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Novelty? No thanks.
August 01, 2008 1:52 pm

Novelty songs. I generally don't like them. Yet I do like humor in music. Obviously. (see "The Bobs" or my family music)

But just because I end up writing humorous songs sometimes, I don't really listen to humorous songs very much. I love music so much that, even if it's funny, it better have some serious musicality to it, or it'll make me mad. So usually I'm listening to more serious music (from Leonard Cohen to Bach to Rufus Wainwright to...).

I had a roommate my first year of college who loved Fats Waller. Fats is acclaimed as a great piano player and all, but I just couldn't get past the fact that he was yapping all over his songs, like he didn't know when to shut up. Somehow, he crossed the 'humor' line for me, obliterating whatever music was going on with his patter.

Spike Jones? Even as a kid, that kind of humor made me slightly queasy. On a par with Jerry Lewis or the Three Stooges, the "I'll do anything for attention" kind of humor that makes me run the other way.

Weird Al? Yeah, he rubs me the wrong way, too. Then again, every time I think of "Another One Rides the Bus", I smile inwardly. So there's some kind of magic going on. His work, being based on hugely successful melodies, has the advantage of having musical cajones at its core. And, as silly as his lyrics may be, I'd much rather be singing the lyrics to "Like a Surgeon" than the original vapid version.

The Coasters - There was real music there sometimes, some hummable tunes, but the humor wears thin for me. I give them 2 and a half stars.

Zappa - some sublime music, then mixed with such low attempts at humor. A bizarre mixture. Still, his music had integrity, and lifted him above being just a novelty act. And, his championing of 'art music' led me to composers such as Stravinsky, Varese and Stockhausen. I was listening to all kinds of contemporary music in high school, all because Frank said it was cool. I thank him muchly for that. And I find myself humming and singing "Peaches en Regalia" quite often, and it makes me smile. It has no words, it's not trying to be funny, but it's an odd bit of music that just makes me smile.

It's a funny thing, humor and music. I think that, for me, it comes down to music being an essentially emotional art form. Even when it's striving to be detached and un-emotional, the effect it has on me is still an emotional one. And there's a difference between a funny song/lyrics and funny music all by itself. When I think of attempts at making 'funny' instrumental music through the centuries, they all fail. Music can be witty, but not ha-ha funny. Lyrics can be ha-ha, but I can't think of music that achieves that all on its own.

What think you?

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