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Music / Spike Jones

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You wanna buy a bunny?
Now me and my mate were back at the shack
We had Spike Jones on the box
She said, "I can't take the way he sings
But I love to hear him talk"
The Band, "Up on Cripple Creek"

Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones (December 14, 1911 – May 1, 1965) was a legendary bandleader in the thirties, forties, 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; 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 "a distorted representation of something", without the modern connotation of meanness or butchery). In a song parody, the original melody is used but the lyrics are changed; Jones instead would play the tune with the correct notes and the original lyrics, but in such an out-of-left-field musical style — changing the style, altering the tempo, adding weird sound effects, or everything in between — that the music itself was the joke.note  While Spike Jones engaged in some parody, 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 in order 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".

Over his long career, Spike 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).

Spike Milligan of The Goon Show lifted his nickname as a homage to Jones, and contemporary film director Spike Jonze was given his stage name in high school as a nickname in reference to Jones.

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 Hours".note 
  • 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).
  • Bait-and-Switch: "Never Hit Your Grandma With a Shovel" has the singer admonish the audience not to bludgeon their dear sweet granny with a shovel... and to use a great big rock instead.
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy: Spike doesn't usually go black, but when he does...
    • "My Old Flame" has a serial killer reminisce about his previous lovers.
    • "Never Hit Your Grandma With a Shovel" discusses the best way to murder your dear sweet grandmother.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Explosive Breeder: This is the theme of "Ya Wanna Buy A Bunny?"
  • 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".
  • Instrumental: A few of Spike Jones' songs are devoid of lyrics all together, or as long as gargling or manic laughing aren't considered "lyrics". Examples include "Carmen" and "Holiday for Strings".
  • 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: A regular source of comedy; the lyrics of the original song are usually sung seriously with the sound effects and extra added jokes as contrast. "Cocktails for Two" is arguably the most famous example.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: "William Tell Overture" includes a joke about a nag.. er.. racehorse named Mother-in-Law nagging in the rear. note 
  • Overly Long Gag: "He Broke My Heart In Three Places" ends with the (female) singer listing over two dozen cities where her missing beau left her heartbroken.
  • The Parody: Jones was a master of the form; a significant portion of his discography consists of taking then-popular songs and replacing the music with comedic covers, while leaving the original lyrics intact.
  • 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.
  • Propaganda Piece: Before and during World War II, Spike Jones recorded a number of songs supporting the war effort in his own style, with "Der Fuehrer's Face" being the most renown. Other titles include "Little Bo Beep Has Lost Her Jeep", "48 Reasons Why", "Trailer Annie", and "You're a Sap Mister Jap".
  • 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. Most notable in "Camptown Races", which consists of various short comedy sketches separated by a rapid instrumental of "Camptown Races".
  • 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.


Der Fuers Face

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Main / AdolfHitlarious

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