The Great American Novelty

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Bad pun, I know...Long story--The Color of Money, Warren Zevon, etc.--but it occurred to me today that there are four major American pop artists (at least--hope I didn't miss anyone) whose biggest hits, as measured by chart ranking on Billboard, are unabashed novelty songs that are sometimes/often considered embarrassments by their fans. Not all of them, and not by all fans, not by any means. And all four are indeed famous for their sense of humour. Explanations...I think you know why the four songs fit together in a general sense. (The Dylan song is tied with "Like a Rolling Stone" for his highest chart ranking.) I love two of them to death, cringe at one, am mostly indifferent to the fourth.

Poll Results

OptionVotes
"Werewolves of London," Warren Zevon 24
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," Bob Dylan 6
"Short People," Randy Newman 6
"My Ding-a-Ling," Chuck Berry 2


clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:16 (one week ago) link

Despise one of these

i have no scampo and i must scream (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:17 (one week ago) link

I didn’t know Werewolves was considered a novelty song.

OG Honeymoon Ave (morrisp), Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:18 (one week ago) link

(xposts) You're quite likely referring to my favourite--Dylan--which will probably finish last. I have spoken many times of my utter bafflement over the hatred of this song.

I think it is...it fits the definition of a novelty song, also has the Halloween angle.

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:20 (one week ago) link

I'll put it this way: "Heart of Gold" is Neil Young's biggest hit, and next to "Heart of Gold," "Werewolves of London" is a novelty song. (Don't get me wrong--that's the other one I totally love.)

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:22 (one week ago) link

The Dylan song combines campfire singalong with giggly aren't we naughty student japery and I hate both those things

Zevon and Newman are both unfuckwithable

i have no scampo and i must scream (Noodle Vague), Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:30 (one week ago) link

I never knew until today that an actual video was made for "Werewolves," and that, when Cruise runs his fingers through his hair in The Color of Money on the line "his hair was perfect," he's imitating Zevon in the video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qae25976UgA

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:35 (one week ago) link

giggly aren't we naughty student japery

They don’t sound like students to me, but instead a studio full of (genuinely) cool musicians.

OG Honeymoon Ave (morrisp), Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:46 (one week ago) link

my millennial opinion: 'ding a ling' is complete garbage, bob dylan is a novelty artist, never heard 'short people' but all the other randy newman I've heard sucks, 'werewolves' is fine.

voted for nothing.

lumen (esby), Sunday, 28 June 2020 00:52 (one week ago) link

werewolves is so far ahead of the others

i think i heard people complaining about "my ding a ling" being chuck berry's biggest hit for years before i ever actually heard it. it's a stupid song, but doesn't really bother me.

i loved "rainy day women" when i first heard it, but have gotten a little tired of it over the years.

"short people" is catchy but i've never really felt like it had much of a point? it feels a little shallow next to newman's best stuff.

"werewolves of london" is probably the one i'd be most pleased to hear on the radio, so i'm going with that one.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Sunday, 28 June 2020 02:12 (one week ago) link

JD otm

Two Spocks Clash (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 28 June 2020 02:24 (one week ago) link

my millennial opinion: 'ding a ling' is complete garbage, bob dylan is a novelty artist, never heard 'short people' but all the other randy newman I've heard sucks, 'werewolves' is fine.

voted for nothing.

as someone born right at that Carter-Reagan cusp between Gen X and millennialism, I just wanna say that this post rules/sucks, and that blink-182's "all the small things" could've been included in this poll, and that America is a novelty country

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DflYYP20k-g

the burrito that defined a generation, Sunday, 28 June 2020 02:38 (one week ago) link

The Berry and Dylan songs deserve their negative reputations. If we were voting for the worst, I’d give Dylan the edge, given that it was the favourite/only-known Dylan song by a bunch of my high school classmates.

I don’t think I know “Short People” beyond a reference to it in the Pod People episode of MST3K.

Voting “Werewolves” pretty much by default (though I like it ok).

A White, White Gay (cryptosicko), Sunday, 28 June 2020 02:53 (one week ago) link

I love "All the Small Things," but it's outside this poll every which way.

Warren Zevon's going to win going away. That's fine...I was talking to a friend about "Werewolves," and I pointed out that at the school I used to be it, if it was a year where I was looking after entry-music, it'd be "Werewolves" on Halloween; if it was Ms. S______, it'd be "Thriller."

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:05 (one week ago) link

"used to be at"

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:06 (one week ago) link

Had no idea 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35' was so bad and hated, so I voted for it.

pomenitul, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:21 (one week ago) link

Doesn't feel so novelty-esque in the context of Blonde on Blonde tbh, and I like its proto-Tom Waits energy.

pomenitul, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:23 (one week ago) link

Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” didn’t make the cut?

Western® with Bacon Flavor, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:44 (one week ago) link

Not his biggest hit.

"...And the Gods Socially Distanced" (C. Grisso/McCain), Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:48 (one week ago) link

Missed that part-

Has a 90s novelty poll been done i.e. Flaming Lips “She Don’t Use Jelly,” Nada Surf “Popular,” etc?

