You know what I miss? Novelty songs. Not just the typical “Weird Al” parodies, but wholly original works that slipped into the mainstream and became pop hits. Even crap like “The Streak” or “Disco Duck” was amusing on some level. We just don’t have those kind of hits anymore (although “Dick In A Box” has come the closest in recent years). Steve Martin scored big with “King Tut,” but it was his first chart hit in 1977 that’s become Lost in the ’70s.
“Grandmother’s Song” was the single off Steve’s debut album, Let’s Get Small, a record that blew my grade school mind. Small was my introduction to Martin (since I was too young to stay up to watch “Saturday Night Live,” not that I’d be allowed to anyway), and more important, my first exposure to absurdist humor as a legitimate art form. While all children dabble in meaningless jokes, Martin was the first adult I heard making nonsense and making other adults laugh instead of irritated. It was one of those clouds-parting-sunlight-beaming-down moments. It was Steve Martin, along with another Steve, Howard the Duck (the comic book, NOT the movie) creator/writer Steve Gerber, who were responsible for warping and forming my young creative mind.
“Grandmother’s Song” seems pretty stupid on the surface, until you see the simple beauty in it — the misleading opening verses that lull you into a false sense of security until you’re hit with the line, “Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.” My ten-year old legs never ran faster to a dictionary than when I first heard it. Definitions didn’t help — I didn’t know why it was funny, it. just. was. And the song just gets more ridiculous and removed from reality from there.
“Grandmother’s Song” began its life as a bit from Martin’s days performing at Knott’s Berry Farm in the ’60s and stayed in his act through the ’70s, constantly being refined for maximum laughs. I still know every nuance of this song by heart, even doing my imitation of Steve’s imitation of the men in the audience singing along. My favorite line?
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.
If you have to explain it, it’s not funny. Hell, I don’t even think it can be explained.
“Grandmother’s Song” peaked at #72 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1977.
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