Sing A Funny Song

London

The-Pier-Echoes-a-pierrot-006

Where do we first gain our love of words?

For my mother, who lived in Brighton as a girl, the seaside Pierrots (see a modern-day version, the Pier-Echoes, above) taught her funny songs. These traditionally-dressed troupes toured all the seaside towns and are immortalised in the novel ‘The Good Companions’ as the Dinky-Doos.

Many kids of my age first learned how music and words fitted together through comedy songs – it was the first time I ever listened to lyrics. These were always featured on Uncle Mac’s radio show for children, and included ‘I’m A Pink Toothbrush, You’re A Blue Toothbrush’, ‘The Railway Runs Through The Middle Of The House’, ‘Right Said Fred’, ‘Hole In The Ground’,  and something to do with Charlie Drake wailing ‘I Want A Drink of Water!’. Most of them were dreadful, but they taught something basic; rhyme and scansion, and which weds were funny.

These songs were leftovers from our music hall heritage, and were very basic. A cut above was the noes very hard-to-find Kenneth Williams’ album ‘On Pleasure Bent’, and I still know most of his songs by heart, including ‘Pardon Me, Sir Francis’, a call to arms for Drake to tackle the Armada that featured the verse;

‘If we’re caught, Sir Francis, with our defences down,

They’ll be up to their old Spanish customs all around the town.

Spare a thought, Sir Francis, for every virtuous maid,

Who will end up singing ‘Granada’ up and down the esplanade.’

There’s something irredeemably silly about these songs, which also includes a ditty about Boadicea – ‘Covered in woad and six feet tall, she scared the living daylights out of one and all…but she often thought when nights were cold, ‘I wish the Ancient Britons weren’t all so old.’

Family films always seemed to have a song in the middle for no real reason than to provide an interlude. In Blake Edwards’ ‘The Great Race’ Natalie Wood gets to sing ‘The Sweetheart Tree’ while a bouncing ball hits the lyrics on-screen. Even animated cartoons still have songs – but it’s an odd tradition when you think about it.

However it’s one that continued long after it should have died in Britain, from the show ‘I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’ (‘I’ve got a Ferret Sticking Up My Nose’, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’) to Monty Python (‘I Love Traffic Lights’ and ‘Finland Finland Finland’), and almost into the present day, where it has now pretty much died.

Has rap taken the place of such innocent pleasures?

7 comments on “Sing A Funny Song”

  1. Jo W says:

    Oh dear! I do hope not! Those silly and music hall songs learned from my mother and grandmother all those years ago were simple fun. I cannot remember any of them inciting violence or riots. Btw I still have a pink toothbrush and yes He has the blue.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    Rap can only – in my estimation – replace rap, with about a new “song” every five days. At night, late, I often hear a Jeep go by with super subwoofers installed. A dude listening to rap, which seems now mostly white guy stuff, written for white guys, too, and all you can hear is the deep “bum-ba,- bum-ba” fading off into the merciful distance. I wonder if it’s the modern echo of Hannibal crossing the Alps, the Roman legions on maneuvers, or a sign of expensive future work for an ENT and the hearing aid firms.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    The Railway song certainly appeared and the Hole in the Ground is still sung around here, but the others are not familiar. My nonsense songs were a 33rpm of Gilbert and Sullivan sung by Danny Kaye. I have loved them ever since. Why are pierrots alright but clowns are scary?

  4. George Koch says:

    Ah yes – brings back happy memories. Liked the Dinky-doos in The Good Companions The film – alas – only visited Brighton one day and there were no “Pierrots” about then.

    But I grew up with the Songs of Tom Lehrer, singing them with my friends. One is “Poisoning the pigeons in the Park”

    “When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide,
    But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.”

    And then doting on the musical cavortings of Flanders and Swann – and particularly The Bestiary of Flanders and Swann. Here from The Hippopotamas Song –

    ‘Mud, Mud, glorious mud
    Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
    So follow me, follow
    Down to the hollow
    And there let us wallow
    In glorious mud’

    Grand stuff

  5. snowy says:

    G&S here also, specifically ‘When I was a lad ….” and ‘Modern Major General’.

    Pierrot players didn’t wear a lot of make-up and sang and told jokes. But when one went to the circus there you met the ‘Whiteface’ and the ‘Auguste’ who distorted thier faces, were very big, very loud and a bit scary.

    [‘Punch’ should be even scarier as the physical distortion is much greater and there is a lot more shouting, but being only one foot tall probably takes the sting out a bit.]

    ‘Whiteface’ and ‘Pierrot’ [a much older character] wear the same costume but are not the same persona, ‘Whiteface’ is imperious, bossy and shouty, Pierrot is soft, loving and gentle.

  6. RobertR says:

    Can I suggest from a modern comic song perspective – Victoria Wood, whose ‘Freda and Barry’ is known by lots of people the line “Beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly” has cropped up with lots of friends over the years generally as an example of incongruous passion. Plus John Shuttleworth as created by Graham Fellows with songs about margarine or visits to B&Q? I think the musical shift happened with the charts stopped reflecting the quirky tastes of the English music buying public – the novelty hits which would pop up at least once a year, when everyone from grans to small children became fond of silly songs with funny lyrics.

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    They are still around, from Weird Al in the states to those mentioned above.

    A lot of comedy songs go around the net, so don’t appear in the throbbing 40 any more.

    A big thing is taking songs and putting them a different setting, hence Mike Flower’s pops, Richard Cheese, Nouvelle Vague, The Wurzels doing Oasis and so on, plus never forget William Shatner.

    You still get oddities like Primus doing Too Many Puppies, an anti-war metal song or even Green Jelly (They reformed 4/5 years ago and had an lp out called Music to Insult Your Intelligence By).

    As for rap, if you ever come across Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer (The Tweed Album or Can’t Stop, Shan’t Stop.) or Professor Elemental (More Tea? and The Indifference Engine.) it would give you an idea of what would happen Flanders and Swann tried their hand at rap. The genre is called Chap Hop, On The Prof’s The Father of Invention their is a rap duel between the 2.

    As for a love of words my 2 year old loves Dr. Seuss and nursery rhymes, especially Row, Row, Row Your Boat, getting kids to question reality is fun. Singing these nursery rhymes is definitely a start, must dig out the Edward Lear for her while I think.

    Wayne.

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