Humoresque

Just for fun, I’ve been collecting amusing song titles, concentrating on the pre-1960 popular repertoire. It all started when I came across a 1940 big band instrumental, “Celery Stalks at Midnight.” Here’s what else I found, in rough chronological order.

“He’d Have to Get Under, Get Out and Get Under, To Fix Up His Automobile”: A 1916 ditty about the challenges of keeping a car running in the early days of motoring. I sometimes test my mom’s music recall by playing an old, obscure song to see if she can come up with the title. It’s a game she is very good at. She even knew this one.

“If I Catch the Guy Who Wrote Poor Butterfly”: This song deserves a little background information. For the 1916 theatrical production The Big Show, lyricist John Golden expected the star to be Japanese soprano Tamaki Miura, who had sung in the opera Madame Butterfly. So he wrote the ballad “Poor Butterfly” for her, only to discover that another soprano had been signed for The Big Show. He went ahead with the song anyway, which was loved by many and abhorred by a few, including the man who composed “If I Catch the Guy Who Wrote Poor Butterfly” the following year.

“When Banana Skins Are Falling I’ll Come Sliding Back to You”: One songwriter’s idea of romance in 1926.

“‘Tain’t No Sin to Take Off Your Skin and Dance Around in Your Bones”: A faux-macabre suggestion for keeping cool, from 1929.

“Inka Dinka Doo”: The theme song of Jimmy Durante, who composed the music in 1933. Ben Ryan penned the silly lyrics.

“A Bowl of Chop Suey and You-ey”: Recorded by Sam Robbins and his Hotel McAlpin Orchestra in 1934.

“Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long”: A 1940 parody adapted by Milton Berle from the 1932 song “Lawd, You Made the Night Too Long.” Surprisingly, Barbra Streisand included the spoof on her 1970 Greatest Hits album!

“I’m Looking for a Guy Who Plays Alto and Baritone and Doubles on a Clarinet and Wears a Size 37 Suit”: From 1941 by Ozzie Nelson, bandleader and star of the radio (and later television) series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. For a while, this held the record for longest song title ever published but there are plenty of longer titles now.

“Cow-Cow Boogie”: A 1942 country-boogie tune about a singing cowboy from the city. Gene DePaul and jazz great Benny Carter wrote the melody; Don Raye added the words.

“I Found a Peach in Orange, New Jersey, in Apple Blossom Time”: A 1942 novelty song, now all but forgotten (maybe that’s for the best).

“Dance With a Dolly With a Hole in Her Stockin’”: From 1944, set to the tune of “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight” from one hundred years earlier.

“The Frim Fram Sauce”: A 1945 jazz song made famous by the Nat King Cole trio. Full of nonsense words about an imaginary restaurant order: “I want the frim fram sauce with the oss’n’fay and shafafa on the side.”

“Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy”: There aren’t many songs about cooking, but Dinah Shore had great success with her 1946 recording of this one. I had to look up shoo-fly pie—it has a filling of molasses and brown sugar.

“I’ve Got Tears in My Ears (From Lyin’ on My Back in My Bed While I Cry Over You)”: Here’s a good example of the funny country song titles that abound, this one recorded by the duo Homer and Jethro in 1949.

“How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life”: From the 1951 Fred Astaire/Jane Powell film Royal Wedding.

“Hot Diggity Dog Ziggity Boom”: A lively waltz published in 1956. Perry Como’s recording reached #1 on the Billboard pop chart.

“Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Over Night?”: Released as a hit single by British musician Lonnie Donegan in 1959. He updated the original 1924 title “Does Your Spearmint Lost Its Flavour on the Bedpost Over Night?” because “Spearmint” was a registered trademark in the U.K. His recording made a splash when it reached the U.S. in 1961.

I’m sure I’ve left out some wonderfully goofy pre-1960 song title from this inventory. Anyone have an addition to my list?

Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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10 Responses to Humoresque

  1. Barbara Sharkey Cunningham says:

    Cute, I’m familiar with a couple of them. One of Dad favorites does’t have an interesting title but the refrain is special. It’s called “Three Little Fishes” by Glen Miller. I’m not sure how to spell this little ditty but it is hard to get it out of your head. “Boop boop didum dodum watem chu! Boop boop didum dodum watem chu! Boop boop didum dodum watem chu! and they swam and they swam right over the Dam” Don’t let Dad see this, he doesn’t want anyone to know he likes this song. Hope I’m not in trouble.

    • Yes, you got those lyrics right! A goofy song, I agree, but catchy. It has an alternate title: “Itty Bitty Poo.” Kay Kyser made a successful recording of the song with his orchestra in 1939, too. Dad’s not the only one who likes it!

  2. Sandy Shores says:

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any additional titles. But I was quite surprised at myself in being familiar with 12 of the 17 songs you listed! LOL I can remember singing “Shoo-Fly Pie” and “Dance With the Dolly” as a young child, usually in duet with my dad, along with such other favorites as “You Are My Sunshine.” “The Army Air Corps Song,” (i.e., “Up we go….into the Wild Blue Yonder” and “Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” And yes, I also remember “Three Little Fishes” which was another song my dad and I liked to sing! Thanks for bringing back these memories, Paulette!!

  3. Riff Noggin says:

    Brings a smile just to remember Jimmy Durante on a round-cornered black-and-white tv screen, doffing his fedora as he walk-steps off stage to “Inka Dinka”!

    A few tidbits: Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli sang a cha-cha-esque “How Could You Believe Me…” in their 1964 concert at the London Palladium. Diana Krall recorded “Frim-Fram Sauce” twice (YouTube has multiple versions). And… Joni Mitchell has a line in “Help Me” on her Court & Spark album: “You dance with the lady with the hole in her stocking.” Melody and cadence are subtly evocative of the “Buffalo Gals” original. Remnant of growing up on the prairie of Saskatchewan?

    • Your musical nuggets update my post beautifully — thanks for sharing. I knew about Diana Krall’s “Frim-Fram Sauce” recordings, but had never noticed the Joni Mitchell reference to “Dance with a Dolly with a Hole in her Stockin’.” High marks for paying attention!

  4. Mary Jane Bochnig says:

    This reminds me of the world’s longest song title according to Guinness Book of World Records in the early 1960’s (from Hoagy Carmichael, 1945): “I’m a Cranky Old Yank in a Clanky Old Tank on the Streets of Yokohama With My Honolulu Mama Doin’ Those Beat-O, Beat-O Flat-On-My-Seat-O, Hirohito Blues.” My cousin Patrick, brother George, and I had a contest one summer to see who could memorize this title quickest. I’m pretty sure it was Patrick’s idea, and most likely he won the contest, too.

  5. Judie says:

    I was surprised at how many of these songs I knew. I came up with one more but I might have the title wrong, Purple People Eater”

    • That’s a good one! “The Purple People Eater” is from 1958, a song about “a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.” It’s by Sheb Wooley, who acted in many western films and tv shows (including Rawhide), but had a minor sideline as a songwriter. “Purple People Eater” definitely qualifies for my “goofy” category.

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