Cover your ears! The best/worst novelty songs of the last 40 years
- Credit: PA
Nick Richards counts down the best (or should that be worst?) novelty records of the last 40 years
Cast your mind back four decades to December 1980 and the music world was in mourning. John Lennon had been murdered at the start of the month and while his old material would have instantly gone to the top of the streaming charts now, back then we had to wait until January 1981 for the re-release of singles Imagine and Woman.
Instead, while music fans sobbed and remembered the former Beatle, the festive number one was taken by St Winifred’s School Choir and their trite celebration of the elderly, There’s No One Quite like Grandma.
Yes it was the start of the 1980s, when novelty hits reached a new high. To celebrate all things naff and comical about the UK charts, here is a countdown of the Top 20 most celebrated novelty records of the last 40 years.
So what makes a novelty hit? Well we had some clues in the 1960s and 1970s. It usually comes in the form of an artist who is either not real (Such as The Archies’ 1969 chart topper Sugar Sugar), someone who doesn’t usually make records - Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) or Jasper Carrott’s Funky Moped for example, or a TV spin off - see It Ain’t Half Hot Mum actors Windsor Davies and Don Estelle’s 1975 big seller Whispering Grass.
I’ve overlooked charity records, such as Do They Know It’s Christmas? and the slew that followed in the 1980s, mainly because they were often released after grim events and that’s not in keeping with fun.
Being a one-hit wonder helps and of course if you get to the upper echelons of the Top 40 then you’ve got the perfect formula, so pop pickers, what gets my vote for the ultimate novelty hit? In reverse order, here we go:
20) Dr Spin - Tetris
A Top 10 hit in 1992 featuring the music from the Game Boy game Tetris. Wouldn’t rank so high only for it was the brainchild of none other than Andrew-Lloyd Webber and producer Nigel Wright. Proved that you could get a hit without any words and on any theme.
19) Bombalurina - Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
Three weeks at number one in 1990 for this cover of a Bryan Hyland hit. Funnily enough, Lloyd-Webber and Wright were also involved in taking this Timmy Mallett-fronted act to the top. They replaced Partners In Kryme’s Turtle Power at the top of the charts, proving that the summer of 1990 was a shocking year for music.
18) Anita Dobson - Anyone Can Fall in Love
Naff enough having an EastEnders star singing on a song (Nick Berry, Sophie Lawrence and Letitia Dean also got in the charts in the early years of the soap) but this song was sung over the show’s theme tune. Reached number four in the summer of 1986.
17) Zig and Zag - Them Girls
Puppets featuring on The Big Breakfast in the early 90s got to number five in 1995 with this abysmal reggae parody. There was some clout behind the fur though- well renowned DJ Erick Morillo produced it and the pair were signed to a record label run by a chap called Simon Cowell.
16) The Firm - Star Trekkin’
Radio One DJ Simon Bates gave this self-funded Star Trek-based project massive air play in 1987, enough for it to hit the top spot and keep Whitney Houston parked at number two.
15) Neil - Hole In My Shoe
Actor Nigel Planner would feature on Living Doll with Cliff Richard and his fellow Young Ones in 1986 but two years earlier he took this
Traffic cover to number two.
Had some music industry credentials though - Dave Stewart produced it and his fellow chart-topper Barbara Gaskin is on backing vocals.
14) Morris Minor and the Majors - Stutter Rap
Comedian Tony Hawks was to blame for this 1988 Beastie Boys parody that made fun of stammering. Features an unlikely appearance from
Queen guitarist John Deacon.
13) Alexei Sayle - ‘Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?
Utter nonsense from comedian Alexei Sayle, this eventually got to to number 15 in 1984 a couple of years after its original release, in the
meantime Sayle had become far better known in the public eye. Sample line: “I keep tropical fish, in my underpants”.
12) The Timelords - Doctorin’ the Tardis
Similar to The Firm’s Star Trekkin’, this was essentially The KLF mixing the Doctor Who theme with Gary Glitter and The Sweet. Topped the charts for a week in June 1988.
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11) Natalie Casey - Chick Chick Chicken
Later famous as a TV actress in Hollyoaks and Two Pints of Lager And Packet of Crisps, she scraped into the Top 75 in 1984 with this nursery rhyme cover version.
At the age of three she set a new record as the youngest person to have a hit. Did you buy it?
10) Spitting Image - The Chicken Song
We loved a bit of novelty puppet action in the 1980s and at the height of Spitting Image’s popularity in 1986, this song made it to the summit of the Top 40 for three weeks. Altogether now... “Hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose...”
9) Harry Enfield - Loadsamoney (Doin’ Up The House)
Another spin off from a comedy show, Harry Enfield’s character Loadsamoney flashed his wod and got to number four in 1988. The phrase Loadsamoney eventually seeped into late 80s politics as Enfield’s character symbolised the Yuppie culture of the time.
8) Keith Harris and Orville - Orville’s Song
Around 400,000 copies of this single were sold in 1982 as this ear-damaging ballad made it to number four in the charts. Helped by Harris’s popular early Saturday evening TV show, his green duck with a big nappy Orville shot the entertainer into the hearts of the nation’s record buyers.
7) Roland Rat Superstar - Rat Rapping
If a duck could do it, then so could a rat and after debuting on TV AM in early 1983 and appearing on copious amounts of rodent-themed merchandise, a novelty record was the next logical step. Bonus points if you can remember the name of his gerbil sidekick.
6) Renée & Renato - Save Your Love
Remember the lavish soft focus video featuring a tight-sweatered Renato looking like the chap from the GoCompare advert schmoozing his love Renee in a series of romantic locations? He was actually a Brummie with Italian origins and she was a British session singer. Scores highly for it being the Christmas number one of 1982.
5) Claire and Friends - It’s ‘Orrible Being In Love When You’re Eight and a Half
Winner of a 1986 talent contest run by kids TV show Saturday Superstore, Claire Usher and her pals took this terrible ode to young love into the charts. The song was written by Mick Coleman and produced by Kevin Parrott (also known as Brian and Michael, the pair who were responsible for the 1978 chart topper Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs).
4) Black Lace - Agadoo
Black Lace never really regarded themselves as a novelty band but this novelty hit from the summer of 1984 has become synonymous with weddings, parties and anything to do with the 80s. From the era when the BBC banned songs, this was black-listed by Radio One not for filthy content or political views as some songs were, but simply for lacking in credibility.
3) Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby
It’s hard to believe I am writing these words: this song spent three weeks at number one in December 1993 and took the coveted Christmas number one spot. Yes, three weeks. Regularly voted the worst song of all-time, this utterly dreadful record had an equally dreadful video that even features Jeremy Clarkson.
2) St Winifred’s School Choir - There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
Originally written for the 80th birthday of the Queen Mother, this Christmas number one from 1980 featured the choir from a school in Stockport, most of them with socially distanced teeth and the infamous lisp of lead vocalist Dawn Ralph. Former Coronation Street star Sally Lindsay was another member. Made getting a pressie for gran a no-brainer that year.
1) Joe Dolce Music Theatre - Shaddap You Face
Dolce was an American singer songwriter who had moved to Australia and had a big hit down under with this, which steam rollered into the UK charts in early 1981. Not only did he achieve just one hit, it had silly lyrics, was sung in daft Italian voice, sold millions and kept Ultravox’s Vienna off the top of the charts. Well done Joe!
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