The Arrogant Worms: Carrot Juice is Murder
I can’t imagine getting through a Silly Songs Week without including one of the “boy bands”, Canadian (Fruvous, BNL) or otherwise (DaVinci’s Notebook) – The Arrogant Worms, from Ontario, fit the bill… and then some, as much of their humor depends on sight gags as well…
My first Folk Alliance (an annual folk conference, oxymoron-ish as that sounds) was in February 1999 in Albuquerque, New Mexico – it’s the only business gathering where, when one is told of a 2 o’clock performance, the first question is: p.m. or a.m.? It’s round-the-clock music, official and guerilla, highlighting everything under the broad folk umbrella (think festival-in-a-hotel) - we don’t need no stinkin’ sleep, right?
The Arrogant Worms were the last showcase I attended, on the cusp of Saturday night/Sunday morning – afterwards, side-splitting, knee-slapping and cheekbone-aching were no longer just clichés…
What with their extensive comedy catalog (Jesus’ Brother Bob, The Mounted Animal Nature Trail, History is Made by Stupid People), this was a tough choice – however, the “V8’s genocide” line gets me every time…
Submitted by Susan
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Rasputina: The Donner Party
What could possibly be funny about the horrendous situation that befell the Donner Party in the winter of 1846? Well, if anyone can find humor in historical events, especially American events of the 1800s, it's the cello-rock band Rasputina. Front-woman and songwriter Melora Creager has the band dress in Victorian era undergarments to perform and the content of the songs is often historical in nature, and even more often a bit silly.
Though this song isn't even really a song per say, it is off an album and does contain music and DOES make me smirk with laughter whenever I hear it. As interludes on their first album, they included tracks where cello music plays in the background as members of the band recite things. One may sound like a diary entry or poetry, or something else entirely, but they always are humorous. In the case of "The Donner Party" a girl gives a school presentation comparing The Donner Party to the Colonial Pilgrims. She takes her presentation quite seriously despite the nonsensical nature of the subject she's chosen.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Roger Miller - You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd [purchase box set]
According to the absurdist laureate of country music, you can't do the following:
- Roller skate in a buffalo herd
- Take a shower in a parakeet cage
- Swim in a baseball pool
- Change film with a kid on your back
- Drive around with a tiger in your car
- Fish in a watermelon patch
- Be happy if you've a mind to.
Relient K: The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything
This song is a coverlover's dream: a cycle of genre parodies flailing through a perfectly ridiculous ditty originally performed by those tiny, delicious Jesus freaks the Veggie Tales, presented here by Christian Rock band Relient K, who originally covered the song for 2002 sproutflick Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie. Not my usual fare, I admit, and it's coming in over the heads of some exceptionally solid also-rans for the week, but it's hard not to love this perfect Friday afternoon party tune, chock full of pirates and puns.
The tongue in cheek take on kidsong is one of my favorite subcollections, in fact, and this is one of the best and most gleeful in the collection. Kidsong being, of course, a whole 'nother theme, I'll merely mention the plethora of silliness available in my carefully collected set-to-come, and leave you dreamin'.
(On a more personal note, as a long-time and determined iconoclast, I've only recently gotten over my fear of all things "Christian rock", and highly recommend...some of it. Yeah, Jars of Clay, I'm talking to you.)
