My debut feature for tnocs was to introduce some of the novelty hits that we Brits have loved to send storming up the charts.
Given that there’s a rich vein of this stuff, and you might have finally gotten the Smurfs out of your head… it’s about time we had Part Two.
Not all of these were intended as novelty records. But there’s something about all of them that marks them out from the usual chart fare.
Beginning with the rarefied air of classical music. Though keen eared listeners may notice that something is wrong with the orchestra.
That would be because they didn’t know how to play their instruments.
Portsmouth Sinfonia is where the avant garde meets slapstick comedy.
It was put together in 1970 by composer Gavin Bryars from students at the Portsmouth School of Art.
All abilities were encouraged resulting in members ranging from inept novices through to actual musical geniuses.
Brian Eno joined up and produced their first album. Composer Michael Nyman and record producer Clive Langer also took part before their careers took off.
To even the playing field, those who did have musical training had to commit to an instrument they weren’t familiar with.
Hence why Eno was on clarinet.
What was originally intended to be a one-off performance: lasted a decade.
They played the Royal Albert Hall, recorded albums and attracted both rave reviews and considerable disdain.
Rolling Stone dismissed their debut album Portsmouth Sinfonia Play the Popular Classics as ‘perhaps the worst record ever made; best dismissed as an intellectual joke’.
Though they did also name it ‘Comedy Album of the Year’ for 1975.
The marketing department played up the comedy element, and described them as The Worst Orchestra In The World™ – despite that the intention within the Sinfonia was always to play it straight. The eths was to try their hardest while recognising that the comedy element would naturally occur.
They focused on well known classical pieces, so those who weren’t encumbered by playing ability at least knew what it should sound like.
They last performed live in 1979 and rounded off their career with this top 40 single.
Created on the back of the music medley craze and the likes of Hooked On Classics, the Sinfonia brought their own particular qualities to the genre.
As if the playing alone wasn’t bad enough, they jar badly with the distracting backing track, which changes tempo along with the painful segues into each new element.
The late 70s / early 80s was fertile ground for choirs of fresh faced cherubs marauding up the charts. Pink Floyd got away with it by turning their choir of juvenile delinquents to the dark side.
Everyone else went for unbearably twee. Which masks the bleakness of the lyrics which feature a Sparrow having an existential crisis and worrying itself to the grave. That’s entertainment kids – that’s the 70s!
Whereas by the early 90s it was a very different landscape. I’m not sure Big Bird will have approved of this.
The nascent rave scene of the early 90s saw a brief fad for toytown techno: taking children’s TV themes and setting them to hardcore rave.
British kids classics, The Magic Roundabout, Roobarb & Custard and Trumpton got the treatment.
Smart E’s went the American route.
At the same time as toytown techno, thinly veiled references to Ecstasy were all over the charts.
E-Zee Possee correctly asserted that Everything Starts With An ‘E,’ though spelling may not have been uppermost in their thoughts.
The Shamen went to #1 shouting that ‘E’s are good’ while claiming that it was a perfectly innocent reference to the titular character of Ebeneezer Goode.
The combination of drugs references and kids TV didn’t harm its appeal. The Top of the Pops performance took the Portsmouth Sinfonia approach and featured a load of hyped up kids singing along. What they lacked in singing ability they made up for in volume.
Goldie Lookin’ Chain
Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do
The Welsh answer to Wu Tang Clan. The GLC, as they are otherwise known, are an eight strong comedy rap group. So perhaps they’re the Welsh hip hop answer to Weird Al.
They hit the limelight in the mid 00s, signing with a major label – much to their own surprise – and having a run of six top 40 hits and a #5 album.
They called that major label debut album: “Greatest Hits.”
They aren’t the most accomplished rappers, and it all sounds pretty chaotic and amateurish. But they carried it off with a sense of humour, and a genuine love for hip hop.
This one took inspiration from the politicisation of rap by those keen to blame it for societies’ ills. It was 2004 so maybe they were behind the times, especially with the rappers they reference.
But the names would all resonate even for the casual British listener with no real interest in rap.
Keith Harris and Orville
If you thought “Disco Duck” was bad:
Orville is a large green nappy wearing duckling. With an annoying squeaky voice and equally annoying personality. Both of which are courtesy of the man with his hand up Orville’s orifice; Keith.
Keith and Orville were TV regulars through the 80s. I was 6 when this came out so was the perfect age to appreciate Orville. Even as a 6 year old though, I had too much self respect to fall for the oversized green goofball.
Keith’s other puppet was Cuddles The Monkey, who lived his life in the shadow of Orville.
His catchphrase was; “I hate that duck”.
I empathised. I hated that duck too.
