“Life doesn't make any sense, and we all pretend it does. Comedy's job is to point out that it doesn't make sense, and that it doesn't make much difference anyway.” ― Eric Idle
This blog explores some truly unique songs through the songwriting lens of comedy. I came up with the title, Musical Eclairs because it's a play on the think-fast of "musical chairs," but also plays into Forrest's, "Life is like a box of chocolates."
The first bite came to me through John Prine's, It's a Big Old Goofy World. Then I started thinking of other song's like- Randy Newman's, Short People, Bobby Bare's, Drop Kick Me Jesus, The Smothers Brothers musical skits, and then, the more serious like Country Joe McDonald's, What Are We Fighting For,? and my song list just started to grow.
Then, the curator (or OCD) in me started to put these songs into this hierarchy, starting with novelty and moving up the chuckle-chain to satire as probably the highest form of musical comedy. Several weeks ago, I saw CNN's The History of Comedy: Episode 7- Making Fun, that dove into the difference between parody and satire and I said to myself, "Hey, I'll explore this from a musical perspective."
He's my three-part progression.
- Novelty Songs - "a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect." Wikipedia
- Musical Parody - "involves changing or copying existing (usually well known) musical ideas or lyrics, or copying the particular style of a composer or artist, or even a general style of music. Although the intention of a musical parody may be humour, it is the re-use of music that is the original defining feature." Wikipedia
- Sarcastic and Satirical Songs
- Sarcasm - "a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt. Sarcasm may employ ambivalence, although sarcasm is not necessarily ironic. Most noticeable in spoken word, sarcasm is mainly distinguished by the inflection with which it is spoken and is largely context-dependent." Wikipedia
- Satire - "is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society." Wikipedia
In a distinction between sarcasm and satire- think of sarcasm as light beer in a can from your house, and satire as a craft beer from a tavern tap.
1) Novelty Songs
Now I'm going to spare you from people like Ray Stevens (Gitarzan, etc.) who in my opinion is in the plan doughnut holes bin in the novelty song bakery.
Instead, let's get into some tastier pastry starting in the 1960's with Allan Sherman and his classic Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp). What made this song so laugh out load funny was Sherman's comic sense that millions of children (including my siblings and friends), were being shipped off to summer camps all over America by their parents, giving the adults a much needed break from the rug rats. Sherman struck a chord with us all (young and older) with his tales from camp. In listening to this song this past week, I thought back to many of my own camp experiences.
2) Musical Parody
Parody music is so prevalent today in all media that I had to illustrate that point by finding something no more than a week old. I settled on Seth Meyers, Amber Cougar Mellencamp Performs "Sneaky Dianne." 6/9/20 Update - I see that video has been taken down. So here is another music parody video that will make the same point, because it's so easy to find one with Trump in office. Here you'll see the typical intersection between politics, parody and satire played out weekly on television from the daily s#*! show @ 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I didn't know of Bo Burnham until I started researching for this piece, and boy is this guy funny with a serious wit in his musical satire. I was to feature Randy Newman as the "King" example of satirical music with Warren Zevon a close second, but I've got plenty of their material in this week's playlist to satisfy the cynical in you. In the following video, Bo's bit of today's mainstream country music is hilarious, but also mirrors my real opinion of "Pop Country" as mostly a pile of the same stale doughnuts. Here, Bo sings and hits his mark with "Country Song (Pandering)."
Now onto the Musical Eclairs playlist. Play a little tune game with yourself. As the song plays, identify it as novelty, parody, satire or a combination. I mixed the playlist up with a good variety of material from the 60's to the present.
So here's to appreciating atypical songwriting like Dan Hicks and his heartfelt, How can I miss you, when you won't go away? Enjoy my friends.