The Novelty Is Wearing Off

507 views

Reading cstolliver’s article on the novelty records of his youth, it struck me how despite globalisation and shared cultural experiences, there is still a lot that just doesn’t travel or translate. Only “The Streak” was well known to me despite Britain having a long track record of embracing the weird and wonderful (maybe wonderful is pushing it) and sending it flying up the charts.

To reciprocate the experience and for your bafflement, and in some cases no doubt, your disbelief, I now present to you 12 of our finest, covering a variety of genres from the 60s to the 90s. There’s a lot to choose from and this is just a random selection, so if these whet your appetite (or you’re a masochist) there’s plenty more where these came from to discover.

The only criteria I adhered to in selecting these was to avoid #1s given that these have already been covered by Saint Nothing over at the mothership. Though I did then break the only criteria I created for myself with one of them; it is my party after all; but it’s from 1960 so predates Saint’s write ups.

In no particular order, other than I’ve saved the worst two ’til last as they really are a class apart, here you are. Strap yourselves in, no need to thank me. Enjoy!

Morris Minor and the MajorsStutter Rap (No Sleep Til Bedtime)

The man behind this is Tony Hawks – no, definitely not that one. This Tony Hawks is a slightly posh British comedian. Riding on the back of Beastie Boys early notoriety he put this together to parody their success and ended up with a #4 hit, bigger than Beastie Boys ever managed here. For context, a Morris Minor is a car, produced here in the post WW2 period. Not that cars have anything to do with the song or their act. Lining up along with Morris were Rusty Wing and Phil Errup, probably not their real names. I was 11 when it came out and I loved it, bought the single and was positive it would go all the way to #1. After all this time I can still remember the lyrics off by heart. As parodies go its not a bad effort and their impersonation of the Beasties vocal style and interplay is surprisingly not terrible. The Chaka Khan / Chuck A Can joke still makes me laugh.

Years later Tony tried to make another single that would free him from the status of one hit wonder, writing a book, One Hit Wonderland, detailing his efforts. After a number of failures he eventually found top 20 success in Albania by collaborating with Norman Wisdom, an English comedy actor by then in his mid 80s who was bizarrely popular there. That though is a whole other story.

Oas*s – Wibbling Rivalry


WARNING – CONTAINS A LOT OF SWEARING (the link, not my comments, that is)
Oasis took themselves pretty seriously despite the relationship between Liam and Noel resembling a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I was going to include The Mike Flowers Pops easy listening cover of Wonderwall but that was too obvious a cash in. So instead I give you Wibbling Rivalry, a recording of an interview with the brothers from 1994  consisting of 14 minutes 32 seconds of arguing. Credited to Oas*s to get round the fact this was not a Creation records approved release, the Mancunian Swearing Championships got to #52 in late ’95. A shame it didn’t make the top 40 as seeing Liam and Noel recreate it live on Top of the Pops may have been a piece of performance art to echo through the ages but never mind.  This is evidence of how huge Oasis were in Britain that people would pay to listen to them argue. I was one of the idiots that bought it – listened to it once and never pressed play again. As a review on Amazon says, ‘if you like swearing then this is the CD for you!’

Parts 1 and 2:

Alexei Sayle – ‘Ullo John Got A New Motor?
Unhinged comedian takes his sense of danger to #15 in the charts in 1984. Not so much a song as a series of bizarre and unrelated non-sequiturs showcasing Alexei’s vocal delivery which was perfectly matched by his spasmodic dance moves. All accentuated by his look which entailed a suit slightly too small for him and a pork pie hat pulled forward over his eyes. It all added up to the type of character you’d cross roads, rivers and mountains to avoid.  Sample lyric; “They put me in a special hospital” sums it up.

Alexei was a big name on the alternative comedy scene in the 80s. He could be fiercely political but as Ullo John Got A New Motor? shows he was just as at home being fiercely deranged. Don’t try to make sense of it, just enjoy the ride.

