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Sped-up voices. Wacky instruments. Songs about cavemen, bathtubs, bikinis and mothers-in-law. From the very birth of rock-and-roll, novelty songs were essential elements of the hit parade. Right through the ’70s—the age of streaking, CB radios, disco and King Tut—novelty songs could be chart-topping hits. But by the corporate ’80s, it was harder for goofballs to score round-the-clock hits on regimented radio playlists.
Until one perm-headed, mustachioed, accordion-playing parodist who called himself “Weird” rebooted novelty hits for the new millennium. A video jokester before YouTube, he just might have ushered in the age of the meme. So join Hit Parade this month as we walk through the history of novelty hits on the charts—most especially if M.C. Escher is your favorite M.C.
Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.