Top 10 Covers of Songs on the Dr. Demento Show
The Gold Standard of Novelty Music everywhere, the Dr. Demento Show still rolls on today, but instead of syndication, you can find the good Doctor streaming his show on his own website. Part history lesson, part long-past bastion of obscure musical fare, the show, which was syndicated from 1974-2011, always compiled a year end list, the Funny 25. The Funny 25 encapsulated the show’s most requested songs.
Here are the rules of today’s list. It is the Top 10 Covers, from Rock Bands, of songs from Dr. Demento’s Funny 25s, throughout history. Something about rock bands covering novelty songs always makes me smile.
10. Wild Thing by Sam Kinison
The original version of the song Wild Thing was written way back in 1965. Not a hit by the band The Wild Ones, it was the 1966 cover by the band The Troggs which was the #1 hit that everyone loved. Actually, not only loved, but named one of the 500 greatest singles of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. Wild Thing was covered by Jimi Hendrix in 1967 and was a straight up rock classic.
But by the time the 70’s came around, something strange happened to the song. In 1977 it became a novelty sensation on The Muppet Show, then different versions by bands as varied as The Meteors, Jeff Beck, and The Creatures. It was in 1988 when comedian Sam Kinison covered the song with his hard-rock buddies and solidified the song as a novelty staple. While not a hit on regular radio, it was a hit on the Dr. Demento Show and the video was on constant airplay on MTV.
A year after the Kinison version, X had a hit version of Wild Thing all over again, this time as the de-facto theme of the movie Major League.
Covered by Chimara
In 2011, the metal band Chimaira came out with its entertaining version of Wild Thing and re-named the song Winning is Fun. As I listen to the song, even though I’m looking at a picture of Charlie Sheen, I hear the bombast of Sam Kinison. It seems Wild Thing is covered nearly every year now, with the latest version being a pedestrian effort from Lita Ford and Ace Frehley.
9. Ren and Stimpy Theme
The Ren and Stimpy Show was a subversive little cartoon that ran from 1991-1995 on Nickelodeon. Its theme was composed by Christopher Reccardi and written by Charlie Brissette and John Kricfalusi (who was also the creator of the show.) The show’s theme was so popular and catchy, despite not being on regular radio at all, it ended up as the #1 song on Dr. Demento’s Funny 25 in 1992.
Covered by Wax
In 1995, there was a really good compilation album of rock acts covering cartoon theme songs called Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. One of the highlights was the band Wax enthuastically covering Ren and Stimpy’s Happy Happy, Joy Joy.
8. Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow by Frank Zappa
Iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Frank Zappa released over 100 albums both before and after his death. With works as varied as the genres from which he traveled through, his journey included dabbling in rock, jazz, experimental, and…novelty music. People forget, Frank Zappa’s most popular American single was the novelty song Valley Girl with his daughter Moon Unit. Actually his top 3 singles were all Novelty Classics: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow, Valley Girl, and Dancin’ Fool.
Covered by Zappa Plays Zappa
As the estate of Frank Zappa continues to fight like the actors in a Greek Tragedy, it is Frank’s son Dweezil that leads the Frank Zappa tribute band Zappa Plays Zappa. Now I’m in the minority, but I’m proud of Dweezil. I’ve been a fan of his since he covered his Dad’s song My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama back in the 80’s. The Zappa family trust is in legal disarray today, but somehow managed to release 6 (yes 6) Frank Zappa albums in 2016 alone. I would venture to say that Dweezil Zappa is doing more to secure Frank’s legacy by performing his works than the estate is by releasing more albums that aren’t going to be bought by anyone.
(Seriously, past maybe, 1980, who’s listening to Frank Zappa albums?)
7. Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips with Me by Tiny Tim
Believe it or not, Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips was a cover song. The original version was the #1 song in America for 10 weeks in 1929. Nearly 40 years later, Tiny Tim turned the song into a pop culture phenomenon. Despite only making it to #17 on the charts in 1968, the song is one of the most popular songs in the history of the Dr. Demento Show.
Tiny Tim had his first heart attack in 1996 when his doctors advised him that performing would be too strenuous for him. Tiny Tim ignored their advice and died later that year of a second heart attack…while performing.
Covered by the producers of the horror movie Insidious.
The ukulele is there. Tiny Tim’s voice is there. But the producers of the horror movie Insidious took the song and ran it through some sort of magical Hollywood prism that distorted Tiny Tim’s vision into a creepy concoction of fear and dread. Insidious cost $1.5 million to make and made nearly $100 million. Insidious 4 has been announced for 2017 as each sequel continues to make a minimum of $100 million. Sadly, Tiny Tim’s legacy for the next generation may be one of classic horror movie themes, like the Halloween theme or Friday the 13th theme is for today.
For those who think I'm copping out. The Cherry Glazerr version for Insidious 3 is pretty good too.
6. Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah by Allan Sherman
Not just any novelty song, but a Grammy Award winning novelty song. Released in 1963 Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah shot up to #2 on the charts. Sherman’s popularity was short lived, but Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah was to become a quintessential staple of the Dr. Demento Show.
Covered by Public Parking
Back in 2009 there was a crappy little comedy film called Fired Up! It wasn’t very funny, it didn’t make back its budget, and its soundtrack was underwhelming. But deep into the soundtrack was this gem from the pop-punk band Public Parking. Researching iTunes for Public Parking songs revealed exactly one entry, this one. Which is too bad, because it’s a catchy-upbeat take on a song that was 45 years old.
5. Monster Mash by Boris Pickett
I was working on the laptop late one night
When my eyes beheld a blurry sight
For a Monster Mash analogy began to rise
And suddenly to my Surprise….
Nah, missed it. Written in 1962 by Bobby Pickett, the Monster Mash is the definitive Halloween Song of contemporary American history. At Halloween, the song is everywhere. On TV, at haunted houses, at the grocery store, at your Halloween Party. I MEAN EVERYWHERE.
Covered by the Misfits
Long after Glenn Danzig left the Misfits, they covered the Monster Mash in 1997 and released it as a single in 1999. Darker and less fun than the original, it definitely delivered a more urgent tale with higher production value. Vinyl versions are long, long gone, but you can find the song, with Jerry Only and all different Misfits members, on 2003’s Project 1950.
4. Sweet Transvestite performed by Tim Curry
Based on the stage production of the same name, the Rocky Horror Picture Show shocked and entertained audiences all at the same time. The movie came out in 1975, 2 years after the stage version. It took a few more years for the soundtrack to permeate the skulls of young dementites and dementoids everywhere. Even then, in 1978, the most popular song from the Rocky Horror soundtrack on the Dr. Demento Show was the Time Warp. Sweet Transvestite was ahead of its time and aged like a fine wine. Well, a sexually deviant wine.
Covered by Apocalypse Hoboken
Back in 2003, a group of punk bands recorded a tribute album called the Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show. The uneven effort failed to capture the spirit of the original movie, except for one glaring exception. The band Apocalypse Hoboken captured the zeal and the over the top theatrics of the original version of Sweet Transvestite, and then some. For a band from Chicago, they really nailed the Broadway feel for a new generation.
3. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle (Monty Python)
As the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian ends, Eric Idle is hanging on the cross and inexplicably begins to sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. The upbeat sing-a-long is in stark contrast to the dire situation Idle’s character finds himself in. The scene is drenched in irony to the point of absurdity as other cruxified souls begin to sing along from their crosses.
Over a dozen years after the release of Life of Brian, the Always Look on the Bright Side of Life single was re-released. Why such a high demand for a song so long after the movie? Apparently the British adopted the anthem and the song became popular at soccer games and funerals (!?!).
Covered by Art Garfunkel
I really didn’t want to like this version, but Art Garfunkel seemed to be in on the joke that he was covering a comedy classic. It works because Garfunkel takes the more stoic and serious angle on the material, like he knows his persona is part of irony of the new version of the song. Recorded as a single in 1997 for the Jack Nicholson project As Good as it Gets, Art Garfunkel gets bonus points for inadvertently being funnier than most of the movie.
2. They’re Coming to Take Me Away by Napoleon XIV
Released in 1966, They’re Coming to Take Me Away is one of the greatest novelty songs of all time. Go to www.drdemento.com and punch in the top songs of 1972. Napoleon XIV’s song is there. Then do the same exact thing for top novelty songs of 1999, and the song is still there. It’s the Dark Side of the Moon of Novelty Singles.
Covered by Lard
For the uninitiated, Lard is basically a side project of Al Jourgensen, when he needs a break from Ministry, and former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafria. Lard attempts to straddle the line between industrial music and punk with a dark, dark sense of humor. (See- Drug Raid at 4 A.M.)
Lard’s take on They’re Coming to Take Me Away was released in 1990 and is much heavier and more psychotic than the original. Jello Biafria also gets credit for using words like Lithium, Thorazine, and electroshock in the lyrics.
1. Existential Blues/Pencil Neck Geek by Tom Stankus/Freddie Blassie
Two songs that are Dr. Demento classics and have absolutely zero to do with each other. Tom “T-Bone” Stankus is America’s Pied Piper, or basically a children’s performer. And the late “Classy” Freddie Blassie was one of the greatest villains in the history of Professional Wrestling, being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994.
Covered by Mr. Bungle
Somehow, someway, Mr. Bungle tore through this 2-song medley in 1991. If you want to see the definition of frantic insanity, listen to a young Mike Patton somersault through fields of poppies and geek smashing. You can hear exactly what Faith No More saw in the Mr. Bungle demos that made them fall in love with Patton.