We’re all familiar with the novelty tunes by guys like “Weird Al” Yankovic, or one-hit wonders like Buckner and Garcia with “Pac-Man Fever” or the Jump ‘N The Saddle Band with “The Curly Shuffle.” But let’s forget all those for a moment, and focus on the artists with long, established careers and are mostly known for their “serious” work who, for whatever reasons, decide to do a silly song. This is a collection of those artists and their novelty song moments.
“You Know My Name (Look up the Number),” the Beatles (Past Masters Vol. 2)
Okay, the Fab Four always had their share of whimsical tunes, but none ever came as close to sheer lunacy as the original B-side to the “Let It Be” single. Featuring the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones on saxophone, Paul McCartney’s self-professed favorite Beatles song of all time goes from a screaming rocker to a lounge band tribute to Monty Python-like zaniness and ends with John Lennon slurring his way into a tasty belch at the end. The fact that it was the B-side to such a serious tune only makes the joke that much funnier.
“Something Happened to Me Yesterday,”
the Rolling Stones (Between the Buttons)
It’s been said that this song is an ode to LSD. If so, that makes perfect sense. If not, it doesn’t really matter. Here, the Stones decide to do a little dancehall/vaudeville pop routine to close out their finest ‘60s album. At the end, Jagger reminds all the listeners that “We’re right.” Okay, so it probably is about drugs then. Cheeky lads! Too bad they had to go and muck it up with their super novelty album disaster Their Satanic Majesties Request.
“Cobwebs and Strange,” the Who (A Quick One)
Like the Beatles, the Who were no strangers to a silly song from time to time (the two-parter “Dogs” is way out in the deep end). When it was time to record their second album, the band had a great idea to make more money for themselves by having each member write a song or two. Of course, Keith Moon came up with the most insane track of the bunch, “Cobwebs and Strange.” It’s probably the most off-the-rails instrumental ever recorded by a classic rock group, showcasing not only Moon’s insane drumming but also Pete Townshend’s jacked-up rhythm guitar going 100 miles an hour. Oh, and let’s not forget the vast array of brass instruments than Entwistle brought to the party as well. Times sure were different then.
“The Crunge,” Led Zeppelin (Houses of the Holy)
In which Zep lays down a funk improvisation followed by Robert Plant trying to his best James Brown. It’s even more of a goof than the highly enjoyable and silly “D’yer Mak’er” from the same album. Gotta love those goofy synth horn parts by John Paul Jones as well. And yes, the whole “Has anybody seen the bridge?” routine became a big quotable in-joke for music fans everywhere afterward. Seriously, though, where’s that confounded bridge?
“Excuse Me,” Peter Gabriel (Peter Gabriel [first album])
The song opens with a barbershop harmony intro and then slides headlong into some tasty 1920s straw hat/striped jacket pop that should have made Paul McCartney green with envy. The fact that it’s a bit of a depressing affair lyrically only adds to the fun. Who needs a Cadillac, indeed.
“Doing That Scrapyard Thing,” Cream (Goodbye)
Hey, who knew Jack Bruce was such a zany dude? And why didn’t he get to do more of this sort of thing with Cream? Oh well, on their final album Clapton and company kind of just let it all hang out, and Jack Bruce did his best Beatles routine here, eschewing all that heavy-heavy stuff that was favored on the previous albums. After this, Clapton would turn into a smack junkie, Jack Bruce would do a little work for Lou Reed, and Ginger Baker would continue to look frightening.
“Death Is a Star,” the Clash (Combat Rock)
Undoubtedly the weirdest tune the Clash ever recorded, “Death Is a Star” sounds like some sort of demented Andrew Lloyd Weber track from hell. It’s not too dissimilar to the eerie “Cousin Jane” by the Troggs in its instrumentation, but it is sheer goofiness through and through. But the Clash always did whatever they wanted, and of course, after this, Joe Strummer fired Mick Jones, found two dudes to replace him, and shat out the horrendous Cut the Crap. You betcha.
“Punky’s Dilemma,” Simon & Garfunkel (Bookends)
“Wish I was a Kellogg’s corn flake sittin’ in my bowl takin’ movies,” sings Paul Simon at the beginning of this little ditty. He then ponders being an English muffin, a First Lieutenant and also has time to throw in a verse about sneaking down to the basement to smoke some grass. Ah yes, the ‘60s. Simon has often been labeled as pretentious, but this song shows the guy definitely has a lighter side. Good times.
“Heavy Metal Poisoning,” Styx (Kilroy Was Here)
Okay, you could basically list this entire album here, but nothing on it is as goofy or cringe-worthy as this track. James Young bellows such idiotic lines as “Get the lead out, go for broke / Pop your pills and drink and smoke / Shoot those chemicals in your vein / Anything to ease the paiiiiiiiiiiin!” And he does this all under the character guise of “Doctor Righteous.” Only in the ‘80s, kids. Just say no to concept albums.
“An Elpee’s Worth of Toons,” Todd Rundgren (Todd)
Todd Rundgren has always had a whimsical side to balance out his more serious stuff, but on this track, he perfectly laments the whole bitch that is the music business, what with making records, having hits, and the like. And this was in 1974. In this day and age when Crazy Frog can have a hit tune that’s already a novelty track to begin with (“Axel F,” in case you forgot), it can only make you scratch your head and ponder the significance of Todd’s thoughts even more.
“The Boxer,” Bob Dylan (Self Portrait)
Holy crap. Let’s listen to the master go totally off the rails as he destroys not only his own tunes (“Like a Rolling Stone”), but also other people’s. The cover of “Blue Moon” on this album is certainly heinous, but this version of the moving Simon & Garfunkel tune is just embarrassingly hilarious. The double-tracked vocals are as shitty as shitty gets, and the performance is everything a person doing a parody of Dylan would do. Of course, Bob has always shifted back and forth about this album in regards to whether or not it was all a big joke, so whoever is going to have the last laugh will forever be a mystery.
“Heartbreak Hotel,” John Cale (Slow Dazzle)
In which John Cale takes the Elvis classic, dresses it up like a death-loving whore, and makes it preen all over the stage, weeping in a heap. And of course, Cale was completely sincere about it. At least I think he was. After all, this was the same album that sported the fun-lovin’ “Ski Patrol.” Hey, wait a minute…
“The Girls of Porn,” Mr. Bungle (Mr. Bungle)
“My hand gets tired and my dick gets sore / But the girls of porn want more,” bemoans poor Mike Patton in this psycho rave-up from Mr. Bungle’s debut. See, the thing about this band was that they weren’t a novelty group, but simply one of the most disturbing and creative acts ever put in a studio. Nobody grooves it better than Mikey. That guy is a serious freak.
“San Tropez,” Pink Floyd (Meddle)
For all the serious psychological mind trips Roger Waters got into later in his career, he sure was an experimental goof at times in the years before Pink Floyd became super huge. On this track, he leads the band through their best lounge group imitation, with nary a hint of irony. Sure, what did the band have to lose at this point? After Dark Side of the Moon’s success, you’d never hear Waters crack any sort of joke again.
“On Any Other Day,” the Police (Regatta De Blanc)
Hey, Stewart Copeland gets to sing one! Adding some well-deserved silliness to Sting’s ever-so-serious musings, “On Any Other Day” shows that there were really two lyrical masterminds in The Police. Oh wait…there’s also that stunning “Mother” by Andy Summer on Synchronicty…no, this is definitely a much better novelty tune.