Orville’s song is a classic tale of forlorn orphaned duckling with an inferiority complex and the kindly guiding paternal love of his new dad. It would take a hard heart not to be moved by that.
In which case: call me heartless. Watch and wince.
Having a party and need a guaranteed floor filler? Then Agadoo is at your service. Think Macarena, but replace the ageing Spanish gents with a couple of bleach blonde blokes from northern England.
Viewers be warned that this should not be watched in a state of sobriety. To experience Agadoo in its purest form you need to be either jacked up on sugary drinks and additives til you’re bouncing off the walls or be in a group of adults inebriated to the point of derangement.
Black Lace started out in the 70s as a normal four piece band playing unexceptional lite rock / pop. Their most notable achievement was representing UK in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest.
They came in 7th, the single; Mary Ann, fell short of the top 40, disappearing back to touring clubs and holiday camps.
They reappeared like a virulent pestilence in 1983, down to a duo and playing horrifyingly catchy party songs, with accompanying dance moves. Agadoo was the 2nd of three top 10 hits and was inescapable for the next decade if you attended any sort of party.
If you want a measure of their oeuvre; further singles were; Do The Conga and The Hokey-Cokey.
Oh – and there was one called Gang Bang. That one didn’t get played at children’s parties. Lets hope not anyway. I don’t know if “gang bang” translates across the ocean but in this context it refers to a good old fashioned orgy.
Carried off with what we call here a “saucy, end of the pier” approach.
Day Trip to Bangor (Didn’t We Have A Lovely Time)
I believe the appropriate description for this is: “jaunty.” Folk music doesn’t often breach the upper reaches of the chart but this upbeat retelling of a lovely day out at the seaside put that right.
Different times indeed, Elsie and our narrator got lunch for under a pound and on the bus home shared a cuddle and a bottle of cider with Jack. I’m sure there were other not quite so innocent variations on what went on at the back of the bus.
Bangor is a city on the North Wales coast. I’ve never been there, on a day trip or otherwise, though I did drive round the outskirts on the way to our holiday destination further down the coast last summer. We did have a lovely time even though we weren’t in Bangor and the holiday began with us getting trapped in the apartment when the door handle broke. That’s another story though.
Should the fancy take you for a lovely day out in Bangor:
- It’s the oldest and third smallest city in Wales
- It has a 12th century cathedral,
- The second longest pier in Wales (460 metres
- The longest high Street in Wales (0.79 miles, you long fact fans)
- It’s the home of Penrhyn Castle…
- and the SAORImôr Japanese freestyle handweaving studio.
But before you rush out to book your flights why don’t you finish the rest of the article?
No Way Sis
I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing
Not quite ‘the real thing.’ Oasis were so popular here in the mid 90s that even covers band No Way Sis managed a top 40 hit of their own. So dedicated to apeing Oasis, they even included a pair of brothers.
Noel Gallagher wasn’t averse to ‘borrowing’ a melody to enhance Oasis’ music.
The band’s second single; Shakermaker helped itself to The New Seekers Coke-pushing anthem, I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.
Resulting in Oasis giving away a reported half a million pounds to settle the resulting court case.
Seeing an angle and an opportunity, No Way Sis covered ILTTTWTS, throwing in a few yeah yeah yeah’s as a reference to Shakermaker. Sounds exactly like you’d expect it to.
Right Said Fred
What George Martin did before The Beatles. On taking over as head of the Parlophone label in 1955 George extended its range from specialising in classical and original cast recordings into comedy records. Peter Sellers was one of the most notable names he recorded, but it was future national treasure Bernard Cribbins who delivered three hits in 1962.
Due in part to George’s production and use of sound effects adding an extra layer to this story of good old fashioned incompetence and tea drinking.
Bernard’s career spanned generations. He was mainly known as an actor and was a regular on kids TV in my youth. Nearly 40 years later and I found myself watching him again with my daughter in the 2010s when he was well into his 80s. This is his greatest moment, in my humble opinion.
Obviously the title of this song will be familiar from another novelty act. But here at tnocs… we’re too sexy for that.
Rotterdam Termination Source
While we wait for our friend Bill Bois to cover “What Makes Happy Hardcore, “Happy Hardcore,” we’ll make do with this.
Five and a half minutes of your brain being pummeled into submission by pounding repetitive beats and a constant ‘poinging’ sound that will be with you long after its finished – regardless of whether you make it through the whole track.
I will be impressed if anyone does report back that they got through the full five minutes.
Oh – and do not listen to this just before you go to bed. You have been warned.
There you go; classical, folk, choral, rave, rock and ventriloquism. Something for everyone.
And there’s still plenty of prime candidates for a future entry.
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