By Theo Bloom (Yung Forehead Wrinkles)
The year 2018 has been a fantastic year for music; there have been incredible albums released in a wide-ranging swath of genres. Despite this, there is one category of music that seems to be left to the wayside: Novelty music. Truly silly natured novelty music seems to be a relic of the past, but this iconic genre deserves to have its resurgence like so many others have in recent years. With all of the serious natured music to accompany the dower political climate of the day, it seems some oddball novelty music is ripe for a rip-roaring comeback cutting through the staid music currently sitting atop the charts.
A genre of the past can easily be revived and recycled into the contemporary musical landscape, as can most recently and prominently seen in funk’s resurgence in pop music. Artists like Pharrell Williams, Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson & even Snoop D-O-double G have been incorporating funk’s musical palette into their recent projects and have seen success with this neo-funkadelic revival. The resurgence of a genre can scratch that nostalgic itch for its past glories, but also brings about advancements and new ideas into the genre which push it forward sonically. No better example is the third wave of Ska -although it may have overstayed its welcome- which incorporated punk elements into the Caribbean genre and led to iconic acts like Sublime & No Doubt. It is time for Novelty Music to make its comeback and have the benefit of modern technological advancements and modern musical ideas to improve upon their already winning formula.
Novelty music has often been left to the fringes of the music scene and thus has been given a place to shine on the unrestrained airwaves of college radio stations across the nation. Weird Al Yankovic, arguably the most iconic novelty act ever, got his start in parody music while he was a member of his college’s radio station. This genre even has a unique distinction in KCOU’s history: The first song ever played on air was the hit novelty song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” by Napoleon XIV.
Beyond campuses, novelty music had its largest platform on Dr. Demento’s show on KPPC in California. Dr. Demento was known for his penitence to play oddball novelty tunes that would otherwise not have gotten much radio play. Just some of the odd songs he made iconic by playing are “Kinko the Clown” by Ogden Edsel, “My Name is Larry” by Wild Man Fischer, “Fish Heads” by Barnes & Barnes, “Grandpa had a Long One” by Benny Bell and “Matzoh Man” by The Yiddish People. With Dr. Demento off the terrestrial airwaves and only doing podcast-style radio shows that one must purchase individually to hear, I believe that KCOU must take up the mantle and be the fine purveyors of silliness for the masses over the terrestrial airwaves.
Comedy music is still alive as a genre, but the pure silliness and odd nature of novelty tunes of the past seem to have been left out of the current wave of comedy records. Acts like Steel Panther and Lil Dicky play more on the tropes of a genre than engage in true absurdist humor that could be seen in the earlier days of comedy music. Frank Zappa’s comedy records were not necessarily parodying the genre of rock, but they used rock instrumentation to elevate Zappa’s lowbrow humor to a higher level through skillful instrumentation that helped make the concepts presentable. The comedy music of today lacks the novelty and creativity that made the novelty music of the past so enticing. Acts like the Lonely Island and later SNL rap parodies have kept the sense of absurdist humor and uniqueness alive within said genre, but they still lack the über outrageous oddball nature of songs like Ogden Edsl’s “Dead Puppies” and “Sweet Breeze” or Big Daddy’s “Party Doll.” With their platform and amount of resources at their disposal, I’d love to see SNL branch out and try to create some Demento-esque absurdist novelty music.
As 2018 comes to its inevitable end, and with little hope that the waning months of the year will be the time for a surprise novelty music resurgence, I can only hope 2019 will be the year in which true absurdist novelty songs can make their well-deserved comeback into prominence. The remnants of Postmodernism’s enveloping sense of absolute irony toward everything still may linger, but true unabashed silliness deserves to be appreciated in all of its goofy glory. I know I will continue to listen to all the great novelty music of the past, but I’m still holding out hope that the future will be bright for the silly, yet musically inclined.