Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Does music belong in humor?: 15 novelty singles from prominent funnymen

Illustration for article titled Does music belong in humor?: 15 novelty singles from prominent funnymen

1. Rodney Dangerfield, "Rappin' Rodney"

Maybe there's a good reason Rodney Dangerfield never got any respect: He's a horrible rapper. In fact, it's a stretch to even classify the self-deprecating comedian's performance on the title track to 1983's Rappin' Rodney as "rapping": Dangerfield merely rattles off his self-deprecating one-liners, as fly girls chant "No respect! No respect!" between the setup and punchline over a funky, unrelated beat. It's the epitome of a novelty song: It coasts on a dated gag, but it wears thin even during the initial listen. Fortunately, there's a video he made for a network special, which amplifies the song's amateurish cluelessness, but at least weaves the "song" into a puzzling courtroom setting, and includes Father Guido Sarducci nibbling on Dangerfield's last meal.

2. Billy Crystal, "You Look Mahvelous"

Billy Crystal's inside-showbiz parody of Fernando Lamas as a smooth-talking, name-dropping Hollywood fixture was always a queer bird, better suited to the SCTV brand of celebrity parody than the edgier Saturday Night Live aesthetic. But the character's catchphrase soon found a fan in every water-cooler comedian, making a spin-off inevitable; while we were spared the horrors of Fernando: The Motion Picture, the '80s lounge-corn of the single was ubiquitous during a few months of 1985. It cracked the Billboard Hot 100, and even made it to #28 on the dance chart. This says less about Crystal's comic talents than it does about the quality of cocaine available back then.

3. Dennis Leary, "Asshole"

For about five seconds, it looked like Denis Leary was going to become the dirty version of "Weird Al" Yankovic. "Asshole" made a huge impact, ironically, with a censored version that robbed it of most of its bite. Leary raves for four minutes over a spare acoustic guitar riff until, finally, someone—his own conscience? The voice of his fans?—asks him to quit pontificating and get on with the song. Before long, the question of whether he was kidding was answered, and America realized that he really was an asshole. After that, he gave up comedy to become an actor, where being an asshole is less of a hindrance.

4. Sam Kinison, "Wild Thing"

Given his prodigious alcohol and drug intake, it's possible that Sam Kinison really believed he was a rock star when he recorded a novelty cover of The Troggs' classic "Wild Thing" in 1988. Kinison recruited a bevy of actual rock stars for the video, including Tommy Lee, Slash, Billy Idol, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, some dudes from Ratt, Frank Zappa's kid, and one of the non-Bon Jovi members of Bon Jovi. He also jammed out on a Stratocaster emblazoned with his own screamy face. And to Kinison's credit, he totally rocks harder than Faster Pussycat. But Faster Pussycat is also more (unintentionally) hilarious, so Kinison's comedy-rock move must be declared a draw.

5. Steve Martin, "King Tut"

The novelty song "King Tut" already had a pretty good premise: a nation obsessed with, of all things, a traveling exhibit of the Egyptian king's tomb artifacts. In 1978, Steve Martin added an extra level of humor by claiming his song was educational, then adding ridiculous lyrics like "How'd you get so funky? Did you do the monkey?" and even referring to the mummy as "my favorite honky." The single reached #17 in 1978.

6. Robert Klein, "Let's Not Make Love"

For the title track of his 1990 album, Robert Klein created what he called "a love song for the '90s." It's an unlikely anthem celebrating the joys of abstinence in an era where widespread anxiety over AIDS, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies combined to make sex seem scarier than sexual, delivered with Klein's sardonic humor. Klein reached deep into his Rolodex to line up cameos from famous friends like Bob Costas and Geraldo Rivera in the accompanying—and curiously absent from YouTube—music video. Not making love with Geraldo Rivera—now there's a notion we can all get behind.

Illustration for article titled Does music belong in humor?: 15 novelty singles from prominent funnymen

7. Neil Hamburger, "Seven Elevens"

Neil Hamburger has made a career out of making fun of stand-up comedians, delivering the worst jokes possible with enough ridiculous panache to provide laughs. (If you're in the right mood, anyway.) One of Hamburger's earliest routines, about how all 7-Eleven stores are exactly the same ("It doesn't matter where you go!"), followed the ridiculous comedian-makes-novelty-song path. Hamburger even made a video for it, with cheap shaky-cam and bad effects. So bad it's still bad, but funny.


8. Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, "I Keed, I Keed"

Like Neil Hamburger, Robert Smigel's Triumph The Insult Comic Dog adds a thick, protective layer of irony to the cash-in novelty-song genre by being an over-the-top parody of crass hackitude. Triumph's Come Poop With Me album is a Borscht-scented homage to a long-ago era where Don Rickles was king and the Rat Pack ruled the Vegas strip. But it goes contemporary for the slick radio single "I Keed, I Keed," a straight-up dis track where Triumph insults Britney Spears, Fred Durst, and Philip Glass (the lattermost for being an "atonal ass.") Grammy voters were amused: The album was nominated for Best Comedy Album in 2003, though Triumph's rapping career wisely seems to have ended pretty much where it began.

