encyclopedia: "Novelty Music"


Oldies Music Encyclopedia:

"Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen, 1963

Definition: Novelty songs -- that is, songs whose first goal was to make the listener laugh rather than entertain him or her musically -- have been around since the wax cylinders of the 1890s, but advances in recording technology made the genre come alive in the postwar years. Spike Jones is largely regarded as the first great novelty song artist; before his ascent to fame in the 1940s, novelties were mainly songs with witty lyrics, but Jones specialized in taking popular tunes of the day and satirizing them by destroying the serious mood with wacky sound effects.

The classic novelty song of the 50s, 60s, and 70s came in one of three forms: 1) a parody of a popular song, with new words written to replace the original ones; 2) an original song about a funny subject, or satiric lyrics about a popular subject; and 3) comedy sketches with some music that were recorded on vinyl. Typically, these songs were aimed at younger audiences in the postwar era (with the more witty, satirical adult comedy reserved for LPs), but the advent of rock and roll brought the novelty into its own. The song in question would often center around a popular fad (Martians in the '50s, for example, or disco in the '70s) and might lampoon popular figures.

Truth be told, novelties are defined by their aesthetic and not their sound. Yet their status as outsider music extends to Billboard often marking them as a separate entity on their charts. And while the very nature of the novelty makes it a vehicle for a "one-hit wonder," a few artists -- Allan Sherman, Stan Freberg, Ray Stevens, Jim Stafford, and later, "Weird" Al Yankovic -- have managed to make decades-long careers out of their musical comedy. Popular radio host Barry Hansen, a/k/a "Dr. Demento," is considered the world's leading expert on such songs, having spotlighted them on his show since the early Seventies.

Also Known As: Comedy, Parody
  1. "Surfin' Bird," The Trashmen
  2. "Purple People Eater," Sheb Wooley
  3. "Witch Doctor," David Seville
  4. "The Streak," Ray Stevens
  5. "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter From Camp)," Allan Sherman
  6. "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" Napoleon XIV
  7. "Monster Mash," Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
  8. "The Flying Saucer (Pt. 1)," Buchanan & Goodman
  9. "King Tut," Steve Martin
  10. "Beep Beep," The Playmates
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