Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Brief Anthology of Songs that Stopped Making Sense Long Before 
"Stop Making Sense"

Boop boop diten datem whatem choo

Boop boop diten datem whatem choo
Boop boop diten datem whatem choo
-- Three Little Fishes, Josephine Carringer and Bernice Idins

Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang

Walla walla, bing bang
Ooo eee ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla bing bang...
--  Witch Doctor, Ross Bagdasarian Sr., aka David Seville

Sitting on a corn flake

Waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you've been a naughty boy
You let your face grow long
-- I am the Walrus, John Lennon, Paul McCartney

Having a 2 year old at 65 takes you into downscale neighborhoods of recorded music that you have not visited in a long time, maybe ever. Such has been my entirely pleasant experience. I'd say it's been a trip down Memory Lane if I had any memory. Instead I have Google, which has rendered  a mother lode of nonsense songs from the last century -- the stuff my toddler is enchanted by. I also tapped what remains of the brains of old chromosome-damaged friends and recent acquaintances. Turns out they are full of nonsense and had many good suggestions for nonsense songs I might try to make sense of. 

Why, I wonder, after the mega-hits have faded along with the stars who performed them, do nonsense songs still have legs, they endure for decades and never seem to lose their usefulness, which is what exactly? What are they good for? Why do we keep them around? Why do they retain their popularity with youngsters as well as adults? What is the multi-generational appeal of these absurd vocalizations? In my case, it enables me and my son, Mukisa, to bridge a 63 year gap with silliness, nonlinearity and a reason to dance together (not that we need one). These songs are a terrific means of multi-generational merging, loud, often melodic, play at its best and most entertaining. For example:


One of the first in recent times, and still one of the best, is the exquisitely nonsensical Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll from his splendid and surreal 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. As you will recall, it starts like this:

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought-
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought

Jabberwocky then goes on for another four stanzas, demonstrating what Beowulf might have been if written by Beatrix Potter while on psilocybin. I love the atmosphere of menace and terror Carroll concocts with words of his own invention: the frumious Bandersnatch, the Jubjub bird, and later, The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! The horror, the horror. Later others set Jabberwocky to music, among them, believe it or don't, Donovan and the University of Utah Singers: Jabberwocky:


About 1939 one of the great classics of the nonsense genre was born, Three Little Fishies. If your mother didn't sing it to you as a child you were deprived. The song, which tells of three little fish who disobey their mama and live to regret it, goes like this: 

Down in the meadow in a 

little bitty pool
Swam three little fishies
And a mama fishie too
"Swim," said the mama fishie,
"Swim if you can."
And they swam and they swam all
over the dam

Boop boop diten datem whatem choo

Boop boop diten datem whatem choo
Boop boop diten datem whatem choo
And they swam and they swam 
right over the dam

"Stop!" cried the mama fish,

"Or you will get lost."
But the three little fishies
didn’t want to be bossed
The three little fishies
went off on a spree, 
And they swam and 
they swam right out
to the sea

The three scaley juvenile delinquents finally get back to the pool, but not before scaring the bejesus out of us and encountering a whale. (Where was the father!?) It was recorded by Kay Kyser, Glen Miller and many others, but perhaps most profoundly by that great wackjob, Spike Jones and his band The City Slickers, Three Little Fishies: 


Perhaps no finer purveyors of nonsense have gifted us in contemporary times as Lennon & McCartney of the Beatles, and their most impressive effort (among many) must be I Am the Walrus:

Mr. City policeman sitting

Pretty little policemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky
See how they run
I'm crying
I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm crying

Yellow matter custard

Dripping from a dead dog's eye
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you've been a naughty girl
You let your knickers down

I Am the Walrus:

WTF does it mean? Still, it advances the cause of nonsense, that intellectual exercise that everyone from toddlers to elders can throw themselves into with enthusiasm, commitment, and nonlinearity.


One of the great shaman of sense-lacking song was Roger Miller, most famous for King of the Road, a song that is too linear to make a contribution to the canon. Instead we hail him for You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd. A sampling of its finest lyrics: "Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd...Ya can't take a shower in a parakeet cage...Well, ya can't go a-swimmin' in a baseball pool...Ya can't change film with a kid on your back...Ya can't drive around with a tiger in your car...Ya can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch." I once ran into Miller at San Francisco Airport. I walked over, greeted him and told him I loved his work. "And I love yours," he said.

You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd:


Now comes Slim Gaillard, the jazzified high priest of senselessness in song and his exquisite  “Yep-Roc Heresay,”, the lyrics of which are almost entirely in Arabic...or maybe Armenian...or something. He's apparently singing about food:  yabra (stuffed grape leaves), harisseh (a semolina dessert), kibbeh bi-siniyyeh (a dish of meat and bulgur), and lahm mishweh (grilled meat), etc. Like other songs with cryptic or impossible to understand lyrics (see Louie Louie), Gaillard's Opus Maximus was banned on several radio stations. In fact, its meaning is entirely benign unless one is offended by food. One critic, Qifa Nabki, points out that the songs title is "...a botched transliteration of the first two words of the song: 'Yabra… Harisseh…' I can’t really tell if Gaillard’s own pronunciation is wrong or whether some record company executive couldn’t figure out what he was saying." Long live Slim Gaillard (too late, he split the scene in 1991).

