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“Please Mr. Custer, I Don’t Want to Go”

May 5, 2017

My e-book entitled “I’ve Got the Music in Me: A Fan’s View of 1960 and 1970 Rock and Pop Music” is coming out by the end of May. It will be very attractively priced on amazon at only $3 or so. In order to further entice you, I have included an excerpt from Part II of the book entitled “The Lists” which is a list of my favorite comedy songs that appeared on a single. Enjoy!

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“Please Mr. Custer, I Don’t Want to Go”

Best Comedy Singles

The goal of music should not only be to entertain us or be interesting musically and lyrically, but in a few cases to make us laugh. Surprisingly, there are precious few songs that are truly funny. Great comedians seldom released singles and the rare ones that they did release were usually only okay (e.g., “Little Ole Man” by Bill Cosby, basically a cover of “Uptight” with Cosby’s lyrics). For example, two excellent, singing-comedy acts (The Smothers Brothers and Tom Lehrer) issued only one single between them.

Also, the two most successful “comedy” artists/musicians really didn’t do anything that was very funny (or at least not to me). This includes Ray Stevens, who is perhaps best known for his #1 hit “The Streak”, which wasn’t that funny or his two earlier top ten hits, “Gitarzan” and “Ahab the Arab”, which were equally unfunny. It also includes Dickie Goodman (and, in earlier singles, his partner Bill Buchanan) who pioneered the “break-in” records that strung together bits of then popular songs along with narration for comic effect. This began with “The Flying Saucer Pt. 1 and 2” back in 1956 and Goodman’s last successful single, “Mr. Jaws”, in 1975. Unfortunately, aside from the novelty of this approach in 1956, the humor just seems stupid to me.

Fortunately, there are a few exceptions to this rule and several singles succeeded largely because they were clever, or unique and at least elicited a chuckle even now. I expanded the list into the early ’80s to account for a couple of these. So in honor of the now more than 75-year-old Dr. Demento, who loved playing weird and bizarre and usually humorous songs on his weekly radio show, here is my Demented Double Dix in chronological order:

