Spike Jones: The Root of Musical Comedy

Nowadays when we think of musical comedy we think of performers like the Flight of the Conchords who mix serious music with comedic lyrics. However, musical comedy has not always taken this format.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s, a musician named Spike Jones toured across the country with his big band the City Slickers and satirized the popular jazz standards of the time. Rather than record parodies of pop and classical hits, Jones and his band would instead offer their own interpretations of these songs, but with distinctively sillier musical arrangements. For example, they recorded “The William Tell Overture” with the sounds of a horse race playing over the music. Frank Zappa and “Weird” Al Yankovic have both expressed their fondness for Jones’ work.

One of the City Slickers’ most famous recordings is that of a song from 1934 called “Cocktails For Two.” The song was written by Arthur Johnson and Sam Coslow to celebrate the end of Prohibition one year prior. It was originally written as a sentimental romantic ballad, but when Jones and the boys got their hands on it they turned it in to a ridiculous sound effects-laden laugher. When Coslow heard the City Slickers version of his song he hated it, however he did cash the royalty checks that came from the recording’s success.

Jones and the City Slickers released a theatrical short promoting the song in which Jones plays the bored bartender.

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About Michael Darling
Collector of the interesting and absurd.

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