Western® with Bacon Flavor, Sunday, 28 June 2020 03:54 (one week ago) link

Yeah, those were the three conditions: major American artist, novelty song, biggest hit. I know "major" is subjective to a degree, but--as much as I like some of his songs--I wouldn't put Harry Nilsson with these four guys.

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 04:49 (one week ago) link

Mmm mmm mmm is the obvious 90s one/

Cant stand my dingaling
Rainy day women is really great. It's so wobbly it legit used to make me queasy as a kid.
Never heard short ppl until now, i liked it a lot but it doesn't strike me as atypical of randy newman.
Werewolves is the only zevon i know. Not a fan.
Nilsson is major enough imo
I'm very pro-novelty songs on the whole fwiw

Deflatormouse, Sunday, 28 June 2020 05:10 (one week ago) link

I guess Frank Zappa's Valley Girl doesn't count, since he's kinda a novelty artist already?

MarkoP, Sunday, 28 June 2020 05:16 (one week ago) link

Nilsson is a much "bigger" act than zevon (commercially, and in terms of influence)

Rik Waller-Bridge (jim in vancouver), Sunday, 28 June 2020 07:40 (one week ago) link

Strongly disagree.

clemenza, Sunday, 28 June 2020 13:25 (one week ago) link

Nilsson is a much "bigger" act than zevon (commercially, and in terms of influence)

Is this true? I've never bothered to look into him but he's always felt to me like Graham Parker - someone a subset of rock critics collectively decided to give a shit about for a few years in the '70s, who nobody even remembers anymore. (Sort of also true of Zevon, but his partisans kept on pushing him well into the '90s, and then he got sick and got canonized. And he actually has a bunch of songs I like.)

but also fuck you (unperson), Sunday, 28 June 2020 13:26 (one week ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:01 (one week ago) link

I'm a millenial,he's popular with people I know. The commercial success is easily verified by a quick google. I only heard of Graham parker for the first time a year or two ago and I am from the uk and like pub rock lol

Temporary Erogenous Zone (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:27 (one week ago) link

Also see warren zevon vs nilsson on spotify plays,YouTube views etc.

Temporary Erogenous Zone (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:45 (one week ago) link

Nilsson has double the monthly plays on spotify

Temporary Erogenous Zone (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:45 (one week ago) link

Schmilsson is considered a canon album or whatever, I’ve never seen Graham Parker on a list of anything

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:47 (one week ago) link

(American)

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:48 (one week ago) link

Graham parker is beyond marginal

Temporary Erogenous Zone (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 4 July 2020 00:53 (one week ago) link

Is this true? I've never bothered to look into him but he's always felt to me like Graham Parker - someone a subset of rock critics collectively decided to give a shit about for a few years in the '70s, who nobody even remembers anymore. (Sort of also true of Zevon, but his partisans kept on pushing him well into the '90s, and then he got sick and got canonized. And he actually has a bunch of songs I like.)

LOL I actually thought you were talking about Warren Zevon there!

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:00 (one week ago) link

Don't know much about Warren Zevon, he appears to be a good songwriter, from the two or three songs I've heard, and I really like the Turtles' song "Outside Chance" which he wrote but... well, that sums it up, in my experience he's not someone who is on many people's radar in the UK. Harry Nilsson, on the other hand, has two incredibly well known songs that even people who don't know much about music know - much much more well known than anything Randy Newman's ever recorded. I'm pretty sure if I was going to work on Monday and I had a conversation with work colleagues a few would have heard of Harry Nilsson, not many would have heard of Randy Newman and I doubt any would have heard of Warren Zevon! Let's chalk this up as yet another US/UK thing.

Anyway, first to two songs here are garbage, the next two are good-to-great. Voted "Short People".

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:20 (one week ago) link

I must have gotten lost too--I was arguing that Zevon had greater stature than Nilsson, nothing to do with Graham Parker one way or the other. Anyway, as someone else pointed out, Nilsson's biggest hit, "Without You," wasn't a novelty song.

The novelty of this poll quickly wore off.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:23 (one week ago) link

Not sure what you mean by stature? I was slightly amazed to see Warren Zevon described as a major American pop artist, but I suppose he might be in the US.

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:25 (one week ago) link

Over here, I think Nilsson's fame goes as follows: 1) friend/drinking buddy of John Lennon's, 2) one #1 album with a #1 song, 3) "Everybody's Talkin'." Not negligible, but I don't think, long-term, equal to the regard for Zevon (who sort of became the rock-critic-sanctioned pushback against all the late-'70s L.A. stuff scorned by critics at the time). Which was, it's true, elevated by his early death.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:28 (one week ago) link

I think Zevon is probably viewed as a major artist by other musicians more than by the public.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:29 (one week ago) link

You know what's missing from this poll?

Johnny Cash, "A Boy Named Sue".

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:44 (one week ago) link

Damn...I think that definitely qualifies.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 01:47 (one week ago) link

Count me as one American who assumed Nilsson was much better known/influential than Warren Zevon. Nilsson had a bunch of Top 40 hits, Zevon had one, "Werewolves." Critics don't make Top 40 hits, so that line about "a subset of rock critics" applies much more to Zevon, I'd say. Even if Nilsson had only done the Midnight Cowboy song he might be better known. And now young people know him from the Russian Doll TV show as well.