  1. “Jingle Bells” – The Singing Dogs (1955, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1983, 1984)– Yes, it is easy to get sick of this one around Christmastime, but the concept and execution are still pretty funny.
  1. “Beep, Beep” – The Playmates (#4 Dec. ’58) (“Hey Buddy how do I get this car out of second gear?”) – It is hard not to smile when I hear this song. It is a great car song.
  1. “Mr. Custer” – Larry Verne (#1 Oct. ’61) (“Please Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go.”) – Verne’s song is a parody of the slew of war-related songs at the time that talked about the likes of Davy Crockett or the Battle of New Orleans.
  1. “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt Kicker Five (#1 Oct. ’62) (“It was a graveyard smash.” )- The song was a great parody concept, no doubt even funnier when first released in the early 1960s during the music dance craze (e.g., “The Twist”, “The Locomotion”, etc.). It has gotten old over the years because of constant play but still a classic.
  1. “Hello Muddah/Hello Faddah – A Letter from Camp” – Allan Sherman (#2 Sep. ’63) (“Oh please don’t make me stay, I’ve been here ONE – WHOLE – DAY!”) –  This might be the most wickedly funny song ever. The lyrics are brilliant. “You remember Jeffrey Hardy, they’re about to organize a searching party”.
  1. “Martian Hop” – The Ran-dells (#16 Sep. ’63)– “We have just discovered an important note from space, the Martians plan to throw a dance for all the human race.” If you listen to this song, not only will you smile and chuckle, but you will probably want to dance, too.
  1. “Pretoria” – Smothers Brothers (1964) “We are marching to Pretoria.” I cheated on this one. This wasn’t a single, but my brother-in-law Peter would have killed me if I didn’t include at least one Smothers Brothers song. And this one is very funny!
  1. “New Math” – Tom Lehrer (1965) (“So you have 13 tens, so you take away 7 and that leaves five, well six actually.” ) While I am cheating, I included the brilliant singer-comedian Tom Lehrer with one of my favorites, “New Math” from his That Was the Year That Was album. Lehrer also had no singles probably because his albums sold very nicely and included many really funny songs (e.g., “Pollution”, “The Elements”, “The Vatican Rag”, to name just a few).
  1. “Leader of the Laundromat” – The Detergents (#19 Jan. ’65) (“My folks were always putting her down (down, down), because my laundry always came back brown.” ) – The ultimate parody song of the Shangrilas hit “Leader of the Pack”, it even sounds like it was recorded in a laundromat!
  1. “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” – Little Jimmy Dickens (#5 Nov. ’65) (“One fine day as I was a-walkin’ down the street. Spied a beggar man with rags upon his feet. Took a penny from my pocket. In his tin cup I did drop it. I heard him say as I made my retreat ‘May the bird of paradise fly up your nose, may an elephant caress you with his toes’…”) – Perhaps with inspiration from Johnny Carson and Carnac the Magnificent, this country song took insults to a pretty funny level.
  1. “Wild Thing” – Senator Bobby (#20 Jan. ’67) (“Ah you move me, yes…press ahead Wild Thing.”) – A great Kennedy imitation by comedian Bill Minkin and some clever lines throughout make this a very funny song. The B-side is the same song except by Senator Everett Dirksen.
  1. “Here Comes the Judge” – Shorty Long (#8 July ’68) (“Can’t dance? That’ll be 90 days, 30 days for the boogaloo, 30 days to learn how to shing-a-ling, and 30 more for the Afro twist.” ) – Using the “here comes the judge” catchline from TV’s Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Shorty Long developed a catchy and amusing song featuring the deep voice of the Spinners’ Pervis Jackson as the judge. Sadly, Shorty drowned in a boating accident one year later.
  1. “A Boy Named Sue” – Johnny Cash (#2 Aug. ’69) (“My name is Sue, how do you do! Now you gonna die.” )- This song is highlighted by Shel Silverstein’s clever lyrics and the recording is live in front of a delighted San Quentin prison audience. Silverstein, who is perhaps best known for his popular children’s books, also wrote several other excellent songs including “The Unicorn”. But when it came to “A Boy Named Sue” only Johnny Cash could do justice singing his brilliant lyrics such as “kicking and gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer”.
  1. “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” – Arlo Guthrie (1967, charting later in a much shorter version “Alice’s Rock & Roll Restaurant” (#97 Dec. ’69)) (“You can get everything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.” )- Hard to exclude one of the funniest shaggy dog stories/songs ever even though it was never a single. The fact that it was 18 minutes long of course had a lot to do with it, but even so it was played constantly on progressive FM stations during the late 60s/early 70s.
  1. “Lola” – The Kinks (#9 Oct. ’70) (“Girls will be boys and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world”). – Was it comedy, satire or were the Kinks simply way ahead of their time in 1970? Who can say, but my friends and I loved listening to it. Lola is representative of many excellent Kinks songs that range between biting satire and comedy.
  1. “Deteriorata” – National Lampoon (#91 Oct. ’72) (You are a fluke of the universe, you have no right to be here but whether you can hear it or not, the universe is laughing behind your back.”) – This is a very funny parody of Les Crane’s “Desiderata” with the opposite message! National Lampoon has a number of funny parodies, but this was the only one to actually chart on Billboard. My favorite might be “Magical Misery Tour”, a parody of John Lennon, which given that it used f-bombs every several words was not released as a single for an understandable reason (spelled FCC).
  1. “Junk Food Junkie” – Larry Groce (#9 Mar. ’76) (“In the daytime I’m Mr. Natural, just as healthy as I can be…but at night I’m a junk food junkie, good lord have pity on me.”) – Groce’s homage to “closet” junk food eaters (both figuratively AND literally) is superb and hysterical.
  1. “King Tut” – Steve Martin (#17 July ’78) (“Buried with a donkey, he’s my favorite honky.” ) – Nothing beats watching Steve Martin performing this song on SNL in 1978 dressed as an ancient Egyptian king, but the single is quite clever and timely as it coincided with the tour of the newly discovered King Tut treasures in the U.S.
  1. “Another One Rides the Bus” – Weird Al Yankovich (#104 in ’81) (“And another one on and another one off, another one rides the bus.” ) – The best of Weird Al’s many parody songs was this very clever takeoff of “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. It was Yankovich’s first song to make the charts (albeit “bubbling under” the top 100 Billboard charts at #104). It has the nice feature of being understated musically as well, with most of the music from Weird Al’s accordion.
  1. “Take Off” – Doug and Bob McKenzie (#16 Mar. ’82) – (“Take off to the great white north, take off, it’s a beauty way to go.”) – I always enjoy these two Canadians played by two Canadians in real life, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, both from Second City TV and later in a number of comic movie roles. Geddy Lee (lead vocalist of Rush) does a great job with the melody.

Honorable Mentions:

“Purple People Eater” – Sheb Wooley

“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” – The Royal Guardsmen

Now “Politically Incorrect”, Honorable Mentions:

“Big Bruce” – Steve Greenburg

“Basketball Jones” – Cheech and Chong

2 Comments
  1. Kris permalink

    How would you categorize/rank “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” by Napoleon XIV in 1966?

  2. I definitely would count it as a comedy song, its just that I don’t like it all that much any more. Maybe I just tired of hearing it, but it hasn’t stood the test of time like the others.

    Thanks for reading the post and commenting.

    Best, Bruce

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