Commentary by Don Rose
Perhaps it was because rock and roll was taking a breather, waning a bit after its ferocious beginnings circa 1951-1954 and before 1964's "Big Bang" of the Beatles (as Little Steven likes to say). Perhaps it was because Elvis, the King of Rock, had gone in the Army - then returned to become a movie star, deviating from his rock roots. Or perhaps everyone felt the way Decca Records did, when they turned down the Beatles after a January 1962 audition because they believed "guitar groups are on their way out." Whatever the reason, there sure were a ton of unusual yet immortal novelty songs that made the pop charts between 1960 and 1963.
Just look at the evidence below.
How do you define a novelty song? We define it loosely as a song with a strong hook and/or concept, featuring at least one unique sound or lyric, something that makes it different than any other tune, often with a heavy dose of humor, and often the biggest (or only) hit for the performer or group who recorded it. And now, some of the top novelty hits of 1960-1963:
Runaway (1961) - the first hit by Del Shannon featured a famous solo by Max Crook, one of the most distinctive in rock history, performed on a heavily-modified clavioline (early synthesizer) that Crook called the "Musitron"
Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter From Camp) (1961) - immortal hit by Allan Sherman, using a classical passage as the music under his sweet humorous lyrics based on his son's complaints from camp, peaked at #9; received the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Performance
Telstar - 1962 hit instrumental by The Tornados featured a Univox Clavioline
Monster Mash - hit by Bobby "Boris" Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers (1962) peaked at #1, and is still one of my favorite songs of all time; fun clever lyrics, a dead-on Boris Karloff impression by Pickett, and an irresistable rocking backing track, especially the drums on the opening bars
Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight) - 1961 hit by Lonnie Donegan, who led the Skiffle craze in Britain that inspired the early Beatles, peaked at #5
Mr. Custer (Larry Verne) (1960) peaked at #1
If You Wanna Be Happy (Jimmy Soul) (1963) peaked at #1; featured the immortal line, "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife..."
Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow (The Rivingtons) (1962) peaked at #48; covered live by the Beach Boys in their early days
Speedy Gonzales (Pat Boone) (1962) peaked at #6
Mr. Bass Man (Johnny Cymbal) (1963) peaked at #16
My Boomerang Won't Come Back (Charlie Drake) (1962) peaked at #21
Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport (Rolf Harris) (1963) peaked at #6 - features a unique homemade instrument making the "wakawakawaka" sound that starts the song; YouTube fans can find a rare recording of Rolf with the Beatles, for which he changed the words in honor of the Fab Four and the group provides a bit of backup
Alley-Oop (The Hollywood Argyles) (1960) peaked at #1
Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp) (Barry Mann) (1961) peaked at #7
I encourage you to check out all of the above songs. If you feel I left any notable novelty tunes out, feel free to send them and we can add to this list. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 19, 2009
Commentary by Don Rose