Novelty songs are a chancy proposition for a feature such as this. Many novelties are awful by design, in their attempts to capitalize on a fad or to insinuate themselves into the brain of the audience by any means necessary, and it’s hard to justify trashing something that has merely achieved its reason for being. But when a novelty song breaks through from curiosity to mass-appeal smash, we can treat it like any other hit record. Thus we say without fear of contradiction that “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees is one of the World’s Worst Songs.
Dees was a morning radio jock in Memphis when he made his record. It started up the charts slowly beginning in August 1976, eventually reaching #1 in Billboard for the week of October 16. Although it stayed at the summit for only a week, it spent the next four weeks at #2, and a total of 10 weeks among the nation’s top 10 singles, on the way to the first platinum certification ever awarded to a single.
All of this happened without the participation of radio stations in Memphis. Claiming by some logic that it would represent a conflict of interest, Dees’ own station wouldn’t play it; neither would other stations in the city, for fear of promoting the competition. After Dees mentioned the song on his radio show—just talked about it—he got fired, although he was quickly scooped up by another station in town. That station’s corporate owner eventually moved him to Los Angeles, where he’s been ever since.
But back to “Disco Duck.” The best thing about it is the first 10 seconds or so, which quite literally leap out of the speakers and had quite an impact when heard on the radio. But as for the rest of the record, there’s not much to it. It’s not funny; it’s not even particularly clever. It’s just a guy singing about turning into a duck and then, another guy who can do a duck voice speaks in a duck voice.
“Disco Duck” sold six million copies. It was the 1970s. We couldn’t help ourselves.
(Worth a look: this live version of the song from The Midnight Special, for which all of us who were alive back then ask forgiveness, from all generations that have followed us, and will follow us.)