Monday, 29 March 2010

Comic songs - the poetry of the masses

I’ve always had a weakness for comic songs. I find in the very best with humour come human truths. Poetry is a kindred art form. I hasten to add though that my taste is closer to music hall than Gilbert & Sullivan.
Starting with Charles Penrose and The Laughing Policeman (first heard on Uncle Mac’s radio programme Children’s Favourites in the 1950s) subtlety wasn’t a prerequisite, clever lyrics and a strong tune were.
This is why Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport by Rolf Harris is a classic and Charlie Drake’s My Boomerang Won’t Come Back isn’t. By the way happy 80th birthday Rolf.
The Americans are no slouches at comic songs. Danny Kaye built a career on mastery of the form. But for the most part the Yanks – Stan Freburg, Alan Sherman, Weird Al Yankovitch - prefer parody.
My taste leans towards outright originals. Benny Hill and The Fastest Milkman in the West and Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman are clever stuff. But neither have the social realism of Bernard Cribbins singing Right Said Fred (perhaps about moving a piano) and his Hole in the Ground.
For real poignancy you have to turn to Stanley Holloway. Brown Boots – admittedly a monologue - is lump in the throat stuff.
The most gifted exponent of the genre is probably Noel Coward and among friends enjoyed the epithet The Master. But in my opinion the popular master in terms of reaching the millions is George Formby. I’ve given pride of place in this post to a video featuring Lancashire’s favourite son. His lyrics dripped double entendres whose lewdness he neutralised with a cheery innocent countenance.
Compare and contrast Formby’s With My Little Ukulele in My Hand with Chuck Berry’s My Ding-A-Ling. Incidentally the latter was Berry’s only No.1 record in the pop charts.
Apparently humour is a strong thread in rap music today. I’m no judge because a lot of the lyrics where I do hear them, I don’t understand their sense. So for the time being it’ll be Flanders & Swann rather than Dizzee Rascal.

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What do you think? GC