Spike Jones

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A man of taste and distinction.

Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones (1911-1965) was a legendary bandleader in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, and one of the first innovators of novelty music in popular culture. Spike was a master of musical comedy -- not in terms of the film genre, where one gets a comedy that happens to feature singing, but in comedy created through music.

Spike was a parodist, and having your song mocked by Spike was viewed as a necessity before you could really consider yourself to have made it to musical stardom, much like "Weird Al" Yankovic today. But unlike "Weird Al", who plays the music so straight that if you're not listening closely you might not notice that it's a parody, Spike would take the music out back and mug it. His 1944 hit cover of "Cocktails for Two", originally a nice, sweet song about how Prohibition was over and people could have alcohol on dates again, featured gunshots, gargling, slide whistles, and enough violence done to the musical instruments that he may have violated the Geneva Convention.

Technically, most of Spike's music isn't so much parody as it is travesty (in the technical definition of the word, without the modern connotation of meanness or butchery). He would play the tune with the correct notes and the original lyrics, but in such an out-of-left-field musical style that the music itself was the joke, much like Weird Al's polkas. Parody, by contrast, involves changing the lyrics of an exising song, which is what Weird Al is most famous for. Spike Jones engaged in some parody, but it was in his travesties where his style really soared.

His band, the City Slickers, were a corporate example of Hollywood Tone Deaf. They were all top-notch players -- you had to be to pull off the scripted cacophony of his scores, mastering the split-second timing and making the proceedings funny rather than totally anarchic. Their musicianship is evident on those rare occasions when they played a passage or (even rarer) an entire number "straight."

In the modern day, he is perhaps best known for performing Der Fuehrer's Face in the Disney Wartime Cartoon of the same name, though the song was originally written by Oliver Wallace.

Another famous routine is "William Tell Overture", featuring a horse race commentary stacked with jokes about the horses' names and ending in a surprise win for The Alleged Steed Feetlebaum.

And around Christmas, you've probably heard "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)".

Spike, over his long career, did live performances, radio, a bit of film work, and appeared on TV for several years. A live performance was a sight to behold, with Spike both conducting and also handling many of the oddball percussion instruments, madly racing around the stage in his trademark loud-patterned Zoot Suit (which he continued to wear long after the Zoot had passed its 15 minutes of fashion fame).

In 1997, performer/composer Artie Schroeck and his wife Linda November briefly revived the City Slickers as the "New City Slickers" as a tribute to Spike.

Not to be confused with the director, producer, screenwriter and actor of the identically-sounding but differently-spelled name.

Spike Jones provides examples of the following tropes:
  • The Alleged Steed: Feetlebaum in "William Tell Overture"
  • American Accents: Spike was very fond of putting exaggerated Jewish accents in places where they wouldn't normally be found, such as "Riders in the Sky" ("This is a cowboy legend? Oy.") and "Tennessee Waltz".
  • And Starring:
    • On "Clink, Clink, Another Drink" Mel Blanc is guest vocalist.
    • On "Patricia and the Hollywood Wolf" Basil Rathbone is guest narrator.
    • Paul Frees is an ersatz Peter Lorre in "My Old Flame".
    • Thurl Ravenscroft has brief solos in "I'll Never Work There Again" and "I Dream of Brownie in the Light Blue Jeans".
  • At the Opera Tonight: The song "Pal-Yat-Chee" is a summary of the plot of the opera Pagliacci as told from the perspective of a country-and-western fan trapped in the theatre.
  • Banister Slide: The City Slickers' version of "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" has a spoken lead-in explaining that the loss of the teeth was due to one of these gone wrong.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • In Spike's parody of "Riders in the Sky" one of the vocalists asks: "When do I come in, partner?", whereupon the other replies: "In this song it don't matter, partner! Go ahead!"
    • In "The Funnies" Dick Tracy is tortured by listening to a Spike Jones record.
    • The singer asks "Can one of you guys transpose?" after having trouble hitting a high note in "Chinese Mule Train".
    • And then there's "The Sound Effects Man", which is a celebration of the performer behind radio SFX and is as much about the sound effects as the man performing them.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Verging on pure sociopathy in "My Old Flame".
  • A Day in the Limelight: "The Sound Effects Man"
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: Sped up voices are regularly used for comedic effect.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The race commentary in "William Tell Overture".
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The lyrics of the original song are usually sung seriously with the sound effects and extra added jokes as contrast.
  • Mondegreen: So many listeners mistook "Feetlebaum" for "Beedlebomb" that Doodles Weaver eventually gave up and began pronouncing it that way.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: "William Tell Overture" includes a joke about a racehorse named Mother-in-Law. Who is nagging in the rear.
  • The Parody
  • Reference Overdosed
    • "The Sound Effects Man" is packed with references to then-famous radio shows.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Just about anything involving Doodles Weaver, such as the "William Tell Overture", but liberally sprinkled throughout the rest of the City Slickers' recordings as well.
  • Tangled Family Tree: "None But the Lonely Heart"
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Very 1940s and 1950s.
  • Values Dissonance: No one would dare record "Chinese Mule Train" today.
  • Will Not Tell a Lie: "The Blue Danube" "It's time we all came clean / The Danube isn't blue, it's green"
  • World of Chaos: It all sounds hectic and noisy.