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Try Writing A Humorous Or Novelty Song

10:03 am Songwriting

As a songwriter, you may sometimes feel like you’re in a rut, like you keep coming up with the same basic ideas and situations to write about. One way to break out of this endless loop is to purposely write a new song dealing with something lightweight, funny, or just plain strange.

Let’s face it. Most pop and rock-type songs are about one and only one subject: good old-fashioned LOVE. That’s right, in music it’s always boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, singing about it the whole time. There are songs about being lonely and songs about being trapped. There are songs about good relationships, and even more songs about the others. And then of course there’s the physical side of things.

Back in the Ancient Days (i.e. the 50s and early 60s), most of the songs were about love all right, but there were always two or three “novelty type songs” on the charts and on the radio. The very first song I remember learning to sing along with was “Witch Doctor,” by David Seville, with its evocative chorus, “Oo ee oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang.” Good stuff. There was also “The Purple People Eater,” written by Barry Cryer, about a creepy alien who….well, you remember. And who can forget David Seville’s Chipmunks? (Especially since they’re apparently still around.)

Some songs were basically about love, but with a novel take on the subject. Does anyone remember Dodie Stevens singing “Pink Shoe Laces,” written by Mickie Grant?

He wears tan shoes with pink shoelaces
A polka dot vest and man oh man
Tan shoes with pink shoelaces
And a big Panama with a purple hat band

It’s a little hard to picture the guy she’s singing about, but you have to admit they’re novel lyrics!

Laugh At Me

There just don’t seem to be as many humorous or novelty songs around any more, unless I’m looking for laughs in all the wrong places. As a songwriter and lyricist, you can take it as a challenging exercise to write at least one song that has an noticeably light touch. But where would you get an idea for such a song? Don’t make me laugh! There are ideas all around. The next time your friend cracks you up, make a mental note of what you were joking about and what she said. Odds are you can build a song around it! (I’m serious. This works.)

If someone (maybe you) tells a funny story that has everybody in stitches, well guess what? That’s another possible subject for a song. You must have heard the ultimate story-song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie. Your story doesn’t have to be as involved as that one to make for a good song. And feel free to fudge the facts! It’s a song, not testimony. Use your imagination. Embellish.

Folks on TV are always saying things that could be song titles or lines from songs, if you’ll just set your ears to listen for them. I’ve written a lot of songs based on things people said on TV. One of them is “Shut Up and Dance” (chords, lyrics), which was something interesting someone said on an otherwise lame sitcom I saw one night.

The moment I heard that phrase, I thought it would make a good call-and-response chorus, going back and forth between “shut up and dance” and something else. Once I started writing the verses, I got it all written right away, which is rare for me. I usually have trouble with the third verse, especially when there is a tight pattern of rhyme and rhythm. I really got into being this frustrated guy who just wants to dance. I could have written even more verses if I’d needed them!

Something you might find interesting about this song is that the chord pattern in the bridge is the same as the one in the chorus. I can’t remember whether I did that on purpose (probably not), but I can’t think of another song where that’s true.

Anyway, the point is, if I can do it you can too. Unless you’re in a Norwegian death metal band or something, your music is sure to benefit from a touch of humor, a dash of wit. Go for it!

Shut Up and Dance (Bendig) (chords, lyrics)
Mark Bendig: vocals, acoustic guitar, drums
Jack Burgess: lead guitar, bass, keyboard

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