9. Chris Rock, "No Sex In The Champagne Room"

In his parody of that staple of late-'90s graduations, the Baz Luhrmann-produced spoken-word hit "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," Chris Rock offers his own aphorisms to "the GED class of 1999." While Rock's advice is obviously more funny than functional (between silly—and dated—digs at Ol' Dirty Bastard and Coolio, he states plain truths like "No one goes to Hooters for the wings" and drops non sequiturs such as "Cornbread—ain't nothin' wrong with that!"), Rock does manage to impart a few welcome words of wisdom. For young black men, Rock makes a reasoned case for "letting it slide" when somebody steps on their feet. ("Why spend the next 20 years in jail because someone smudged your Puma?") For guys in general, he has all kinds of useful insights—chief among them the titular tip that "No matter what a stripper says, there is no sex in the champagne room," a lesson most dudes learn the hard way. Much like "Everybody's Free," "No Sex" barely counts as a "song" outside of its hot-and-heavy hook, courtesy of the late Gerald Levert. Still, it managed to become one of the most-played tracks of 1999, ensuring that an entire generation now knows that if a girl has a pierced tongue, she'll probably suck your dick.

10. Cheech and Chong, "Basketball Jones"

This somewhat unlikely single from the duo's 1973 album Los Cochinos parodies Brighter Side Of Darkness' 1972 song "Love Jones." Cheech narrates Tyrone Shoelace's overwhelming love of basketball over a slow groove, provided by an all-star cast of musicians including George Harrison, Carole King, and Billy Preston. "I need someone to set a pick for me at the free-throw line of life," Tyrone pleads. "Bill Russell, sing along with us. Chick Hearn, sing along with us. Chris Schenkel, don't sing nothin'." An animated video for the song produced in 1974 mesmerizes Peter Sellers during a limo ride in Being There, and the snippet of the song included in Robert Altman's California Split prompted one of the music-rights disputes that held up the movie's home-video release for years.

11. Bob and Doug McKenzie, "Take Off"

Because top-40 radio thrived on variety in the era before niche programming, novelty songs were apt to shoot up the charts. Certainly the phenomenon helped "Take Off," an energetic number derived from Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas' SCTV spoof "Great White North." Geddy Lee ("Ten bucks is 10 bucks") warbles the sketch's Canadian catchphrases while brothers Bob and Doug argue about who's responsible for the drum solo. The single reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982, and probably sold a few Rush albums to unsuspecting frat boys along the way. "Take Off" wasn't the McKenzie brothers' only hit, either; their "Five golden toques!" version of "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" remains a seasonal favorite.

12. Peter Sellers, "A Hard Day's Night"

Novelty songs by prominent funnymen don't come much stranger or more convoluted than Peter Sellers' oddball take on "Hard Day's Night." Ever the chameleon, Sellers talk-sings the song in the manner of Laurence Olivier's Richard III, dramatizing the words in a manner that's part Royal Shakespeare Company, part "Rocket Man"-era William Shatner. The result is more funny-strange than funny-ha-ha, but that didn't keep a Beatles-crazed British public from inexplicably catapulting the song into the top 10.

13. Adam Sandler, "Hanukkah Song"

Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song" transformed a favorite pastime of Jews throughout the ages—guessing which celebrities are or aren't Jewish—into the most beloved Hanukkah song this side of "I Have A Little Dreidel." For a novelty song, Sandler's tune has proven shockingly resilient and venerable. Sandler sang it on Saturday Night Live, included it on his 1994 album What The Hell Happened To Me?, then followed it up with two sequels, at least one of which featured professional Sandler sidekick Rob Schneider, a gentleman whom Sandler will gladly tell you, is, in fact, half-Jewish.

14. Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones, "Hikky Burr"

Like most comedians, Bill Cosby seems to love the sound of his own voice. Still, as far as novelty songs by comedians go, "Hikky Burr" is both on the line of what qualifies and actually pretty fun. Super-producer Quincy Jones provided the music for The Bill Cosby Show (not The Cosby Show, we're talking 1969 here), and naturally filled it with loose-limbed soul-jazz. During one session, Cos stepped in to freestyle some goofiness, and his verbal tics provide plenty of sing-along fun. For points with the younger generation, it was even remixed by Mix Master Mike.

15. Eddie Murphy, "Boogie In Your Butt"

Eddie Murphy had a semi-legitimate pop hit in 1985 with "Party All The Time," a generic R&B; nugget written by Rick James. But earlier in his career, Murphy dropped a ridiculous musical bonus cut onto an album: "Boogie In Your Butt" basically lists a bunch of things you should put in your butt (some fleas, a tin can, a tiny man, a TV, a mink coat, a moat), followed by a Murphy character wondering aloud why people would want to put things in their butt. (They must be getting paid.) It's pretty bad, but catchy nonetheless.