For National One Hit Wonder Day: K-Tel’s “Goofy Greats”

This one’s been a long time coming! It’s occurred to me in recent years just how influential my K-Tel novelty records were on me as a kid. From a distance these old novelty hits owe a clear debt to vaudeville, and were definitely a pathway in to my love for it. It happens to be National One Hit Wonder Day — seemed to be a logical time to be pay tribute to what was easily my favorite K-Tel record, Goofy Greats (1975).

I totally wore out the grooves on my copy of Goofy Greats, listened to it over and over and over again. A good many of the tunes were from the 1950s, well before my time, so think of it as an “education”. I learned tons about humorous songwriting, about character, and word play, and the importance of a complete lack of dignity in performance. To be fair, the artists weren’t all one hit wonders; some more weighty figures like the Lovin’ Spoonful and Bill Haley were represented. But for the most part they were one or two-hit wonders ranging from the early rock ‘n’ roll days to the bubble gum era of the late ’60s. (Although as a sop to the time in which it was released, the marketers felt the need to assert that it was also “1 Funky Album”.)

The market was clearly children (or grown-ups with the minds of children). Some of the tunes, like Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” (1964), and two songs by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, “Simon Says” (1967) and “1-2-3 Redlight” (1968), were literally games. Some were based on comics or cartoon characters, like the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy and the Red Baron” (1967) or the Hollywood Argyles’, “Alley Oop” (1960). Some had funny original characters like Ray Stevens’ now-prohibitively-racist “Ahab the Arab” (1962) and the cowardly singer in Larry Verne’s “Mr. Custer” (1960). Some had animals as themes, such as “The Birds and the Bees” (Jewels Akens, 1964), “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (The Tokens, 1961), “Surfin’ Bird” (The Trashmen, 1963), “See You Later, Alligator” (Bill Haley, 1956), “Rockin’ Robin” (Bobby Day, 1958), “Nashville Cats” (Lovin’ Spoonful, 1967), and “Mule Skinner Blues” (The Fendermen, 1960). Some were based on funny noises or names, viz., “Loop de Loop” (Johnny Thunder, 1962), “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy” (both released by the Ohio Express in 1968), “Mah-na, Mah-na”, (Piero Umiliani, 1968), “Beep Beep” (The Playmates, 1958), and “Bony Moronie” (Larry Williams, 1957). Some showcased colors: “Little Green Bag” (The George Baker Selection, 1969), “Green Tambourine” (The Lemon Pipers, 1968) , and “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (Bryan Hyland, 1960). This leaves “Bread and Butter” (1964) by the Newbeats which merely sounded funny and was about a favorite food.

And I would say most of the songs above fit into 2 or more of those categories.

As I analyze it in retrospect, there seemed to be a preponderance of country and hillbilly tunes. “Mule Skinner Blues” was probably the first rockabilly I ever heard.. A few of the songs were psychedelic, but we were too young to know anything about drugs at the time. Some, like “Beep Beep” and “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” I found irritating even as a child. And some were to get new lasting purposes from other sources: “Mah-Na, Mah-Na” was memorably used by the Muppets, and Quentin Tarantino used “Little Green Bag” for the title sequence on Reservoir Dogs. 

Needless to say records like Goofy Greats were an obsession during my tween years. As an adolescent I discovered “real” albums and would have considered something like Goofy Greats an embarrassment. In recent years, it’s occurred to me, “Nah, it’s okay. This was the FOUNDATION.” In some ways, there is much more of me (of VAUDEVILLE) in a record like this than in so many of those “mature, sophisticated” LPs I learned to love later. I know I’m not alone in this!