Music / Spike Jones
Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones (1911-1965) was a legendary bandleader in the thirties
, and fifties
, and one of the first innovators of novelty music in popular culture. Spike was a master of musical comedy - not in terms of the film genre, where one gets a comedy that happens to feature singing, but in comedy created through music. Like "Weird Al" Yankovic
, Spike was a parodist, and, again, like Weird Al, having your song mocked by Spike was viewed as a necessity before you could really consider yourself to have made it to musical stardom ... although their approaches were wildly different. Weird Al plays the music so straight that if you're not listening closely, you might not notice that it's a parody; whereas Spike wouldn't change the lyrics, but would take the music
out back and mug it. His 1944 hit cover of "Cocktails for Two"
, originally a nice, sweet song about how Prohibition was over and people could have alcohol on dates again, featured gunshots, gargling, slide whistles, and enough violence done to the musical instruments that he may have violated the Geneva Convention.
Technically, most of his music isn't so much parody
as it is travesty
(in the technical definition of the word, without the modern connotation of meanness or butchery). He would play the tune with the correct notes and the original lyrics, but in such an out-of-left-field musical style that the music itself was the joke, much like Weird Al's polkas. Parody, by contrast, involves changing the lyrics of an existing song, which is what Weird Al is most famous for. Spike Jones engaged in some parody, but it was in his travesties where his style really soared.
His band, the City Slickers, were a corporate example of Hollywood Tone-Deaf
. They were all, Spike included, absolute top-notch players — you had
to be to pull off the scripted cacophony of his scores, mastering the split-second timing and making the proceedings funny rather than totally anarchic. Their musicianship is evident on those rare occasions when they played a passage or (even rarer) an entire number "straight." In fact, Spike formed an alternate orchestra in 1946 under the name "Spike Jones and his Other Orchestra" which played seriously in an attempt to show the world he could produce legitimate music, but the public didn't care and it folded shortly thereafter, having only released two singles. (For a condensed illustration of "straight" vs."Spike" styles, listen to the brief trombone solo in the intro to "That Old Black Magic."
He starts out with a tone and technique sounding like the great Tommy Dorsey, but in just a few bars quickly degenerates into the "slowly dying engine of a WWI biplane" tone more commonly heard in the band's recordings.)
In the modern day, he is perhaps best known for performing a Breakaway Pop Hit
cover of the song "Der Fuehrer's Face
," featured in the Disney Wartime Cartoon
of the same name, though the song was originally written by Oliver Wallace.
Another famous routine is "William Tell Overture", featuring a horse race commentary by fellow comedian Doodles Weaver stacked with jokes about the horses' names and ending in a surprise win for The Alleged Steed
And around Christmas, you've probably heard "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth".
Spike, over his long career, did live performances, radio, a bit of film work, and appeared on TV for several years. A live performance was a sight to behold, with Spike both conducting and also handling many of the oddball percussion instruments, madly racing around the stage in his trademark loud-patterned Zoot Suit (which he continued to wear long after the Zoot had passed its 15 minutes of fashion fame), often vigorously chewing a wad of bubble gum (Spike wes a chain smoker who found masticating the gum was the only thing that helped get him through performances when smoking would have been inconvenient and awkward.)
Not to be confused with the more contemporary film director Spike Jonze
Spike Jones and his City Slickers provide examples of:
- Adolf Hitlarious: "Not to love der Fuehrer is a great disgrace / So ve heil! (raspberry) heil! (raspberry) / Right in Der Fuehrer's Face."
- The Alleged Steed: Feetlebaum in "William Tell Overture" and, strangely, at the end of "Dance of the Hoursnote ."
- And Starring:
- On "Clink, Clink, Another Drink" Mel Blanc is guest vocalist.
- On "Portia and the Hollywood Wolf" Basil Rathbone is guest narrator.
- At the Opera Tonight: The song "Pal-Yat-Chee" is a summary of the plot of the opera Pagliacci told from the perspective of two country-and-western fans trapped in the theatre. Those fans are played by Homer and Jethro, who would enjoy fame of their own in the 1950s and 1960s with their own parodies of popular songs (by way of the lyrics, as "Weird Al" Yankovic would do years later).
- Banister Slide: The City Slickers' version of "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" has a spoken lead-in explaining that the loss of the teeth was due to one of these gone wrong.
- Blowing a Raspberry: Used to show disrespect to Hitler in "Der Fuehrer's Face." As this was considered a bit too racy for radio at the time, it had to be bowdlerized in some recordings to a tuba or kazoo.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- In Spike's parody of "Ghost Riders In The Sky" one of the vocalists asks: "When do I come in, partner?", whereupon the other replies: "In this song it don't matter, partner, go ahead!"
- In "The Funnies" Dick Tracy is tortured by listening to a Spike Jones record.
- Brick Joke: At the end Dance of the Hours, at the end of the race, after all the cars crash, we hear a horse whinny and the announcer proclaiming the winner as...Feetlebaum, the horse from the William Tell Overture. Especially funny, since this was a car race...
- Clucking Funny: Clucking chickens "sing" a verse or so in a few songs, such as "Rhapsody from Hunger(y)" ("Poet and Peasant Overture")
- Corpsing: The cover of "I Went To Your Wedding." The original is a sentimental song about going to the wedding of an ex-lover, but in Jones' version, the singer keeps cracking up into increasingly hysterical laughter at how stupid the ex looked and how glad everyone was to get rid of them.
- Everything Is an Instrument: If it makes a goofy sound, it's fair game. Breaking glass, champagne corks, car horns, bird calls, gargling, tuned wine glasses, starter pistols, kitchen utensils, hiccuping....
- Electronic Speech Impediment: Sped up voices are regularly used for comedic effect.
- Hail to the Thief: "Der Fuehrer's Face."
- Hurricane of Puns: The race commentary in "William Tell Overture". Girdle in the stretch, Apartment House with plenty of room, Assault and Battery tied for fifth, Banana coming up through the bunch...
- Lyrical Dissonance: The lyrics of the original song are usually sung seriously with the sound effects and extra added jokes as contrast.
- Mondegreen: "Feetlebaum" is very easy to mishear as "Beetlebaum".
- Obnoxious In-Laws: "William Tell Overture" includes a joke about a nag.. er.. racehorse named Mother-in-Law. note
- The Parody
- Perspective Flip: Often played for laughs. A very Black Comedy example is "My Old Flame," which presents the song as sung by a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Peter Lorre (voiced by Paul Frees) as a psychotic Serial Killer who can't remember which one of his victims the song is about.
- Reference Overdosed
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: A collection of parodies of Classical Music (anticipating P.D.Q. Bach by quite a while) appears in the album, "Spike Jones is Murdering the Classics."
- Shout-Out: In "Up On Cripple Creek" by The Band from The Band Spike Jones is referenced. Bessie says: "I don't like the way he sings, but I love to hear him talk."
- Spoken Word in Music: A lot of his material have sketches.
- Tangled Family Tree: "None But the Lonely Heart"
- "The Villain Sucks" Song: "Der Fuehrer's Face" again.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Mocked in "Der Fuehrer's Face."
- World of Chaos: It all sounds hectic and noisy.
- Unintentional Period Piece: Very 1940s and 1950s.