The 90s was a goldmine of credible novelty songs
Every era has novelty songs, from ‘Shaddap You Face’, to singing chipmunks and beyond. Songs with gimmicks and a little comedy, something deliberately weird or perhaps resembling a dad joke.
Most of these songs don’t stand the test of time, and that time may only be a week. I argue, however, that no other decade has as many novelty songs that still hold up decades later than the 90s.
Yes, I am aware that it’s the decade that gave us ‘Barbie Girl’, ‘The Thong Song’, ‘The Macarena’, ‘I’m Too Sexy’, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and Creed, but none of those apply here.
Please consider the following:
Anything by King Missile. ‘Detachable Penis’ may be a powerful and surreal metaphor for infidelity? Like all great art, it makes you think. It’s also undeniably a novelty song. As is ‘Jesus is Way Cool’. Both songs were written by ex-poet J.S.Hall; I say ex-poet because he wasn’t taken seriously so he rebelled in an extreme way, leaving poetry to become a corporate analyst lawyer. True story.
Anything by TISM. Novelty, you bet your ass. Still rock solid to the ravages of time trying destroy their genius.
Most of Ween’s catalogue, but specifically ‘Push th’ Little Daisies’, a song about cutely arousing nipples would never have made it onto Blonde on Blonde, but it holds up. As does ‘Freedom of 76’, in which Gene Ween croons the lyric ‘Mannequin was filmed at Woolworths, Boyz II Men still keeping up the beat’. I’d still happily wake up most days to it’s smooth gospel vocal.
They Might Be Giants catalogue fits into the Ween camp as well, to a lesser degree.
It would seem heresy to use the N-word in association with The Clash’s Mick Jones but re-listen to Big Audio Dynamite’s 'Rush' and tell me it’s not a novelty hit, which also holds up.
Slightly more tenuous are The Presidents of the United States of America. Definitely novelty hits, but also straight-up dumb pop songs that still work a treat at a drunken backyard party on a Saturday night.
Almost anything by Cake during this period. ‘The Distance’ sits at the wacky end of the pool, but holds a place in our heart. Their cover of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ wins extra points for degree of difficulty. An overweight white middle class guy with a quirky voice takes on a black soul diva’s gut-wrenching ode to heartache and wins. But not without a hint of novelty.
Few bands have the untouchable cred of Californian experimental rockers Primus, but ‘Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver’ is a slam-dunk in this category.
When Beck dropped ‘Loser’, no one could see the Sea Change in his career. If he’d stopped right there, he may have been the Joe Dolce of the slacker generation. It’s what he did afterward that solidifies his career.
The same could be said of Weezer’s debut single ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’ and, for that matter, Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. All three debuts are great tracks by respected artists but are a little gimmicky.
There, I said it. Unleash the trolls.
The novelty songs I’ve mentioned here celebrate the disenfranchised losers and creeps, and, in the case of my last track, ladies with large bottoms.
Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back’. Stay with me here.
We all agree that it’s novelty song, but does it hold up?
At the heart of this song is a man trying to do good. He is celebrating the female form in all its glory. Yes, he’s objectifying, but he’s also worshipping and promoting healthy attitudes toward women whose natural assets have been consistently demonised by society and the media.
‘To the bean poles dames in the magazines, you ain’t it Miss Thing,’ he raps. ‘Give me a sister, I can’t resist her. Red beans and rice didn’t miss her.’
I myself was forced to challenge any prejudice I had to the larger bottom by the line ‘Even white boys got to shout’.
Lyrically, it’s genius. Writing perfect phrasing is hard and it’s almost impossible to write a better rhyme then ‘My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hun’. He manages to reinforce his opening remarks of ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ and add genuine specifics, all in just ten perfectly phrased words.
If musically it lets you down, then check out the scratch solo at 3 minutes 50 seconds, it would make Hendrix bow down.
And the video.
Think about this, Michelangelo’s cashew endowed David is at the pointy end of all art and, even if you had a billion dollars, you still couldn’t buy it. But the 20-foot butt that Sir Mix a Lot humps in this video probably ended up at the tip.
Finally, he attacks the beauty industry itself proclaiming, ‘Silicon parts are made for toys’.
Many people may say that Sir Mix-a-Lot failed society with this song. But hearing reports of women dying from silicon butt implants leads me to one conclusion. It’s society that failed Sir Mix-a-Lot.