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 (Sigourney's uncle) stacked with jokes about the horses' names and ending in a surprise win for The Alleged Steed Feetlebaum.
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 was 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:
- 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")
- Darkhorse Victory: "William Tell Overture" ends with Feetlebaum winning despite being ten lengths behind the rest around the last turn.
- Edible Ammunition: Mirandy's biscuits in "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy" are used as bullets in a hillbilly feud. They don't actually work well as ammunition (they cause a gun to explode), and it's implied they aren't all that edible either.
- 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.
- Gretzky Has the Ball: The "William Tell Overture" begins with a commentary on a horse race, but gets so crazy, that it somehow gets turned into a prize fight.
- 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, Mother-in-Law nagging in the rearnote ...
- In My Language, That Sounds Like...: In "Pal-Yat-Chee", "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci is interpreted as "invest in a tuba".
- Kazoos Mean Silliness: Kazoos feature prominently in several of Jones's arrangements, perhaps most notably as a stand-in for Blowing a Raspberry in "Der Fuehrer's Face."
- Lampshaded Fridge Logic: a natural practice of Parodies."Rub-a-dub dub. Three men in a tub. How unsanitary."
"Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold. Peas porridge in the pot nine days old. PU!"
- Lyrical Dissonance: The lyrics of the original song are usually sung seriously with the sound effects and extra added jokes as contrast.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: "William Tell Overture" includes a joke about a nag.. er.. racehorse named Mother-in-Law nagging in the rear. note
- The Parody: Jones was a master of the form.
- 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.
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: The singer of "The Man On The Flying Trapeze" constantly stumbles over the lyrics, often going through several incorrect versions of a line.
- 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.