Music That Makes Me Laugh
There are very few musically funny pieces, but Hoffnung was there master, although most required knowledge of classical music to get what he was doing. The first funny piece of music I ever heard was Hoffnung’s drum-roll at the start of his Albert Hall concert, which made everyone in the auditorium stand up, only to transmute itself into something other than ‘God Save The Queen’.
On Hoffnung’s Albert Hall double album there’s an absurd overture with climaxes in the wrong places and absurd instrumentation, but it’s the lyrically silly songs which are more universally appreciated as ‘funny music’.
As a child, for some unearthly reason I memorised the lyrics to ‘Pardon Me, Sir Francis’ by Kenneth Williams (‘If you don’t, Sir Francis, every virtuous maid/ will end up singing Granada up and down the esplanade.’) I was also rather fond of his song ‘Boadicea’, both of which can be found on a rare album called ‘On Pleasure Bent’, which you can actually download because some kind fool has posted it.
I always liked Terry Jones sounding utterly fagged out in the middle of the wonderfully boring song ‘I Like Traffic Lights’, with its awful repetitive chorus. Neil Innes began his lovely ‘Spontaneous’ with this verse:
‘The champagne was Canadian,
The hostess sang a song.
I contemplated suicide
– and then you came along.’
Not everyone listens to lyrics but I think writers are attuned to them, and find it hard to screen them out. The composers of ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ have managed to weave the most unlikely phrases into their songs. There aren’t many ditties you can name that feature lines like; ‘Who gets the cattle-prod every time he humps the samovar?’ Humour often comes from inapposite absurdity.
In the title track of ‘Monty Python’s Life Of Brian’ the absurdity is in parodying John Barry’s 007 brass arrangements for Shirley Bassey and placing them against ludicrously banal lyrics. ‘One off the wrist’ comes as a particular shock to the ears! For ‘Spamalot’, Python dropped a song, ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)’ for the UK run because we would have found the blunt use of ‘Jews’ less comfortable than New Yorkers. It was replaced by a very funny song about Bromley which would have meant nothing in NYC.
Examples of funny songs please!