Harry Enfield Loadsamoney (Doin’ Up The House)
Saturday Live was a late night comedy showcase in the mid to late 80s featuring stand up, sketches and music, I can’t imagine where that idea came from. A number of comedians became household names on the back of it like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie but the one that broke biggest was Harry Enfield. And of all the characters he appeared as Loadsamoney was the big one, a cultural phenomenon.

The character was meant to be a critical response to the capitalist policies of the Thatcher government. Loadsamoney was a working class Gordon Gekko, a plasterer who boasted constantly about how much money he was earning. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t really get the satire and thought he was an aspirational character or didn’t really care and just found him funny without thinking about what was behind it. He was so popular that the logical next step was to make a record.

Unlike some of the other songs here they had a major label behind them and decent production values. They went for a house track reminiscent of Pump Up The Volume and allowed Loadsamoney to let rip with his grotesque pride in his finances over the top of it. It got to #4, Loadsamoney was everywhere and having cashed in on his success Harry swiftly killed off his best known character, having him run over by a car in a sketch, at concern he was being seen in a positive manner. Harry went onto bigger success without him but Loadsamoney still resonates.

Claire and Friends – Its ‘Orrible Being In Love When You’re 8 and a Half
Saturday Superstore was a kids magazine show on BBC1 presented by Mike Read whose other job was Radio 1 DJ. He has a special place in UK #1 folklore for refusing to play Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood due to its obscene content. This was gleefully seized upon by Frankie’s record label as a promotional tool. It went on to spend just the 5 weeks at the top and over a year in the charts. One can only imagine how popular it would have been without his intervention. I digress. Each year the Superstore held a talent contest and in 1986 Claire along with her Friends was the lucky winner with this song. It got a single release and reached #13. Claire attended St. Winifred’s Roman Catholic School in Stockport. A name that is burned deep into the psyche of Brits of a certain age due to their musical atrocity; There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. That one was Christmas #1 in 1980 so is excluded from this review but feel free to look it up, I dare you. They weren’t just one hit wonders either, they provided choral services to another novelty #1, Brian and Michael’s Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs. I realise that for the uninitiated you may think that is a remarkably unwieldy title, what does it even mean and are you sure any of this is actually real? Trust me, its real.

Unfortunately, despite the title this wasn’t an angst ridden pre-adolescent proto-emo anthem. Its a precocious 8 (and a half) year old trying to look sad, chirping away to a perky backing track that sounds like one of the preset functions on a keyboard. Its got the horrendous quality of being really catchy and goes all out to force you into submission with a choir while the music pitches steadily upwards to reach a mild crescendo. Truly ‘orrible.

Claire did release further singles but she could never recapture the magic – all washed up at 8 (and a half). One of these was accompanying someone calling themselves the Singing Fireman on Welephant Song. I’m tempted to leave you bewildered at that but I guess I’ll explain in case you think this is all a  weird fever dream I’m having. Welephant was an elephant that wore wellies and promoted fire safety to children. Sometimes life can be boringly mundane and other days you find yourself explaining Welephant to Americans, its a journey.

Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman
Lonnie Donegan is a legend of British music as the King of Skiffle. 17 top 10 hits between 1956 and 1962, three of which got to number 1 – including this. He typically took American blues and folk songs like Rock Island Line and remade them in his own pared back, home made style. His first #1 was a raucously basic take on Cumberland Gap, its power was in the fact that it sounds like anyone could do it (I highly recommend listening to it as probably the most primitive chart topper ever). And they did. In amongst the early American rock n’ rollers, blues and soul artists that the stars of the British invasion of the 60s were enamoured with, Lonnie was a standout home inspiration. Lennon and McCartney amongst many others cited him as such. Ironically his last hit was in 1962 as his huge earlier success was swept away by a wave of the younger performers he inspired.