Yep-Roc Heresay:


Naturally, Monty Python belong in the pantheon of nonsensical song, not to mention complete idiocy. One of the group's greatest contributions — R rated -- goes like this:
Isn't it awfully nice to have a penis
Isn't it frightfully good to have a dong
It's swell to have a stiffy
It's divine to own a dick
From the tiniest little tadger
To the world's biggest prick
So, three cheers for your Willy or John Thomas
Hooray for your one-eyed trouser snake
Your piece of pork, your wife's best friend
Your Percy, or your cock
You can wrap it up in ribbons
You can slip it in your sock
But don't take it out in public
Or they will stick you in the dock
And you won't come about

Monty Python, The Penis Song:


Interestingly, or perhaps not (depending on what interests you), there is another Penis Song, this one by Macklemore. It is, um, long, but here is just the tip:
I wish my dick was bigger, yep, I can admit it
I'm above average on inches but I wanted damn double digits
If I had a big ol' cock what would I do?
I'd probably go to Florida and show it to Trina and screw
Get butt naked and start streaking at my school
And get arrested but at least the girls would be impressed
With my third leg and, and then I'd go to a keg and
Do a keg stand, get drunk and do the running man
With no clothes on just to show off

Macklemore, Penis Song:


Nothing like a radical change of course to keep the reader's attention, so let us leap directly from the third leg ravings of Macklemore to, well, Mary Poppins as interpreted by Julie Andrews:

It's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You'll always sound precocious
Because I was afraid to speak
When I was just a lad
Me father gave me nose a tweak
And told me I was bad
But then one day I learned a word
That saved me aching nose
The biggest word you ever heard
And this is how it goes
Oh, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Even though the sound of it ...and on and on until you run screaming from the theater or TV room.


As appealing as it is -- Andrews could never fully extract herself from its multisyllabic clutches -- one punning wag once called Mahatma Gandhi a "super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis."


Here's a grim little ditty that takes us all to heaven. It may not be a light hearted romp, but does show you how to turn a dark hearted chant into a highly danceable singalong.

Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine

The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line
The line broke, the monkey got choked
They all went to heaven in a little row-boat



Clap-Pat: Clap your hand, pat it on your partner's hand (right hand)

Clap-Pat: Clap your hand, cross it with your left arm, pat your partner's left palm
Clap-Pat: Clap your hand, pat your partner's right palm with your right palm again
Clap-Slap: Clap your hands, slap your thighs, and sing a little song; go:

My mother told me

If I was good-ee
That she would buy me
A rubber dolly

My aunty told her

I kissed a soldier
Now she won't buy me
A rubber dolly

The Clap Clap Song:


Finally, the world of nonsense and blithering wackadoodleness would be a poorer place indeed without Witch Doctor, written by Ross Bagdasarian Sr. who performed as David Seville. Seville later created the voices for Alvin & the Chipmunks and in this version we hear him try out the little rodents singing abilities:

I told the witch doctor

I was in love with you
I told the witch doctor
I was in love with you
And then the witch doctor
He told me what to do
He told me
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla, bang bang
Ooo eee ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla bang bang
Ooo eee ,ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla ,bang bang
Ooo eee ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla bang bang

Witch Doctor:

Sigh, there are so many more greats in the Nonsensical Hall of Fame and the Idiotic Grand Ole Opry, but time and your patience require that we bring this disaster to a halt. As we do, spare a thought for Mairzy Doats:

I know a ditty, nutty as a fruitcake 

Goofy as a goon and silly as a loon 
Some call it pretty, others call it crazy 
But they all sing this tune: 

Mairzy doats And dozy doats 

And liddle lamzy divey 
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you? 

Mairzy Doats:

Hum a few bars of the Monster Mash:

I was working in the lab late one night

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise
He did the mash
He did the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
He did the mash
It caught on in a flash
He did the mash
He did the monster mash
From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes
They did the mash
They did the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
They did the mash
It caught on in a flash
They did the mash
They did the monster mash
Monster Mash:
And raise a glass to what may be the greatest of them all, the one and only One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eather: 

Well, I saw the thing comin' out of the sky

It had the one long horn, one big eye
I commenced to shakin' and I said "ooh-eee"
It looks like a purple people eater to me

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater

(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater)
A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me (one eye?)

Well he came down to earth and he lit in a tree

I said Mr. Purple People Eater, don't eat me
I heard him say in a voice so gruff
"I wouldn't eat you 'cause you're so tough"

One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater: