Novelty records have a mostly deserved reputation for being one-joke “wonders” that age poorly. “Alley Oop,” based on an old caveman comic strip I’ve never read, doesn’t seem at first blush to be a likely candidate to break this pattern. Written in 1957 as a country tune by Dallas Frazier (whose “Elvira,” as performed by The Oak Ridge Boys, was a staple of my elementary and middle school P.E. line dancing classes), it features such lines as “He’s got a chauffeur that’s a genuine dinosaur/And he can knuckle your head before you count to four.” So while the recording could still be easily mucked up in the wrong hands, you’re already starting with superior material for a novelty song (i.e., it’s actually kind of amusing). Fortunately, “Alley Oop” couldn’t have been recorded by folks more suitable for crafting an oddball hit. In one corner, it’s legendary producer, svengali and raconteur Kim Fowley, who had a hand in such future novelty hits as “Nut Rocker” and “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa,” produced straighter material for artists ranging from The Byrds to The Modern Lovers and manufactured teenage girl rock band The Runaways. In the other corner is Fowley’s roommate Gary S. Paxton, who had already sung a couple of hits as half of Skip & Flip and would go on to become a prolific producer, Jesus freak singer and all-around eccentric. (He’ll also make a repeat appearance on this blog in the near future.) Paxton was The Hollywood Argyles, and it’s his singing that makes the record so fascinating, sounding like a cross between Shorty Long on “Devil With a Blue Dress” and one of the more psychedelic offerings on Nuggets, but predating both. Take the lines quoted above, which Paxton drawls as “He’s got uh sho-fur that’s a genuwine dy-no-so-wah/ And he can knuckle yo head befoh you count to fo-wah.” Even for a novelty song, this was weird. And next to the spit-polished sounds of Guy Mitchell or Frankie Avalon (or even Elvis), this had to be a revelation. Under the guise of a throwaway novelty single, “Alley Oop” prepared record buyers for the sound of psychedelic rock that would define the latter part of the decade – and, perhaps, presaged ’60s drug culture. 7
- Apologies for the lapse in posts – I’m out of town right now. Posting should be back to normal on Monday.
Hit #1 on July 11, 1960; total of 1 week at #1
31 of 964 #1’s reviewed; 3.22% through the Hot 100