OK, I’ll admit it. I bought a copy of the Didn’t You Kill My Brother single by Alexei Sayle. I just watched the video now. Holy cats, is it ever awful. Weird and awful. But it went to No. 93 in Canada, No. 86 in the U.K. and No. 5 in New Zealand. In my defence, I was 12.
Truthfully, I wasn’t much better at 13, when I also bought that Peter Gunn single by Art Of Noise. In my defence, at least Art Of Noise were initially an avant-garde synth-pop outfit. I guess they paid the bills with the cover of the Peter Gunn Theme, which actually featured its original artist Duane Eddy on guitar, and their followup hit — a cover of Prince’s Kiss, sung by Tom Jones. Peter Gunn went to No. 5 in the U.K. and No. 2 in the U.S. Kiss went to No. 5 and 18 respectively — but No. 1 in New Zealand. I guess those Kiwis love novelty hits and pseudo-novelty hits. There have actually been a shocking number of them.
At least I never got lured in to buying Pump Up The Volume by one-hit-wonder M|A|A|R|S like so many did. The dub dance hit was No. 1 all over the place — Canada, the U.K., U.S. dance charts, Italy, New Zealand (of course), Zimbabwe, the Netherlands… I’m just going off the top of my head here. What else was there? Ohhhh, Right Said Fred.
I was in high school when this horrific earworm came out. It went to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 1 in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Austria, the United States and — you guessed it — New Zealand. Fred and Richard Fairbrass had been around for quite awhile before they struck gold with this awful, awful song — they used to be in a band called The Actors, toured with Suicide and opened for Joy Division. Richard did session bass playing for David Bowie and Mick Jagger, while Fred played guitar for Bob Dylan. What? I know, right?
I won’t include any ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic on here, but I will remind you that the otherwise brilliant musician (and comedian, and actor) Steve Martin had a hit with King Tut. This definitive cultural appropriation song went to No. 23 in Canada and No. 17 in the States. No word on how it went over in New Zealand, but I think it may be their national anthem.
I did go out and buy They Might Be Giants’ 1990 album Flood, but it wasn’t for the novelty-esque cover of the 1953 novelty song Istanbul (Not Constantinople). I bought it for Birdhouse In Your Soul, which actually fared better than the cover. Istanbul (Not Constantinople) only got to No. 61 in the U.K.
When I was a kid, it seemed like Taco’s cover of Puttin’ On The Ritz was on the radio constantly. I hadn’t heard the Fred Astaire original, and these days my preference is the version from Young Frankenstein. Taco (yeah, that’s his name) Ockerse’s 1983 synth-pop version had a music video featuring people in blackface. But it was still a chart topper in — yep — New Zealand, Finland, the U.S., Sweden and Canada.
I also won’t include kids’ songs or Christmas songs here, because most of them are meant to be goofy. Same goes for Monster Mash, which came out during the salad days of novelty songs — Splish Splash, The Purple People Eater, Yakety Yak, Alley Oop, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, Ahab The Arab, Hello Muddah Helllo Faddah, Surfin’ Bird, My Ding-A-Ling and more.
The ’70s brought us CW McCoy’s Convoy, Rick Dees’ Disco Duck and Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting. I actually just picked up a copy of Karl’s full LP. OMG. It was a little bit frightening. The single went No. 1 in (need I say it?) New Zealand and everywhere but Italy and Norway, where it went No. 3. But, the LP actually has the even cheesier Dance The Kung Fu.
I’ve already added this to my wedding playlist, but here’s another playlist for you featuring all these novelty death marches.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.