Our favourite music provokes an emotional response. Sometimes, it provokes a physical one, too – laughter!
Whether silly or sophisticated, wacky or risibly wise, the music that makes us laugh can hold the same kind of importance to us as the music that makes us cry, or dance for that matter. So, the deeper question we’re asking this week is all about that. What are the songs that have made us literally LOL?
Let’s find out!
“Weird” Al Yankovic practically made his name writing a succession of comedy songs from the early ’80s up until today. In this, he’s had an enduring career in an arena that is usually set aside for one-hit wonders. Yankovic is largely known for his extremely well-observed (and, when you really listen, remarkably well-played and produced) parody versions of popular hits. But my favourite of his songs is an original taken from his 1985 album Dare to be Stupid – “One More Minute”.
In a sense, this is a parody too. It’s a take on late ’50s and early ’60s doo-wop misery break-up songs but in this case taken to the extreme, with cartoonish self-harm and punitive measures against malt shops aplenty. Those things are pretty funny. But I think the elements that really make it hilarious are those that serve the sonic details of the genre in such a precise manner; the call and response dynamics between lead vocal and back ups, the vocal quirks (like Al’s big “hickup” at the end), and the super-earnest delivery maybe above all. It’s over the top, but not any more so than so many other break up songs in this same vein ala Bobby Vinton and his ilk.
In 1990 while at college, some friends of mine lip-synched this at a school event (my favourite line to mime as a backup singer? “leeches ...” at 2:50). It was just one of those songs that, especially as a young person who really was that earnest about a great many things including (but not limited to!) love and break-ups, reminded me to lighten up, and try to see the funny side.
Mixing comedy and pop music without undercutting either one is pretty tough to pull off I imagine. Judging that as a listener, and for my money, few do it as well as “Weird” Al, even today.
I can unequivocally say my favorite comedy track is Monty Python’s “Philosopher’s Drinking Song.” My parents aren’t much for censorship, so when I was growing up I saw a whole lot of comedy that would be considered “inappropriate”. I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw Holy Grail, but it was definitely single digits. Still, it wasn’t until high school that I came across their 1989 release, Monty Python Sings. As a nerdy, academically minded high schooler (as opposed to the completely not nerdy or academically minded adult I’ve since turned into, cough cough) my mind was blown.
I essentially used the “Philosopher’s Drinking Song” as an ideological checklist, working my way through the highlights of every single thinker that got name-checked. Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, Descarte – every single one of them I first heard about and then went on to LEARN about thanks to Eric Idle’s alcohol-inspired rhyme schemes. Plus, it’s catchy as hell and has the build and sound of a drinking song, which at least let me pretend my scholastic journey was light-hearted and fun instead of deeply DEEPLY geeky.
“Spring is here, spring is here” sings Tom Lehrer at the beginning of what I believe to be one of the great contributions to twentieth century poetry, songwriting and dermatological treatises. “Life is skittles, and life is beer.” It’s the rhyming of ‘here’ and ‘beer’ that should indicate that all is not right here, and you’re about to embark on the wildest ride ever.
The lyrics are all lovely and even quaint.–“But there’s one thing that makes spring complete for me,/ And makes ev’ry sunday a treat for me”.– and just when you think it’s all going to be a little pastoral, and a wee bit…strange. then we wind up at the chorus:
All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon,
When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.
Ev’ry sunday you’ll see
My sweetheart and me,
As we poison the pigeons in the park.
And with that dear listener, we have departed this mortal skein into a plane that’s not so much a plane, or even very plain, but really rather twisted, demented and dark.
I encountered “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” when I was 13 years old. A family friend loaned me the album, correctly perceiving that 13 is exactly that right age for discovering the joys of an MIT Professor who played piano and sang black comedy about killing birds in as a chirpy, charming little ditty.
I adored it. I still do (I once performed it at a cabaret in drag in the style of Edith Piaf. No it was not recorded on video). It’s some dark shit to be sure, but it’s so damn funny. First, there’s the dementedly funny rhyming couplets “When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide / But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.” Then there’s the lengthy bridge where Tom Lehrer rattles off rhymes to “notoriety” like a machine gun:
We’ve gained notoriety,
And caused much anxiety
In the audubon society
With our games.
They call it impiety,
And lack of propriety,
And quite a variety
Of unpleasant names.
But it’s not against any religion
To want to dispose of a pigeon.
And there’s the delightful, twisted surprise at the end of every line. “And maybe we’ll do / In a squirrel or two”; “We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment. / Except for the few we take home to experiment.” The fact that Tom Lehrer drops his deadpan to reveal he’s actually batshit crazy every time this happens also helps as well.
This song about massacring the Columba livia domestica while perambulating in an arboreal expanse on the sabbath day never ceases to put a smile on my face every time I hear it or indeed even think about it. (And not just a slight smile; we’re talking about a full on silly grin.) Please understand, I’m kind to animals, I’d never be cruel to them, ever. But this song. Oh my. That is, without a doubt, the funniest song ever made.
So, Deeper Cuts fans. What’s your mirthful poison?
What song cracks you up without fail?
Tell us all about it in the comments!