Everybody loves the Golden Oldies, those beautiful songs that have been played at every High School Prom since the 1930s. “Sentimental Journey,” “Deep Purple,” “Take The A Train,” “Moonlight Serenade,” all those dreamy old dance tunes bring the memories flooding back.
I love them too, but what really brings tears to my eyes, tears of laughter, are the ridiculous old novelty songs also popular at the time. I’m thinking of the Oldie Moldies like “Fwee Widdow Fithies” and “The Hut-Sut” song. The melodies were simple and easy to sing, but the lyrics were often incomprehensible, sometimes wildly insane, always silly and always fun.
The 1940s seemed to breed the zaniest tunes. Was it the stress of a major World War? The euphoria everyone felt post-war when we were finally able to resume our lives? Whatever, those crazy ditties were a high point of music in the 1940s and the ’50s.
The first nonsense song to become popular actually dated back to the 1890s with “Ta-Ra-Ra-BOOM-De-Ay” when the Can-Can was all the rage and the “BOOM” coincided with the high kick. World War I and the 1920s had a few novelty songs. Remember Betty Boop with her “Boop-Boop-A-Doop”? Well, of course you don’t remember, we’re not quite that old but we’ve all heard it, that cutsie voice over and over. “K-K-Katy ” and “Yes, We Have No Bananas” were popular at about the same time. Jimmy Durante’s signature song “Inka-Dinka-Doo” came out in the early ‘30s. By the late 1930s, possibly due to the waning of the Great Depression, nonsense songs began coming into their own.
I’ve always thought part of their enormous appeal was the fact that they were played and sung so earnestly and with such sincerity. No hamming it up, no screwy antics; (Well, there was one big exception with Spike Jones and His City Slickers) but other vocalists, other bands and orchestras all played it straight.
“Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy” and “Cement Mixer, Putsie, Putsie” were written by a man named Slim Gaillard in 1938. 1939 brought “Hold Tight, Hold Tight, Fooma Racka Sacka , Want Some Seafood Mama” and “The Fwee Widdow Fithies” with the chorus “Boop Boop Dittum Dottom Wattum Choo” repeated twice. Try singing that with a straight face!
An early 1940 favorite was “Hut Sut Ralston On The Rilleraw and a Brawla, Brawla Soo It” hyped as a sweet little Swedish folk tune but actually pure gibberish. The big hit in 1942 with the onset of World War II was “PFTHT, PFTHT Right In Der Fuehrer’s Face” with a fake Nazi salute on every “PFTHT.”
“Mairzy Doats” was huge in 1943. A charming little song, the fun was in figuring out the spelling. “Mairzy Doats and Dozey Doats and Liddel Lambsey Divey. A Kiddelee Divey Too, Wooden U?” Bing Crosby had a lovely song that year, “An Irish Lullaby.” The lyrics were familiar to me, having listened to my father sing them to us as children; “Tura Lura Lura, Tura Lura Lee, Tura Lura Lura, Just An Irish Lullaby.”
A happy little movie, “Song Of The South,” came out at about the same time featuring a lovable story-book character named Uncle Remus and the song “Zip a Dee Doo Dah, Zip a Dee Yay, My Oh My What a Wonderful Day.” Unfortunately, Uncle Remus lost out to Political Correctness over the years and the happy little song was lost too.
1945 had everyone singing “Hey Ba Ba Ree Bop”; the beginning of the Bop music craze which gave rise to a ground-swell of continuous change in popular music, through Rock ‘n Roll, Punk, Rap, Ska, Reggae, Heavy Metal and others, right up to what we hear today as New Age. If there’s anything newer now than New Age, spare me.
By far the biggest influence in novelty music over the years from 1942 on, was the band, Spike Jones and His City Slickers. There was no pretense at earnestness or sincerity with them, they were the clowns. Xylophones, pistols, washboards, cymbals, klaxons, foghorns, they used them all and managed to murder such popular songs as “Chloe,” “Ghost Riders,” “Hotcha Chonya,” “Hawaiian War Chant” and “Cocktails For Two hic, Two hic, Two hic.”
They had an endless series of hits, “Der Fuehrer’s Face” being the biggest of all. After committing mayhem on the popular songs of the day they took on the classics. To this day I can’t listen to “The 1812 Overture” without laughing.
By 1947 and ’48 we had treasures like “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo “ and the puzzling “I’m My Own Grandpa.” Follow those convoluted lyrics if you can, no one I knew ever could, although they were supposedly based on a real-life situation. Hoagy Carmichael and Arthur Godfrey each recorded songs that would never be played today with our enlightened outlook on obesity. “Huggin’ and A-Chalkin” by Hoagy Carmichael and “The Too-Fat Polka” featuring Arthur Godfrey’s gravelly chuckle were huge at the time. “Huggin’ and A-Chalkin’ “ can still be found on the internet, and there’s Hoagy banging away on the upright with his fedora jammed on the back of his head, still hilarious.
Going into the ’50s, the tongue twisters and double talk became less popular and “story” songs were big. “All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” was a huge holiday hit. There was a fun song about a Pterodactyl but I can’t seem to recall more than two lines of it; “Oh the Pterodactyl Was A Flyin’ Fool. Just a Breeze-flappin’ Daddy Of The Old School.” I’m not sure of the vocalist either, but it might have been Phil Harris, he was very popular at the time.
Later on, we had “Splish Splash,” “Alley Oop,” “Itsy Bitsy Teensy Weensy Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” and that classic “The Witch Doctor – “OO-EE-Oh-Ah-Ah, Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang.” I guess double talk wasn’t totally forgotten. Oh yes, let’s not forget “Yackety Yack, Don’t Talk Back.” And how about “The Purple People Eater”? Then there was “Does The Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor On The Bed-Post Overnight?” fun to sing.
More recently Roger Miller, Stan Freberg, Alan Sherman (Remember “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, Here I Am At Camp Grenada”), and one of my all-time favorites, Ray Stevens, all became well known. Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” came out after we began to read about exhibitionists who – well – streaked across football fields, basketball courts, through shopping malls, anywhere for an audience, and always stark naked. Ray Stevens’ voice was perfect for the note of hillbilly outrage when The Streak embarrassed him in front of his wife, Ethel. He had the right twang and the rubbery vowels for the lines “He’s up thar in the cheap seats” and “Don’t look, Ethel.” Of course, by the last verse, Ethel was chasing the streaker. “The Streak” can still be found online if you need a good laugh.
Oh, for those good old days and those good old songs.
HUGGIN’ AND A – CHALKIN’
I got a gal who’s mighty sweet,
Big blue eyes and tiny feet.
Her name is Rosabel McGee
And she tips the scales at 303.
And Gee but ain’t it grand to have a gal so big and fat
That when you go to hug her you don’t know where you’re at.
You have to take a piece of chalk in your hand
and hug a ways and chalk a mark to see where you began.
Nobody ever said I’m weak,
My bones don’t ache, my joints don’t squeak,
But I go pale and I get limp
Every time I see my baby blimp.
One day I was a-huggin’ and a-chalkin’ and a-beggin’ her to be my bride,
When I met another fella with some chalk in his hand
Comin’ around the other side, over the mountain, over the mountains,
Over the Great Divide, comin’ around the other side.