I dare you to listen to this insanely catchy instrumental number and then try to scrub it out of your head. As with Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” and “Apache” by The Incredible Bongo Band, two similar hit instrumental songs of the same vintage, it cannot be undone. You’re stuck with this “Pepper Box” by The Peppers for life after just one listen (mind you, not that this is a bad thing!)
‘Pepper Box’ was originally supposed to be a TV commercial jingle, but producer Roger Tokarz, thinking he might have a “Popcorn” on his hands, held back and offered his client something else. Tokarz asked Pierre Alain Dahan and Matt Camison to expand on his theme and “Pepper Box” was born, ultimately selling over 3.5 million singles.
I read the above album cover being described as “self explanatory” on the Internet. That cracked me up.
Although its, uh, cultural cachet, I suppose, has fallen in recent decades, a doofy poem called “The Desiderata of Happiness” used to be something that you’d see on the walls of doctor’s and dentist’s offices, at your grandmother’s or great aunt’s houses, or maybe in the very home you grew up in, during the late 60s and 70s. (At one point hippies even adopted it).
You don’t see it so often today, but it’s still around. Now that you’ve had your attention called to it, the next time you see it (normally as a varnished wall plaque) you’ll remember this post (and wince).
You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
“The Desiderata of Happiness” was written in 1906 by a lawyer named Max Erhmann, but it was unknown during his lifetime. Its slow burn to popularity began in the 1950s when a Baltimore pastor printed it up in some church materials. The prose poem’s advice to be humble, live a clean and moral life and to respect even thick people seems simplistic even by Forrest Gump or Sarah Palin standards, but for whatever reason this poem struck a chord with the public. (You can read more about its history at Wikipedia).
In 1971, a “groovy” American radio talkshow host by the name of Les Crane (once married to Gilligan’s Island‘s Tina Louise and considered by some to be the original “shock jock”) narrated a spoken word/musical version of the poem (avec gospel choir), that reached #8 in the Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Performance of the Year. It was on the British pop charts for 14 months.
The following year, a wonderful parody version titled “Deteriorata” was created by the National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra and Christopher Guest and released as a single (and on the classic Radio Dinner album). Melissa Manchester sang on the record. The humorously ponderous reading was handled by Norman Rose, a popular announcer of the day whose voice is also heard in Woody Allen’s Love & Death.
Years later, Les Crane was asked about “Desiderata” and said “I can’t listen to it now without gagging,” adding that he preferred the Lampoon’s piss-take. Eventually the parody became better-known than the original hit record due to frequent spins on the Dr. Demento radio show. Below is the original version, Les Crane version:
“Deteriorata,” The National Lampoon parody:
An excellent version of “Deteriorata” closes the new theatrical show Sketches from The National Lampoon that opened last weekend in Los Angeles. Produced by Lampoon founder Matty Simmons, with a winning cast—including our good friend the incomparable Jesse Merlin who gets to read “Deteriorata”—at the Hayworth Theatre on Wilshire Blvd.
“I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” was a novelty one-hit wonder by a chap who called himself Whistling Jack Smith. Actually it wasn’t one chap, it was two. Trumpeter John O’Neill (who also more famously whistled the melody to Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) actually recorded the song, but it was a fellow named Billy Moeller (stage name Coby Wells) who you saw on the album cover and strutting around like an idiot on the pop shows of the day.
Billy was the brother of Tommy Moeller of Unit 4 + 2 (a one-hit wonder in their own right with a song called “Concrete and Clay”) and a roadie for the band. The songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway would late pen “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” for The Hollies.
The name Whistling Jack Smith was a take-off of ‘20s era singing sensation Whispering Jack Smith. The song’s original title was “Too Much Birdseed,” which is still good, but not nearly as good as “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” eh?
Regarding the video, can you imagine how humiliating a thing like this would be to do for money? Pretending to whistle? (Whistle-syncing?) And he’s not even the one doing the whistling in the first place, making him like the Milli Vanilli of whistle-syncing. Working in a McDonald’s would be a less embarrassing gig!
