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Novelty Songs

By Patrick Mondout

With such classics as "Kung Fu Fighting," "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road," and "Disco Duck," listeners of the Super70s were subjected to more musical abuse from so-called novelty songs than any decade before or since. What follows is a mercifully short list of the best (?) of these goofy grooves.

 

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Convoy by CW McCall
"Breaker-1-9 this is the Rubber Duck." Capitalizing on the CB craze of the mid-Super70s, "Convoy" featured androgynous voices singing a chorus of "Cause we got a little 'o convoy/rockin' through the night. We got a little 'o convoy/ain't she a beautiful sight? Come on and join our convoy/ain't nothin' gonna get in our way/we gonna roll this truckin' convoy/across the USA. Convoy!" Though the subjects of the song were truckers who decided to ride together in a convoy and not let anything -- least of all the smokeys (police) -- get in their way or slow them down, it was most memorable for its use of CB lingo.
It should be noted, however, that while this song capitalized on the CB craze, the CB craze also capitalized on this song. The CB fad was never bigger than while this song was on the top of both the pop and country charts (though Sam Peckinpah made a movie called Convoy in 1978). "Convoy" has alternately been described as the "greatest trucker song of the modern age" and "that awful trucker song with the CB gibberish." The latter gets a "big 10-4, good buddy" from this reviewer.
BONUS POINTS: Five hundred bonus points for anyone who recalls that MGM at first refused to release the song as a single because of its anti-hero qualities. 1000 bonus points and a radar detector if you remember that CW McCall (a.k.a. Bill Fries) also recorded a song called "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep On A Truckin' Cafe."

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Dead Skunk by Loudon Wainwright III
Once thought to be the next Bob Dylan, Wainwright had been dropped by Atlantic records and was about to be dropped by CBS records when his label decided they had nothing to lose by releasing this morbid song. Apparently, someone at CBS smelled a hit. Featuring the repetitive chorus "Ya got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road," this stinker was released in the spring of 1973 to a listening public head over heels in love with the Carpenters and sweet songs from sensitive males. Wainwright encourages his entourage near the end of this disaster with "Come on... stink!"
I'LL NEVER FORGET: A courageous program director of a local radio station ran a Worst 100 Songs off the Rock Era promotion over one dreadful weekend. This song won.

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Disco Duck by Rick Dees and his Cast of Idiots
Memphis deejay Rick Dees blessed us with this fowl, top-selling hit of 1976. It was probably the biggest selling novelty hit of the Super70s. This mega-hit homage to the disco craze features a Donald Duck-like voice exclaiming "Ah get down mama, I've got to have me a woman!" His follow-up single "Dis-Gorilla," which attempted to cash in on the success of the King Kong movie, was a Godzilla-sized flop. However, unlike many of the unfortunate acts on this page, Rick Dees managed to cash in on his 15 minutes of fame by landing TV and radio jobs. 
Every new genre of music deserves this kind of parody. Some more than others.
BONUS POINTS: Take 250 bonus points for remembering that Disco Duck was inspired by the 60's dance hit "The Duck" by Jackie Lee.

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Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas
Actually, the music to this song is quite good as songs in this genre go. However, the fact that the song was attempting to capitalize on the martial arts craze of the mid-Super70s coupled with lyrics such as "They were funky China men from funky Chinatown," require its inclusion here. Complete with sound effects of funky-fu-fighters doing their funky thing, this song fought its was to the top of the charts in late '74. Here is the chorus for those of you who just can't get enough of this song:
"Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they fought with expert timing
"

BONUS POINTS: Four hundred bonus points and an honorary black belt for knowing that Carl's funky-followup-flop was entitled "Dance the Kung Fu."

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Muskrat Love by Captain & Tennille
In case you missed this delightful delicacy, "Muskrat Love" is indeed a song about rodents getting it on. Featuring the timeless line "Now he's tickling her fancy/rubbing her toes. Muzzle to muzzle/anything goes," this song treats the listener who does not immediately change the radio station to what can best be described as electronic rodent-mating sounds (why doesn't my MIDI keyboard have these samples?). This song has made numerous top ten lists over the past twenty or so years. In fact, when our local pop-till-you-drop radio station treated us to the 100 worst songs of all time (as judged by their discerning listeners), this pest finished second only to a dead skunk (see above).
BONUS POINTS: You can reward yourself 250 points if you remember that Sammy and Suzie are the rodents in heat. Give yourself 500 bonus points if you remember the Captain & Tennille's '76/'77 TV show (but deduct 1000 if you enjoyed this show). An additional 1000 bonus points are yours if you remember that this song was actually recorded first by the band Buy CDs from Amazon.com!America ("Ventura Highway," "A Horse with No Name").

