Thursday, September 30, 2010

Forgotten Music -- David Seville

Back in the olden days there were "novelty songs." These were comic numbers that parodied a hit or had some unusual hook that you didn't find in a standard recording. Often they were just silly, but now and then one of these novelty songs broke out and became a monster hit.

The classic example is "The Chipmunk Song," which was the lowest rated song ever on American Bandstand's "Rate a Record" segment. The three kids on the panel hated it. I know because I was watching the show that day. That was over 50 years ago, and the Chipmunks are still wildly popular. Who would have guessed? Nobody at the time, though Dick Clark told the panel that they were wrong about the song and that he thought it was going to be a huge hit. However, I suspect that even he never imagined what that song would spawn. The song's creator, Ross Bagdasarian, was a cousin of William Saroyan (talk about forgotten writers!), and in 1951 the two of them wrote a big hit for Rosemary Clooney, "Come on-a my House," based on some lines from a Saroyan novel.

On his own, Bagdasarian started out with novelty records like "The Trouble with Harry," as by "Alfi and Harry" in 1956. It has the same title as the Hitchcock movie, but it's not otherwise connected. (However, for you trivia and mystery fans, Bagdasarian did have a small part in Rear Window.)

As David Seville, Bagdsarian really came into his own as a novelty recording star with 1958's "The Witch Doctor," sort of a warm-up for "The Chipmunk Song." The Witch Doctor" sold over a million records.
Silly? Sure, but it had a good beat and you could dance to it.

His next song, "The Bird on my Head" was only a minor hit. Not novelty enough? Too silly? I don't know. I always kind of liked it. But then I'm pretty strange.

Then came "The Chipmunk Song," and while it's a bit early in the year, why not have a listen to one of the biggest novelty songs ever.

I'm out of the loop today, so I have no idea if there are new novelty songs around. If there aren't maybe there's a good reason.


Paul D Brazill said...

The Witchdoctor is the only one I can say for sure that I've heard before although there is something familiar about the others. Wonder how well he did in the UK?

Unknown said...

Good question. I have a feeling he didn't do too well.

Anonymous said...

"oo ee oo ah ah
ting tang walla walla bing bang"

They just don't write classics like that anymore.

"The Chipmunk Song" was the first 45 I ever owned.

*searches for geezer bus*


Anonymous said...

Wrong - "Witch Doctor" reached #2 in the British charts.


Todd Mason said...

With the music-hall tradition, if anything novelty songs did better on average there, I suspect.

As for today's novelty songs, quite aside from the career of the famously good-natured Al Yankovic, there is parade which are featured on the weekly COMEDY DEATH RAY RADIO (named after a recurring review/comedian showcase in LA) where host Scott Aukerman enjoys playing novelty songs, pro and am, as bumpers. Along with Yankovic on the pro side, such folks as They Might Be Giants and Hard and Phirm are making at least some of their careers straddling the line of novelty and...non-novelty? music...though perhaps even more favored than them by me are the charming women of Garfunkel and Oates.

Todd Mason said...

To say nothing of Nellis McKay

Todd Mason said...

Och. or even Nellie McKay.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link, Todd.

Jeff, that's why I don't gamble.

George said...

Wow, this brings back a lot of memories!

Todd Mason said...

And I did, btw, do a William Saroyan novel (or "novel" as collection of linked short stories) as one of my FFBs a while back.

Todd Mason said...

(that should be "a parade" as in a parade of novelty songs on CDR RADIO, as audible here: )

Now to go Work and eventually get my own accreting Forgotten Music post up...

Evan Lewis said...

Witch Doctor - YES!
Chipmunks - NO!