In a genre unto themselves, one we can all be thankful never took off, the concept of “mime rock” and The Hello People sprang from the mind of longtime manager and record producer Lew Futterman. Futterman, who at one point managed Ted Nugent and produced many of his albums including Cat Scratch Fever, was also managing a group of musicians who had been taught painting by the father of French mime, Étienne Decroux. Decroux was impressed with how quickly these musicians learned to paint and reasoned they could do the same with mime and apply it to music to create an entirely new art form.
Inspired by this notion, Futterman formed The Hello People, who would go on to appear on The Tonight Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, eventually touring with Todd Rundgren during the ‘70s, as well as opening for comedians Richard Pryor and George Carlin. The Hello People released four albums during the ‘60s and ‘70s for Philips and ABC-Dunhill, but their second album, the cult classic Fusion from 1968 is probably their best known, mostly notable for the anti-Vietnam War song “Anthem” which was banned by several radio stations. You can see a clip of the band performing the song, introduced by the Smothers Brothers below, as well as their mime act in full effect during a 1978 appearance with Todd Rundgren performing “Bread” on The Midnight Special.
It’s like the perfect shit storm… bad folk, lead flute(!)... mime!
The Hello People, Todd and pals sharing a post-show smoke sometime in the 70s.
Real Gone Music are making The Hello People’s cult classic Fusion available for the first time ever on CD. After all “Mime is money, money is mime.” Or something like that.
Power trio Love Sculpture, featuring guitarist Dave Edmunds (who would go on to form Rockpile with Nick Lowe), were a one-hit wonder group with a ferociously rockin’ version of Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance.”
The frenzied number became a top 5 hit in the UK, bolstered by support from revered DJ John Peel, in 1967. File this one with B. Bumble & the Stingers’ “Nut Rocker” (produced by the great Kim Fowley) and Keith Emerson’s ostentatious reworkings of classical pieces in ELP. This kicks ass, totally.
Everyone who has been to more than, say, two, major sporting events, has, of course, heard “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” the ultra catchy 1969-70 smash hit from Steam. But have you ever seen the group who sang it?
Steam were a band formed after the fact to front a throwaway b-side written and recorded by Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer. Gary DeCarlo described “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” as “an embarrassing record.” When Mercury Records decided to release the number as a single, the songwriter/performers did not wish for their reputations to be sullied by this “insult” as DeCarlo put it, so they made up a fictitious band.
They called this group of Ron Swanson lookalikes, “Steam” and sent them out on the road to promote the record, which hit #1 in the US in December of 1969 for two weeks and went on to sell 6.5 million records.
Click here for the far cuter Bananarama cover version of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” from 1983.
And, YES, it is everything you thought it would be. And by that, I mean it is bad. So very bad. The video is a drawn out spaghetti western narrative, leading into a song that is just the offal of the 1980s.
Before he was a household name, Bill Paxton was one half of the long-forgotten 80s New Wave band, Martini Ranch, along with Andrew Todd Rosenthal. Their Holy Cow album (actually two EPs, later compiled as an album) contained a single called “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self Culture,” which featured Devo’s Alan Myers and Mark Mothersbaugh (the number was also produced and engineered by Devo guitarist Bob Casale). To compound the bafflement, Cindy Wilson of The B-52’s, and actors Judge Reinhold and Bud Cort (“Harold” from Harold and Maude) also appeared on tracks.
The star-studded line-up of such a terrible project only proves what I have always suspected; Bill Paxton is a goddamn charming weirdo.
Below, the “long” version of “Reach” directed by James Cameron:
The even more 80s (as if that is possible) video for “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self Culture,” directed by Rocky Schenck (who took the above PR shot):
Is this the greatest goofiest song ever written? I think it very well might be. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you obscure ‘60s pop-psych combo World of Oz performing their semi-hit “The Muffin Man” on Beat Club in 1968.
I’ve been putting this on mixed tapes and CD for over 25 years. That there is a video for this number warms my heart.