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My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry
A seminal member of the generation of artists that gave us rock and roll, Chuck Berry is remembered for such 50's classics as "Johnny B. Goode" and "Maybellene," and - thankfully - not for this naughty, if adolescent song. The lyrics have been the subject of more Ivy-League dissertations than Vietnam (well, not really). A chorus of "My ding-a-ling/my ding-a-ling/I want you to play with my ding-a-ling" had pedophiles excited the entire autumn of 1972. Showing the musical tastes of the disco-dominated late seventies were no match for the early seventies, this song rose to number one for two full weeks before limping off the charts.
The pairing of beloved rock and roll legend Chuck Berry with "My Ding-a-Ling" might at first seem odd, unless you are aware of his run-ins with the law. In 1959 Berry was convicted of immorality regarding a teenage girl under his employ. In 1990, his house was raided and over 80 pornography videotapes - some featuring children - were confiscated. He also was sued by a former cook in his restaurant who was videotaped as she changed clothes in the bathroom. He had apparently taped over 250 women and schoolgirls with a camera behind a false wall. None of this phased Bill Clinton, who had him perform at his initial inaugural.
BONUS POINTS: 750 bonus points are yours if you remember that this live song was backed by the Average White Band ("Pick up the Pieces").

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Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye by Steam
Pop-quiz, hotshot! What song ultimately replaced the Beatles' "Come Together" at the top of the pop charts? You guessed it. Sadder still, the song was by a group that didn't even exist!  The song was the brainchild of a producer named Paul Leka. He had just signed a friend of his (Gary de Carlo) to a record contract and needed a b-side song for the first single. He desired a song that would be so bad, no deejay would confuse it with the radio-friendly a-side. They came up with "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." Much to Mr. Leka's chagrin, the brain-trust at the record company (Mercury) wanted to release Na Na as the a-side! Leka refused but Mercury still wanted the record. They agreed to release the song under an alias so Leka's new act would not have to be associated with it. The name Steam was chosen for the fake band and since the "real" band was busy recording their first album, auditions were held to put together a real band called Steam (all this while the song was already on the charts). Predictably, the new band ran out of steam and did not have any other hits. Ironically enough, however, Steam did have one more hit than Gary de Carlo!
Still chanted at sports venues whenever a visiting team or player goes down to defeat or gets thrown out of the game, this song has endured far longer than anyone could have expected.

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Short People by Randy Newman
Those who get nostalgic for this tune probably don't think much of the political correctness movement. Needless to say,  a novelty song with a chorus consisting of "Short people got no reason to live" would have a hard time finding airplay today. Randy Newman, far from trying to offend anyone, wrote the song as a commentary on how some people treated others who did not live up to society's rigid standards. Despite the lack of a clear PC movement at the time, the vertically-challenged called for a ban of this song which, as usual, meant the rest of us were going to have to hear even more of it. Newman was bemused by the attention and made light of it during the subsequent tour. His jokes were seen by some as further proof that his intentions really were mean-spirited and he started receiving death threats. This first taste of fame was more than enough for Newman and his work over the succeeding decade was mostly behind the scenes on film scores. Of course, it was probably the best thing to ever happen to him as he has had far more success in this venue than he ever did as a stage-act or with his pop recordings. To make a long story short, "Short People" made it all the way to number two on the charts and was easily his biggest hit.
BONUS POINTS: A free night's stay at the Hotel California if you knew that Glen Frey, J.D. Souther, and Tim Schmidt were the backing vocals on this track.

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The Streak by Ray Stevens
Ray Stevens, who began his 1971 hit "Everything is Beautiful" with little girls singing "Jesus loves the little children of the world," had more hit novelty songs than any other artist of the rock era. His biggest hit, which streaked to the top of the charts for three weeks in the spring of 1974, was called "The Streak" and celebrated the then-current fad of streaking. For those too young to remember, streakers took off all their clothes and ran through stores, graduation ceremonies -- wherever there was a crowd (even at the Academy Awards!).
Stripped to its bare essentials, The Streak was the perfect novelty song; it had cool sound effects, it captured a fad at its peak, and did not take itself seriously.

Don't miss our look at songs about pets.

 

Share Your Memories!

Is Novelty Songs one of your favorite albums? What interesting or amusing stories can you tell? Wanna write a review? Share your stories (or your reviews) with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"Back in the Super70s I was working at a radio station in San Francisco. The song Kung Fu Fighting was very popular, however, being sensitive to the very large Chinese community in San Francisco (anyone ever heard of ChinaTown?), we decided to edit out the lines "there were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown". All of our other songs were records (we hadn't gone to carts yet), but Kung Fu Fighting was on tape. Polital correctness in the Super70s. . go figure."

--Ken

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MUSICAL NOTES

Our favorite: Kung-Fu Fighting


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