Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Song Parodies

Song parodies are such an easy form of humor that I almost think of them as cheating.  Yet people continue to be impressed by the most meager efforts. The compliments seem of the "you colored within the lines!" nature to me. It may be there is a type of mind for which this just flows naturally, but not for most people.

I can do it, and do it well, but I know others who are better.  I did one with a pal in 8th grade to "Ballad of the Green Beret." I bow in admiration to whatsisname, Weird Al Yankovich, who finds combinations I would not.  I find it uncomfortable when people do it poorly, but even a mediocre effort can be fun. It is often only a single line that is funny, a reworking of the title or chorus, the remainder being filler. They are best when done quickly - it is too much to ask for a person to sing even a single verse impromptu (though I have heard people produce them within the song if only others will go enough verses to give them time.  A rare talent.) - but dashing one off in an hour before the party is fresh enough.

We used to do them for cast parties for musicals, when I was in college. I imagine other theater companies did them as well.

I gave my beaver a four-loaf cleaver
The one he's been asking for.
I wasn't thinking, the fool that I am
He cut his tail off while building a dam.
It's no use in crying, 'cause now he's dying
And won't cleave a loaf no more.
So don't give your beaver a four-loaf cleaver
'Til you get his tail insured.


Grim said...

With practice, impromptu composition is not that hard. Albert Lord wrote a history of the oral poets in turn-of-the-20th century Turkey, who were able to do it easily (in a tradition allegedly stretching back to Homer). The book, called The Singer of Tales, explains how it is done. The real trick is that poets build up a store of ready rhymes and stock images, which they can employ without having to think about them in order to buy time to frame the lines they actually do have to think about. This allows them to tell stories that are tailor-made for their audience, lengthening out a part of the tale that a particular audience likes, or skipping past a part they aren't interested in. You can also compose entirely new songs in this way.

Having learned that, I discovered that I could do it without too much effort once I developed even a small store of such ready rhymes. I used to make up songs often, to any sort of tune I knew well, in order to amuse my girlfriend (later wife) and (later still) children. I never aspired to high art like Homer's poetics, of course, though I trust it could be done by someone who devoted their life to it.

Grim said...

I should add that I recognize the technique at work when I listen to what is called "freestyle" hip-hop. Some of the lines are clever, even though they were invented on the spot. But many of them are commonplace rhymes that buy time to think of the next really cool thing to say.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Oral-Formulaic Composition is going to be right up your alley.

Homer, Beowulf. Exactly as you said.

james said...

I never thought much about how we did them when Armah and I were in high school. It just seemed that some new phrase demanded to be placed in an old poem or tune, and either other things logically followed, and we had a parody, or they didn't.

I still have line-revisions jump to mind seemingly out of nowhere, and about half the time a verse or two congeals in a few minutes. Lewis Carroll could make parodies that were better than the originals. I'm afraid mine tend only to be memorable when they commemorate something like the time the raccoons got into the car and ate the oreos.

Sounds like I should learn a few devices, and really drive the family nuts...

Sam L. said...

After my wife heard Weird Al's "YODA" she couldn't hear "Nola" any more.

RichardJohnson said...

I don't know what percentage of Mad Magazine was devoted to song parodies, but song parodies are about all I remember from it. Spy vs. Spy excepted.
TV ad jingles practically screamed: make a parody of me. My cousins and siblings went at them. Winston.

Winston tastes bad
Like the one I just had
No filter no taste
I's a
40 cent waste