Archive for the ‘Saluting SIlly Songs’ Category
I don’t think there’s any doubt that “Purple People Eater” is a song that qualifies for our Saluting Silly Songs feature. In case you don’t remember, it was a huge #1 record for singer/songwriter Sheb Wooley in 1958. But it’s also been sort of misunderstood through the years, because the question arose: was the alien creature itself purple, or did it just go after purple people?
It’s actually not much of a mystery, because the lyrics clearly have the alien saying that his main purpose is ‘eating purple people’ — but in spite of that, most of us remember the song as featuring a purple alien. And virtually all of the pictures and drawings – then and now – support that too. (Of course, the absence of real-life purple people might also have something to do with it.)
In any case, it was Wooley’s biggest hit record by far, even though he was a pretty active country singer for someone whose main job was as an actor in Western movies and TV shows. Not surprisingly, his novelty song was initially rejected by the guys at his record company – MGM – because it was ‘not the type of music’ that they wanted to be on their label, but when the demo became a sensation in the company’s offices it won them over.
Although Wooley’s original record was the standard, the song has lived on in other ways — for one thing, it was the subject of a silly movie of the same name in 1988. As for other singers, it hasn’t exactly been a popular choice through the years, but there have been a few. One of the most notable might have been Jimmy Buffett, who performed it on the soundtrack of the 1997 movie, Contact.
Sheb Wooley – “Purple People Eater”
Today’s edition of Saluting Silly Songs was born when I began thinking about certain current events, specifically those surrounding a couple of instances of satire. One example is the tragic situation connected to the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, but it’s an earlier controversy about a movie — The Interview — that more closely relates to the subject of today’s post. It occurred to me that the comedy about North Korea and its dictatorial regime has a kinship of sorts with a film (and a song) that was very popular in World War II.
British composer Oliver Wallace actually wrote “Der Fuehrer’s Face” for a Walt Disney cartoon of the same name that was made in 1942, but even before the film appeared in theaters the following January the song was already making a splash. Country singer Johnny Bond had the earliest recording, but the song’s popularity took a big jump when Spike Jones and his guys made a hit record and a short comical film. When the Disney cartoon (which was originally titled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land) made its way into theaters it proved to be a popular attraction too.
Of course, satire had been around a long time by then and wartime propaganda films (for both sides) were nothing new, but even as audiences laughed they probably felt a sense of unease. After all, they were facing a very uncertain future at the time, and the characters being lampooned were real dangers to their way of life — although at least they didn’t have to worry about Hitler hacking into their websites.
You can see segments of the Disney cartoon (which won an Oscar – the only Donald Duck cartoon to do so) in the video below, interspersed with the Spike Jones film. To see the entire original cartoon, you can click HERE.
Johnny Bond – “Der Fuehrer’s Face”
Although it might be a little tough to define the requirements for our Saluting Silly Songs feature, I know a good candidate when I see and hear one, and it starts with the title. I’m sure most of us remember “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, but what you might not know is that even though it’s considered a classic, it didn’t actually reach #1 on the charts. But that’s okay, because a later version by a teen idol did make it to the top spot, and the song has had a lot of other high-profile appearances too.
It was one of the many hit records produced under the guidance of Phil Spector, who teamed up with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich this time around, and it was recorded by the Crystals in 1963. As it turned out, the record was very popular and had a lot of staying power, but didn’t quite reach the top position on the charts.
Other versions, some with slightly different lyrics to change it to a boy-to-girl song, came along through the years, including one by the British group the Searchers, but the song had its biggest seller in 1977. That’s when it helped launch the singing career of teen idol Shaun Cassidy, who took it to #1 — the first of three in a row for him — and it stayed on the charts for 22 weeks.
Through the years the song has been recorded by everybody from the Beach Boys to French pop star Johnny Hallyday, but the best of all might have been when it became part of a political parody. It was in the early 1980s when Spitting Image, the British TV program that used ingenious puppets to perform satire, featured Ronald Reagan (always one of their best characters) being urged by everybody to run for a 2nd term in spite of his advanced age.
The Crystals – “Da Doo Ron Ron”
Welcome to the first edition of a new Special Feature known as Saluting Silly Songs. And I know what you’re thinking — why in the world is this goofus adding another Special Feature to the GMC? Doesn’t he have more than enough of them already?
Truthfully, I sort of surprised myself too, but it actually makes a lot of sense. For one thing, the Diamonds in the Rough feature has reached the point where I probably won’t be adding to it. That leaves an opening to fill, and silly songs make everybody smile so what could be better? In fact, they’ve already been the subject of some very popular previous posts on the GMC, so I’ve also corralled those and added them to the new Saluting Silly Songs link in the left column.
Today’s featured song is sometimes given the extended title “The Hut-Sut-Song (a Swedish Serenade)” and that gives a clue to its supposed origin. Written by Leo V. Killion, Ted McMichael and Jack Owens, the song first appeared in 1941 and was said to be based on a Swedish folk song about a boy who skipped school and met a girl by a stream. That’s probably an oversimplification, but it’s not a particularly complicated song. Still, the lyrics were certainly unusual and sounded exotic to listeners, and it soon became a quirky hit.
‘Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla sooit. . .’
The first and most popular recording was by Horace Heidt and his orchestra, but it was soon being recorded by everybody from Mel Tormé to Spike Jones, the master of silly songs. It was also performed in a short comedy film by the King’s Men (video below), a quartet that included Ken Darby, who would have a long career as a singer, composer and conductor.
As is often the case with silly songs, it has continued to pop up through the years in various places, including the soundtracks of movies about the era. It has even appeared on the Muppets TV show, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Mel Tormé – “The Hut-Sut Song”
The subject of silly songs has come up from time to time here on the GMC, beginning as early as 2006 with a post about some of the best practitioners of the art. That post also mentioned a goofy tune that was a hit for several bands, including one led by today’s spotlighted artist. But “Mairzy Doats” wasn’t bandleader/composer Al Trace’s only big record. He had a number of solid sellers, many of them silly (he sometimes even called his band the Silly Symphonette). But his career was topped off in 1948 by his #1 record of “You Call Everybody Darlin’,” which was a little more serious even if it wasn’t exactly a classic ballad.
A Chicago native, Trace first began to make a name for himself in the early 1930s when he formed his own band and appeared at the World’s Fair. He was in his thirties by then and had already logged some time as a drummer who occasionally sang, but he soon became a regional favorite as a bandleader who specialized in lively, upbeat music.
For the next couple of decades, Trace’s band found a lot of success while mostly sticking around the Chicago area. Featuring vocalists like Toni Arden, Red Maddock, and Bob Vincent (and sometimes Trace himself), the outfit had many successful records that brought them a national audience, including “Brush Those Tears From Your Eyes” and “Wishin,’’ culminating with the chart-topper “You Call Everybody Darlin'” in 1948. The band also appeared regularly on radio and eventually starred on the very popular show, It Pays To Be Ignorant.
Meanwhile Trace himself flourished as a songwriter, eventually publishing more than 300 songs, writing or co-writing some of them under pseudonyms like Clem Watts, the name he used on a silly song featured in a recent GMC piece about Eileen Barton. It was his songwriting skill that he would fall back on more and more after he retired from leading the band in the late 1950s, moving to California where he also worked in the managing side of the business. He continued part-time when he eventually retired to Arizona, where he died at age 92 in 1993.
Al Trace Orchestra – “Mairzy Doats”