As the 50s ended skiffle gave way to a more traditionally British music hall style for Lonnie. One of hits from this period, I’m fairly astonished to learn got to #5 on the Billboard chart; Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)?

Given that you might actually know that one, here’s his final number one from 1960 as proof that novelty songs have always been a winner on the British charts. This song was familiar all through my childhood without any idea it was a hit single, it felt like it was a lot older, from the heyday of the music hall in the first half of the 20th century. Turns out Lonnie wrote it. The recording contains the sound of a crowd laughing to punctuate all the punchlines and further emphasise its music hall roots. As a time capsule its hard to believe this was shortly before Merseybeat rendered Lonnie and a whole lot of others obsolete on the charts.

Andy Stewart Donald Where’s Your Troosers?
And now for something completely different with the tale of proud Scotsman Donald and his flaunting of fashion etiquette by wearing a kilt in London. All performed in a traditional Scottish style til 2 minutes in when Andy brazenly courts the international market when it morphs into an impression of Elvis.

It only reached #37 when first released in 1960 before being exhumed by Radio 1 breakfast DJ Simon Mayo in 1989 as a bit of fun. By the power of having one of the most listened to shows on the radio, a few spins of this and it was released back into the wild finding a new peak of #4 in the lucratively tasteless Christmas chart race.

Having tasted success once, Mayo repeated the trick the next year with Kinky Boots, a 1960s swinging London curio from actors Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman which reached #5. He topped that in 1991 by reviving Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian and getting it to #3. I’ve seen a number of instances over at Tom’s place of DJs using their power to push a forgotten single, b-side or oldie but I’m not sure any of them matches up to what Simon Mayo did. Having a primetime national show enabled him to dig out records far removed from what was in the charts and promote them to an all too eager audience.

Splodgenessabounds Two Pints of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps Please
Punk wasn’t all righteous indignation and nihilistic anger at the state of the nation and a future devoid of prospects. Sometimes it was righteous indignation and growing frustration at the inability to get served in a pub. Backed by the dischordant noise of a basic post-punk rattle our unlucky narrator gets ever more desperate as his repeated requests for two pints of lager and a packet of crisps go unrewarded. This being punk there’s no happy ending as the barmaid calls time gentleman please and he begins to sob. It made it to #7 so hopefully he was able to get a few rounds in with the proceeds.

I can relate to his woe. As a student I went to a bar where you paid an entry fee and drinks were free for the first hour. This sounded like the thingd dreams are made of to a poor student. My dreams were quickly dashed though. My mates all got served whereas I stood for what seemed like forever trying to get the bar staff’s attention as they looked right through me and served the never ending stream of thirsty freeloading students surrounding me. I managed to claim one free drink in the hour. The shame of it.

https://youtu.be/tf3aJx7D7YA

Toy Dolls – Nellie the Elephant
Punk reinterpretation of a beloved children’s song from the 50s. It seems so obvious an idea but it took a few goes for it to catch on from first recording it in 1982 to eventually ending up at #4 two years later. As with many of these, they’re a one hit wonder but like fellow punk outlaws Splodgenessabounds, they’ve carried on going. Punk will never die it seems.

Full disclosure, I loved it. It brings back vivid memories of primary school discos. During the quiet verses we’d slowly stalk the school hall, into the drawn out “oooooooohhhh” leading into the chorus and arms would be windmilling Pete Townshend style. And then the cathartic release of the amped up chorus was met by kids leaping in the air, barging into each other and revelling in the idiocy of it all. Happy days!