Amy Rigby: Cynically Yours
I recall buying Amy Rigby’s Diary of a Mod Housewife when it came out in 1996, totally loving it but not understanding why – I’m optimistic, she’s jaded; I’m light, she’s more than a bit darker; I am comfortable in a long-term relationship, and she sings of a variety of not-so-great choices. Then I realized… I might be a Tigger personality… but I definitely have an Eeyore alter-ego – Amy Rigby appealed to the fragile, vulnerable, insecure me… on those days when “I’ve lost my tail”… i.e., my sanity, my self-esteem, my memory, my car keys (need I go on?)…
I back-burnered Amy for a while but, when she appeared on Jules Shear’s Between Us CD (definitely in my Top Ten), I tracked down what I’d missed, as well as kept her in my radar from that point on – it was a wonderfully worlds-colliding moment when she asked Todd Snider to duet on ‘Til the Wheels Fall Off…
She’s recently moved to France and married Wreckless Eric – they just returned from a U.S. tour, and her blog retains the Beer and Kisses sensibility of her bent-but-not-broken songwriting…
Cynically Yours is the meeting place of ennui and desire – insert name here…
Submitted by Susan
Thursday, November 6, 2008
They Might Be Giants: Shoehorn With Teeth
Geekrockers and modern TV theme song geniuses They Might Be Giants have a reputation for the odd and surreal, but under most of their songbook is at least some semblance of narrative, or at least a mindset which frames their oddities as metaphor for something slightly more normal, and often surprisingly deep and pithy. Not so this short ditty, off 1989 sophomore album Lincoln; near as I can tell, the scattered impossibilities and earworm tune are merely a framework for a series of silly images that come straight out of the fevered dreams of Salvador Dali, from the titual toothed shoehorn to the heavy metal tourplane that runs out of gas in the air and thus can never land. Bonus points for wildly blaring homophonic sax and accordion, which reflect perfectly the nasal voices of Giants John and John, and lend a sense of lightheartedness and glee to untethered lyrics already on the verge of floating away.
Allan Sherman: Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah
I actually am quite surprised that Allan Sherman's classic hasn't made an appearance yet this week. To me, this is the quintessential funny song. It's not often that a purely humorous song can make its way all the way up the charts to #2 and get a Grammy to boot.
This song was based off letters Sherman's son wrote to his parents while he was away at camp. It has since spawned Sherman's own sequel song as well as a game, a musical and a children's book.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The Beatles: Yellow Submarine
In comments, someone requested this and it's not a bad choice at all. When it came to silliness in the recording studio, The Beatles were up there with the best of 'em. On Yellow Submarine, drummer Ringo Starr sings lead on a tune Paul McCartney wrote as a children's story. It climbed to #1 on the UK charts, #2 in the US.
The special effects included chains, a ship's bell, tap dancing mats, whistles, hooters, a tin bath filled with water, wind, thunderstorm machines, as well as a cash register that was later used on Pink Floyd's "Money". John Lennon blew through a straw into a pan of water to create a bubbling effect, he and McCartney talked through tin cans to create the sound of the captain's orders and Abbey Road assistant engineers John Skinner and Terry Condon twirled chains in a tin bath to create water sounds. After the line, "and the band begins to play", main engineer, Geoffrey Emerick, found a recording of a brass band and slightly changed it so it couldn't be identified, though it is thought to be a recording of Georges Krier and Charles Helmer's 1906 composition, Le Reve Passe. When the overdubs were finished, road manager Mal Evans strapped on a marching bass drum and led everybody in a line around the studio doing the conga dance while banging on a bass drum. The original recording had a spoken word intro by Starr, but later was edited out.
"I was laying in bed in the Jane Asher's garret... I was thinking of it as a song for Ringo, which it eventually turned out to be, so I wrote it as not too rangey in the vocal, then started making a story, sort of an ancient mariner, telling the young kids where he'd lived. It was pretty much my song as I recall... I think John helped out. The lyrics got more and more obscure as it goes on, but the chorus, melody and verses are mine. It's a happy place, that's all. You know, it was just... We were trying to write a children's song. That was the basic idea. And there's nothing more to be read into it than there is in the lyrics of any children's song." - Paul McCartney
Here's a remix that emphasizes the special effects along with a restoration of Ringo's spoken introduction:
The Beatles: Yellow Submarine
The other requested Beatle silly song, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, can be found as part of my recently posted collection of hand clapping songs: put your hands together...
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Tom Waits: The Piano Has Been Drinking
Because of our rule about only one song per album, I could not do a double post with “Step Right Up”. It was a tough choice. Definitely check that one out as well.
But as to the matter at hand. I imagine a young piano bar player comes into this place for a month-long gig. He is young in the business, and every gig is the greatest gift he has ever received. His rose colored glasses are fully functional. By the end of the gig, his theme song is Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.
The month ends, and the next week a grizzled piano-bar veteran comes in for his turn. A very different man, he said goodbye to his dreams long ago. He’s seen it all, and not cared for much of it.. For him, this gig is a way to finance his drinking, nothing more. And this song is his theme song.