Also, Nilsson has been rediscovered by millennials, Zevon has not (despite his fans constantly pushing for it). You can buy Nilsson albums in Barnes & Noble now, that says something.

Josefa, Saturday, 4 July 2020 02:50 (one week ago) link

It's an interesting question--maybe I'm off here. Had a similar disagreement once about who was more famous, Suicide or the Shoes.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 03:43 (one week ago) link

My gateway was from that cover album of “Pussycats” the Walkmen did.

Western® with Bacon Flavor, Saturday, 4 July 2020 06:43 (one week ago) link

(xp) I really hope you said Suicide!

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 10:55 (one week ago) link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Opz_drg1O8

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 13:34 (one week ago) link

I would wager that as many people know “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” as any of Nilsson’s songs.

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Saturday, 4 July 2020 13:57 (one week ago) link

voted "short people" narrowly over "werewolves," the other two get old reeeeeally fast.

imho nilsson is definitely a bigger artist than zevon for the chart-performance reasons others have cited, but to be clear, neither of them, or newman, are remotely at the level of chuck berry or bob dylan in terms of prominence. that's okay tho - the thread doesn't call for airtightness or comprehensiveness the way, say, the "every huge artist" clause of the New Jersey threads does.

Doctor Casino, Saturday, 4 July 2020 14:05 (one week ago) link

Yeah, it was just a spur of the moment thing. I do wish I'd thought of Johnny Cash, who sits in the space between Berry/Dylan at the pinnacle and Newman/Zevon somewhere below,.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 14:11 (one week ago) link

Sorry I had to bring up Johnny Cash but it had to be done!

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 14:13 (one week ago) link

I would wager that as many people know “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” as any of Nilsson’s songs.

Do they know who sang it though?

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 14:15 (one week ago) link

I tried to troll vote but I don't think it's possible on this poll.

The only Warren Zevon song I've heard is the one listed here. I should probably remedy that but at least in my world of suburban-ish southern americans he was an unknown. Not that Nilsson was anything more either, but "Coconut" reached me by osmosis the same way "Werewolves of London" did.

Joey Corona (Euler), Saturday, 4 July 2020 14:31 (one week ago) link

Do most people know who sang without you or line in the coconut?

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Saturday, 4 July 2020 17:44 (one week ago) link

Lime that is

Muswell Hillbilly Elegy (President Keyes), Saturday, 4 July 2020 17:47 (one week ago) link

"Coconut" I don't know about, I don't think it was a hit single, but "Without You" I would assume so.

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 17:54 (one week ago) link

"Coconut" was featured on The Muppet Show, which is how little kid me knew the song.

but also fuck you (unperson), Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:00 (one week ago) link

Point of Zevon/Nilsson intersection: two famous Scorsese scenes, "Werewolves" in The Color of Money and "Jump Into the Fire" in Goodfellas. Independent of the who's-more-famous question (if anything, it's another thing on Nilsson's resume I'd forgotten), I think many more people would identify Zevon with "Werewolves" than would know who sings the weird echo-ey thing from the helicopter montage in Goodfellas.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:30 (one week ago) link

I didn't know either of those songs were in either of those films tbh. I've only saw "The Color of Money" once though.

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:33 (one week ago) link

did “jump in the fire” get classic rock radio play? Feels like I heard it a million times before I knew who did it. I’ve only seen Goodfellas once.

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:33 (one week ago) link

maybe it was like a Wayne’s World/BoRap thing?

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:34 (one week ago) link

The "Werewolves" scene, for me, is one of Scorsese's greatest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsAE2jFPqLw

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:35 (one week ago) link

Not a film I've ever had any great urge to re-watch.

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:37 (one week ago) link

Not sure about "Jump in the Fire." I'd had Nilsson Schmilsson for years when Goodfellas came out, but I bought it for the two hits and never played the whole album much, so when I first saw the film, I had it in my mind that "Jump Into the Fire," which I didn't recognize, must have been "Memo from Turner," which I spotted in the credits and didn't know either.

clemenza, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:45 (one week ago) link

I actually came to know “werewolves of London” via David Lindsey’s version... “his hair was very very greasy”

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:55 (one week ago) link

lindley (dad was a fan)

brimstead, Saturday, 4 July 2020 18:55 (one week ago) link

In the Kidz Bop version, they sing, “A little old lady got quite a scare the other night...”

Pat McGroin (morrisp), Saturday, 4 July 2020 19:00 (one week ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Sunday, 5 July 2020 00:01 (six days ago) link

Re-run with "A Boy Named Sue".

The Fields o' Fat Henry (Tom D.), Sunday, 5 July 2020 00:41 (six days ago) link

That was my idea too--maybe just here, informally. "Werewolves" or "A Boy Named Sue"?

I like "Sue," but "Werewolves" for me.

clemenza, Sunday, 5 July 2020 00:54 (six days ago) link

I love the David Lindley version.

banjoboy, Sunday, 5 July 2020 02:42 (six days ago) link


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