The Commentators N-N-N-Nineteen Not Out
For extra bafflement value, a ‘comedy’ song about cricket. A game where a match can go on for 7 hours a day for 5 days and still end in a draw. A glorious game! Non cricketing nations may feel that the reason internationals are called Test Matches is that they’re a test of everyone’s patience and boredom threshold. There’s plenty of terrible football songs but cricket doesn’t get much of a look in – listening to this you’ll probably think thisone is one too many. The Commentators was Rory Bremner, he would come to be primarily known as a political impressionist but this was one of his first entries into the public eye. Its a parody of Paul Hardcastle’s innovative electro anti-war track; 19 from earlier in 1985. Instead of highlighting the trauma of the Vietnam war this was based on the England cricket teams disastrous series against the West Indies the year before with Rory doing impressions of various commentators and players. England captain David Gower had averaged 19 as a batsman. For those not as familiar with the game, an average of 19 is very bad. As is the record. There’s symmetry for you. Unfortunately the symmetry didn’t extend to its chart position as it topped out at #13 before being swiftly forgotten.

Arthur Mullard and Hylda BakerYou’re The One That I Want
I recently watched Grease for the first time since I was a teenager. The main thing that struck me, having been oblivious before, was the ridiculous age disparity between the actors and their characters. This cover of Sandy and Danny’s duet takes that premise and goes wild. It was recorded when Arthur and Hylda were 68 and 73, both of them veteran comedy actors. The Top of the Pops performance is legendary for all the wrong reasons, performed in a manner that says drunken elderly relatives at a wedding. The audience shots largely reflect detached boredom, I can only assume they all had to convince themselves this wasn’t really happening as its so astonishingly jaw droppingly bad. That didn’t stop it getting to #22. Or maybe its the reason it didn’t go any higher. The kind of thing that makes you think perhaps it would be better just to ban music altogether rather than allowing this to happen.

Smurfs I’ve Got A Little Puppy
In the face of stiff competition this could be my personal worst. Arthur and Hylda may be horrific but the joke was on them whereas The Smurfs were on a cynical mission to part parents from their money then take them to the brink of insanity as they were forced to listen on repeat. The Smurfs were no one hit wonder either, with three top 20 hits in the late 70s credited to Father Abraham and the Smurfs and after taking a lengthy break due to musical differences, rehab, jobs in telesales, whoever held the rights got the band back together at the height of Britpop in an attempt to destroy civilisation as we know it. Father Abraham was nowhere to be seen this time, maybe they ate him, maybe he’s in a shallow grave somewhere in Smurf Village. I wouldn’t put anything past them having heard this.

Stepping upto the plate, in the absence of their former leader they delivered this monstrosity to #4. It was followed by another top 10 hit and an accompanying album that featured a duet with Mr Blobby – I haven’t listened, I would do anything for TNOCS but I won’t do that. In fact they had 3 top 10 albums within 6 months of this. Whoever was in charge was obviously working on the premise that the ‘joke’ would wear thin very quickly so best cash in while they can. Never mind the quality, feel the quantity.

The track is a parody of another novelty record. Technohead’s “I Wanna Be A Hippy” was an annoying happy hard-core dance record that repeatedly proclaimed, “I want to be a hippy and I want to get stoned.” The Smurfs turned it into a weapons grade song of mass destruction, changing the lyrics to “I’ve got a little puppy, a little dog of my own”. It sounds and looks as though it took less time to make it than it does to listen to it. Everything about it reeks of having been done on the cheap, its for little kids so why bother putting any effort or care into? The voice is aggravating, the music is hideous and it is relentless, repeating itself incessantly so that once heard it will linger on in your memory, much like a festering wound.

Still, its no Kokomo.

Let the author know that you liked their article with a ‘heart’ upvote!

3
2

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

Subscribe
Notify of
23 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
dothestrand
Member
Trusted Member
dothestrand
Offline
March 31, 2022 10:51 am

I’m trying to think of any notable novelties from recent years. I guess LadBaby. Those sausage rolls are incredible.
imo Andy Stewart was just a lukewarm Harry Lauder, and we really didn’t need another of him (ur-purveyor of the Scottish Cringe), but nonetheless I love ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers’

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
March 31, 2022 11:07 am

Thanks for this great sequel. I can’t wait to get home from work and watch all the videos.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Offline
March 31, 2022 11:16 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I love that JJ gave you a shout-out, cst.
This reminds me of the occasional “response records” that would come up from time to time; a song that “replied to” a recent hit record.
I know that it was a thing…but at the moment I can’t think of any examples.