So two men experience the same place in very different ways.
Flotation Walls: I'm a Bear
I'm Amelia Earhart!
Just kidding...I'm a bear.
This song is so hilarious to me, but then again, I love absurd humor. It's definitely one of those song where you hear it and your first reaction is "What the...?". But as far as songs that literally make me laugh out loud go, this song takes the cake. It's so bizarre, it's most certainly not something I've heard anything like before.
Unfortunately, other than their MySpace page there is little information on this band, let alone this song. The band is from Columbus, OH, that much is for certain, but beyond that they seem to have taken on many forms over the years and this song is probably almost 10 years old by now. I've known about it since at least 2001 through a friend who included it on a mix who got it from a friend who included it on a mix, who heard it through someone who knew the drummer or some such.
All I know is that this song is priceless as far as the content. Whether or not they were even intending on this song being so funny, I don't know. But any indie rock song that is from the perspective of rather sarcastic hungry bear can't be too serious, I mean, come on!
Drive-By Truckers - The President's Penis Is Missing
May as well make today's post topical. This song appeared on the Trucker's 1999 effort, Pizza Deliverance. The album went out of print a long time ago but was recently re-mastered and re-issued but this song no longer appears on the official track listing so I dunno if it's still on it or not.
The official lyrics sheet set the song as a play more so than a song so I decided to post them here as Patterson wrote them:
“They looked in the White House and Capitol Hill
They looked everywhere for Buffalo Bill
We called every scholar, reporter, and genius
Has anyone seen the President’s penis?”
“It ain’t in the Congress or Judiciary
It ain’t in the Smithsonian or that big ole library
an astronomer claims it was sighted on Venus
Has anyone seen the President’s penis?”
(now the entire press corp. erupts in song:)
“THE PRESIDENT’S PENIS IS MISSING OLE’!!!
WE SEARCHED HIGH AND LOW, EVERY NIGHT EVERYDAY
LORD, WON’T YOU COME DOWN AND REDEEM US
HAS ANYONE SEEN THE PRESIDENT’S PENIS?”
(at this point, legendary news man Walter Cronkite returns from the moon to add his commentary:)
“Now Presidents have goofed up in all kinds of ways
in the 80’s we elected one missing his brain
George Washington caught a cold he couldn’t explain
and we all know the truth about Thomas Jefferson’s name”
(suddenly William Randolph Hurst rises from the grave and bellows out in an Orson Welles type voice:)
“Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t no square
with that raging Woodrow in his wheelchair
and all the lesbians snickered that Elenor didn’t care
and John Kennedy’s penis was seen everywhere”
(once again everyone breaks out in gleeful song:)
“THE PRESIDENT’S PENIS IS MISSING OLE’!!!
WE SEARCHED HIGH AND LOW EVERY NIGHT EVERY DAY
LORD WON’T YOU COME DOWN AND REDEEM US
HAS ANYONE SEEN THE PRESIDENT’S PENIS?”
(the scene shifts to Sen. John Glenn, wandering pensively, somewhere in space:)
“Them outer space people would laugh if they’d seen us
all this talk about cum-stains and oral coitus
meanwhile the whole world suffers from hunger and meanness
but we’re more concerned with the President’s penis”
Clarence "Frogman" Henry: Ain't Got No Home
In Ain't Got No Home, longtime New Orleans resident, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, is pretty straightforward - he tells us he can sing like a girl and a frog (hence the nickname). Listen to the hilarity ensue as Frogman croaks like an amphibian after he squeezes out a falsetto - a very silly song, indeed. In his own words:
I was working at a service station in New Orleans and when I got off work, I would pass a club called the Brass Rail where Paul Gayten played. I admired him playing, I'd stand on the sidewalk lookin' inside the club. Paul was the A&R man for Leonard Chess and I would relieve Paul on Monday at the Brass Rail. I started singin' a song called Ain't Got No Home in the Old Joy Lounge in Gretna. I played it for Paul and Paul sent it up to Leonard Chess, and Leonard Chess came down to hear it. When Leonard heard it he told Paul to break it up into different parts with the girl and the frog. I had written Lonely Tramp before Ain't Got No Home. What happened, Shirley and Lee were from New Orleans and were hot during that time. I didn't have a female singer in the band, so I had to switch my voice like a girl, but how I do the frog I don't know. On the West Bank, Algiers, you had the alligators and frogs and I used to imitate the frog in school, to scare the girls! Leonard Chess put my record in the garbage, he wanted to keep it in mind, but I wouldn't be the artist. It was "make it or break it", that's what they called it. A disc jockey called Poppa Stoppa here in New Orleans was pushin' Troubles Troubles for the A-side and he flipped it over to Ain't Got No Home and the people was crazy over it. They didn't know the title of the song or who was singin' it so they said - "Play the Frog song by the Frogman". I happened to be in the studio and he said, "From now on your name is Frogman." - Clarence "Frogman" Henry
Monday, November 3, 2008
Four Bitchin‘ Babes: Viagra in the Water
Four Bitchin’ Babes are a folk-comedy-revue, whose members have included Christine Lavin, Patty Larkin, and Julie Gold, among others. The lineup heard here consists of Camille West, Debi Smith, Megon McDonough, and Sally Fingerett. All are also solo artists whose work is well worth seeking out.
