A Brief History
On February 10, 1942, the first Gold Record ever was awarded to Glenn Miller for his hit song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Glenn Miller’s famous train had chugged its way along to sales of 1.2 million, and, as would become the practice, the “gold record” was awarded to him by the company that had produced the record (in this case, RCA Victor). Later, in 1958, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began an industry-wide practice of awarding gold records for sales of 1 million copies of a single. Starting n 1968, albums were awarded a gold record for sales of 250,000, and in 1978, the status of “Platinum” was awarded for sales of an album that reached 1 million. And finally in 1999, the “Diamond,” a new superlative recognition, was introduced to acknowledge albums with sales of 10 million.
Since the main recipients of such awards are so well-known and so common, rather than list songs and records that went either Gold, Platinum or Diamond, which would be predictable and boring, we decided instead to list songs that were novelties or goofy in some way or another and are thus certainly deserving of a “Goofy Gold” award. What songs would you add to this list? (What, no Ray Stevens? Maybe in another list…)
10. “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” Leonard Nimoy, 1967.
Watching Mr. Spock himself sing such a stupid song with go-go dancers with plastic, pointy “Vulcan” ears is almost enough to make one’s head explode! This is just so unintentionally funny, which is the best king of funny, it just had to make this list despite not being a radio hit. If you are not a Star Trek or Lord of the Rings fan, perhaps you will not get the hilarity of the video, but it should still be amusing. In a 2013 Audi commercial, Nimoy speaks the words to the song!
9. “Queen of the House,” Jody Miller, 1965.
This parody of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” by the beautiful Jody Miller (no relation) is just too funny. A great singer in her own right, Jody sings an anthem about being a housewife, and the song is even funnier when watched on video in the campy format of the 1960s. Connie Francis and the Supremes covered this clever parody.
8. “Monster Mash,” Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962.
Beaten to death on the airwaves every Halloween (kind of like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” at Christmas time), this is still the best of all the Halloween songs. The words are understandable, and the imitation of Boris Karloff is great. After all, “…Monster Mash is the hit of the land.” Not only has the song been covered, but it has been covered by the likes of The Beach Boys, Vincent Price, The Chipmunks, The Smashing Pumpkins and (drum roll please…) Boris Karloff himself! As with any truly great song, it has been parodied as well (some of which are off color). If that was not enough, a 1995 film based on the song (called Monster Mash) was made, and Pickett himself modified his song to slam President George W. Bush. Yes, the original song did reach #1 in 1962.
7. “Plastic Jesus,” Goldcoast Singers, 1962.
This folk song pokes fun at the practice of putting a plastic Jesus statue on the dashboard of one’s car (presumably to ward off car crashes and the like) and has been recorded by many artists, including Billy Idol. It was famously featured in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman singing it while sadly strumming a banjo. Over the years, the song has “grown” with multiple extra verses being added. A further testament to the “importance” of this song are the parodies of it by Joe Bethancourt, including “Plastic Vishnu” and “Plastic Cthulhu.” Bethancourt even has a version that alludes to multiple religions. Apparently, there is a version to offend just about everyone!
6. “Jingle Bells,” The Singing Dogs, 1976.
This song actually goes way back to the 1950s when the Singing Dogs (5 of them) were recorded barking, and their “music” was edited to the tunes of “Oh Susanna” and a “B” side medley of “Pat-a-Cake,” “Three Blind Mice” and “Jingle Bells.” The original record reached #22 on the charts and sold over a half million copies. In 1976, the “Jingle Bells” portion was re-released and has become a staple of Christmas music every year since. The artists behind this music are still producing Singing Dogs “songs.”
5. “Baby Got Back,” Sir Mix-a-lot, 1992.
The #2 biggest-selling song of 1992 (behind “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston), in 2008, this Hip Hop anthem was ranked #17 by VH1 in its 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop by VH1, a ranking far lower than we would assign. Offensive to some listeners because of its glorification of “big butts,” it is seen as demeaning to women and overtly sexual. So what? If you are offended, listen to something else!
4. “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” Allan Sherman, 1963.
A song about an unhappy camper at summer camp (“Camp Granada”), this funny song spent 3 weeks at #2 on the U.S. charts and earned Sherman a Grammy. It was so successful it spawned both a sequel and a third song and inspired a board game called Camp Granada! Camp Runamuch, a television series that ran from 1965-1966) was loosely based on the song. As they say in infomercials, however, “But wait, there’s more!” A musical revue and a children’s book by the same name were also inspired by this great song.
3. “Eat It,” Weird Al Yankovic, 1984.
This Gold Record reached #12 on U.S. charts and #1 in Australia and would remain Weird Al’s highest charting hit until “White and Nerdy” reached #9 in 2006. A parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” “Eat It” earned Yankovic a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording, and Yankovic has since become the undisputed King of Parody. (Says me.) Honorable Mention: Every other song by Weird Al.
2. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haa,” Napoleon XIV.
This rollicking, politically incorrect song about a man unlucky in love being hauled away to “the Funny Farm” may be insulting to people with mental illness in their family, but not so much as to keep it from hitting #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Actually, it seems the event that finally puts the singer (Jerry Samuels) over the edge is his dog running away. Trivia: The “B” side of the record is the same song played backwards.
1. “Mr. Custer,” Larry Verne, 1960.
This novelty tune rocketed all the way to #1 on the Billboard charts, keeping Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” out of the top spot. Thanks to this goofy tune about Custer’s Last Stand, Cooke would never have a #1 song. Native Americans insulted by the use of terms such as “redskin” and “wild Indians” in the song can take solace in the fact that their ancestors won the battle.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite novelty song? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Various Artists. 25 All Time Novelty Hits. Varese Sarabande, 2002. Audio CD.
Various Artists. The Golden Age of American Rock ‘N’ Roll: Special Novelty Edition. Ace Records Uk, 2003. Audio CD.