Anyone?

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
March 31, 2022 5:03 pm

I’m reading a book on early rock ‘n’ roll, and it was a really common trend in the 50’s.

This page has a few of them:

http://dpeneny.1hwy.com/answer_songs_jukebox.htm

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
March 31, 2022 12:58 pm
Reply to  mt58

The one that comes quickest to mind is Barbara Mason’s “From His Woman to You,” a great response song to Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman.”

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Offline
March 31, 2022 3:01 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

AHA! OK – Now I remember one! Oran “Juice” Jones…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dZW1C3neao
… and the scathing response by Miss Thang…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEoCPtrzI58

Last edited 2 years ago by mt58
cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
April 2, 2022 3:22 pm
Reply to  mt58

Wow, that is scathing! “Did they have a sale at Chains ‘R’ Us?” Bwha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

ArchieLeech
Member
Noble Member
ArchieLeech
Offline
March 31, 2022 1:33 pm
Reply to  mt58

Leonard Skinnard’s “Sweet Home Alabama” was an answer to Neil Young’s “Alabama” (and maybe also “Southern Man”).

In 50s R&B, Hank Ballard had a hit with “Work With Me, Annie,” and Etta James had “Roll With Me, Henry,” although that was too racy, so it was titled “The Wallflower.” Ballard got a co-writing credit on the answer song.

In the country world, there was Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” and Kitty Wells’s amazing retort, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
March 31, 2022 1:47 pm

I’m familiar with, and like, Lonnie Donegan and Toy Dolls, but most of these are new to me. “Its ‘Orrible Being In Love When You’re 8 and a Half” is charming for a minute but I don’t need to hear it again for a while.

But I’ve just played “Donald Where’s Your Troosers?” for my wife and she loved it. She loves all things Scottish and I suspect we’ll be singing this next time we have a wee dram.

dutchg8r
Member
Famed Member
dutchg8r
Offline
March 31, 2022 4:44 pm

I actually know Donald Where’s Your Troosers!

Episode 3 of this season’s Amazing Race had the teams go to Scotland. One of the Detour options was for teams to go get ‘kilted up’ and learn a choreographed routine while singing Donald Where’s Your Troosers. From an 8 year old.

Here’s the winning team for that leg giving an encore performance at the pit stop –

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kJUGQ5HBxqc

Thanks for providing us that list JJ, I think I’m looking forward to playing the clips later????!

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
March 31, 2022 4:58 pm

Nice!

I always loved Alexei Sayle’s cameos on The Young Ones, but this song is fantastic. It’s like the missing link between Pere Ubu and Tim & Eric. More please!

Both Grouse
Member
Noble Member
Both Grouse
Offline
April 8, 2022 11:14 pm

Alexei Sayle – the legendary Fifth Young One!

He’s not really foreign, you know. He just does it to appear more SOPHISTICATED.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfMy1V7Ma8E

Last edited 2 years ago by Both Grouse
blu_cheez
Member
Famed Member
blu_cheez
Offline
March 31, 2022 6:13 pm

Nellie the Elephant is the absolute BOMB. That is all.

Aaron3000
Member
Famed Member
Aaron3000
Offline
March 31, 2022 10:37 pm

A dozen more examples of why the British singles chart is infinitely more interesting than what we have stateside, thank you JJ.

Although it probably wasn’t the best idea for me to listen to the Smurf song just before bed…

PUPPYPUPPYPUPPYPUPPYPUPPYPUPPYPUPPYPUPPY

lovethisconcept
Member
Famed Member
April 2, 2022 2:13 pm

You did it! And I almost missed it. Having been out of touch for several days, I have just gotten around to this in all of its awful gloriousness. Love it.

23
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x