As for the song, I thought that, in these, er, hard times, we could all use a good laugh.
Silly Songs: Zippy
As I commented earlier, I had planned to offer up another song for this week’s theme, but Darius’ Steve Goodman led me to Michael Smith – Six Degrees of Separation (minus four) indeed…
Michael Peter Smith (not to be confused with Michael W. Smith, the contemporary Christian artist!) is a singer-songwriter based in the Chicago area, whose best-known work is probably The Dutchman but whose catalog spans decades of material, penduluming from heartfelt to hilarious – he has been covered by Anne Hills, Bernice Lewis, Tom Rush, Claudia Schmidt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Liam Clancy, Small Potatoes, Gordon Bok, Sam Pacetti (whose version of There is positively sighworthy) and even Jimmy Buffett.
Michael had quite a reputation at The Flick in Miami (before I moved to South Florida), playing six nights a week for three years – he performs at GambleFest in St. Augustine each May (having written Gamble’s Guitar for Gamble Rogers, who left this world entirely too early trying to save someone from drowning), as well as other festivals, clubs, concert halls and house concerts. I was honored to present Michael in my living room in May 2002 – he is as shy offstage as he is captivating onstage.
So… here’s Zippy – I not only think it’s one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard… but I’m in constant awe of the fact he has memorized and can deliver each word/line without tripping (no pun intended) over his own tongue!
Submitted by Susan
John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves
The only self-written track from John Prine’s 1999 Duet/Covers album by the same name, In Spite of Ourselves is an honest, brash tune about a pair of lovers who know each other all too well at this point. Iris Dement supplies the female part for this song and a few others from the album. John gets help from Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Loveless (among others) to round out the rest of the disc.
Even when John’s songs inspire a chuckle or two, they still feel like real songs – and not just jokes set to music. He’s got many that could fit this theme, but this one makes me laugh more than any other.
“She don't like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She's my baby
I'm her honey
I'm never gonna let her go
He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
He's my baby
And I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go”
Dan Bern - Tiger Woods
I could probably spend this entire week posting nothing but Dan Bern songs. Hell, I might end up doing it. Dan’s odd, he's quirky and yet he's a totally awesome song writer. This song is not only funny as shit, it offer's some seriously quotable material. It even serves as a cautionary tale about achieving your life goals too early.
Steve Goodman: Lincoln Park Pirates
There are probably many people who know the song, “City of New Orleans” because of Arlo Guthrie’s hit version. Many of these people have probably heard some version or other of the classic folksong, “The Dutchman”. A still smaller subset knows that both of these songs were written and originally performed by Steve Goodman. If you then explore the Goodman songbook, you quickly discover that he had a great sense of humor.
“The Lincoln Park Pirates” is Goodman’s description of the parking situation in Chicago at the time he wrote the song. I’ll let him take it from there.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Billy Bragg and Wilco: Hoodoo Voodoo
When one thinks of Woody Guthrie, one usually things of music with a message. Guthrie sang songs of tolerance, peace, hope, and understanding. He was one of the most important songwriters of the 20th century. He changed beliefs with his words and killed fascists with his machine.
Woody Guthrie also wrote the song "Hoodoo Voodoo."
Tom Lehrer: Masochism Tango
Mathematician Tom Lehrer made a name for himself in the heady comedy days of the fifties and sixties with a series of geeky, pithy songs and parodies which skewered the political and scientific worlds; it is perhaps not too bold a statement to suggest that he was the Weird Al of his day, albeit within the trappings of a suit-and-tie cultural mold and perhaps a slightly more academic bent to his songs, but I would even go so far as to suggest that he manages to transcend the temptation of so many satirist who have come to the scene since, to wit: where Weird Al and others cannot help but repeat the chorus, leaving mild humor in place of rapid-fire hilarity, Lehrer generally manages to keep the laughs coming, shortening his songs as necessary to create the perfect legacy of quick-paced gems.
Lehrer's songs, which run the gamut from religious skewering (The Vatican Rag) to silly songs about Silent E written for early children's show The Electric Company, aren't just lyrically funny; it's his mocking delivery that makes the difference between just plain humorous and absolutely hilarious. His comic timing is sublime; his rhymes are perfect, holding off until the last possible second before dropping the lyrical bomb that prompts the laugh at the end of each couplet; his tone is wry and nasal, and just restrained enough to maximize the timing while making it clear just how much fun we are all having. And Lehrer knows how to use familiar song genres to make the most of his subject, creating just enough of a familiar visual through the use of fast-paced rags and musical numbers; in this case, for example, the tango becomes the perfect carrier for pleasurable cruelty.
Though he managed to extend his interest in his own career somewhat through a residency as composer and singer with the American incarnation of That Was The Week That Was, citing boredom with touring and the demand that he play the same songs over and over again, Lehrer gave up his career as a songwriter and performer on the cusp of the sixties cultural revolution; he subsequently declared political satire obsolete when Kissinger won the Nobel Prize in 1973, and remained an active mathematician in the world of Ivy League academia until his retirement in 2001, albeit one known for occasionally performing topically relevant songs about mathematics as part of his frequent lectures.
And it's easy to see why his legacy continues to this day, despite less than two decades as a performer. Check out the body language and confidence in this performance of the very same song as posted above:
Flight Of The Conchords - Bret, You Got It Going On [purchase]
OK, so I've never actually seen Flight Of The Conchords, despite the fact it's come highly recommended to me on a few different occasions. I also have no idea if this particular song is commercially available. I only have it because it was included on this Sub Pop compilation, which I was given in a swag bag by Waterloo Records, but isn't listed at Amazon, let alone the Sub Pop website. None of the releases linked above have the track, unless it's listed under a different title, or it's an excerpt from a different, longer song. Whatever the case, the song is straight outta the Tenacious D playbook and makes me laugh out loud every time I hear it. Oh, sorry. I meant LOL. Kids today with their acronyms and ironic songs tiptoeing around "alternative lifestyles."
Huey "Piano" Smith & His Clowns: Don't You Just Know It
For this music lover, the hands down king of silly songs has to be Huey "Piano" Smith. My mom tells me that when I was a wee lad, whenever Don't You Just Know It would come on the radio, I would jump up and down with excitement, doing the Curly Shuffle in my crib. To this day, the song still has a visceral effect on me - I find myself transfixed, drawn in on an elemental level to the outright silliness of it.
When Rock and Roll first started, it was filed under record shops' "Novelty" section - and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The very core of Rock should be, to paraphrase David Lynch, "Wild at heart and weird on top". This is what connects artists as diverse as Devo to Little Richard; listen to Keep A Knockin' and contrast it with Come Back Jonee - both are full of joy, outrageousness and unbridled energy. Huey manages to infuse those same three fundamentals into Don't You Just Know It.
No matter what music genre you're a fan of, you should be able to enjoy the sheer exuberant silliness of Huey "Piano" Smith and his Clowns. And because there's never enough absurdity in this world of ours, here's some yockomo to go with the kuba kuba kuba kuba.
Huey "Piano" Smith & His Clowns: Don't You Know Yockomo