Songs About Garbage & Other Offbeat Subjects

Being a New Yorker by temperament as well as proximity, I woke up the other morning singing a song called “Garbage.”  Now there are not many songs on that subject (probably fewer than there should be, considering how much of the stuff is around), but Sheldon Harnick actually wrote such a song and it was part of the 1955 Shoestring Revue.  While singing away, it occurred to me (sorry about that dangling modifier) that if a theater-goer attended enough musical comedies, he or she would be exposed to songs about everything under the sun.  When it comes to creating offbeat songs, theatre musical writers are in a class by themselves.

Now a song that is titled “Garbage” tells you exactly what the song is dealing with (and leaves the composer wide open for all the obvious critical zingers), but what is an audience supposed to make of a song called “Yaka Hula Hickey Dula”?  Now that song was featured in the 1916 musical Robinson Crusoe Jr., a show best known for its starring performer – the immortal Al Jolson.  I have never heard a recording of the show, I still have no idea what the song is about.  It’s just the title I love.

There are numerous other musical comedy songs that have whetted my curiosity and I thought I would share some of the titles with you.  If you can guess what shows they are from you are entitled to more than the above number from Shoestring Revue offers.  Perhaps if the following songs were collected for a single, star-studded evening we’d have a new golden age of the musical.

  1. “I’d Rather Be A Chippie Than A Charity Bum.”  The word ‘chippie’ has, thank god, fallen into disuse, but in 1912 it referred to a “pick-up” or a street girl willing to go places and do things with a man to whom she had not been formally introduced.  It was a shocker of a word and the title of this one song helped to keep this show in the public eye and upon the public’s mind.  It caused an outraged response.
  2. “Thursday Is My Jonah Day.”  There was a joke that went: “We call him Jonah because he is always down in the mouth” (perhaps from singing this song), but the term Jonah Day merely referred to any bad luck day.  “Thursday always was my Jonah Day.  Never struck any luck, any time.”  Lyrics were by Will Hough and Frank Adams. Music by Joe Howard.
  3. “A Cow and a Plow and A Frau.’  Bob Fosse and Wally Cox appeared in this one and “A Cow And A Plow” etc. with its nursery rhyme flavor was the hit of the evening.
  4. “Bow!  Barn!  Zonk!”  Singing this song the titular hero attacks a dastardly villain and frees the heroine.  I always felt that the title lent itself to a football fighting chant.  Can’t you imagine cheer-leaders leaping high in the air and singing “Bow!  Bam!  Zonk!”  It should, at least, put the opposing team on the alert.
  5. “Hottentot Love Song.”  This musical, starring Marie Cahill, was about a woman who often gets married but within the hour runs away from her groom.  At the turn of the century, anything with the word “Hottentot” in it struck a songwriter’s funny bone.  It takes a surrealistic imagination to introduce a Hottentot love song into an American musical comedy, but where love is, can surrealism be far behind?
  6. “I, Yes, Me! That’s Who” This had music and lyrics by Julie Style and Sammy Cahn.  In the “me” decade this song is just waiting for the right moment to be revived.
  7. “Hi Hiccough – Hic-Hiccough.”  This by William Gill.  I opened with “Garbage” and so I thought I would end by citing another song written to an all too neglected topic.  How many songs about Hiccoughs do you expect me to know?
  1. “A Cow and a Plow and A Frau.’  Bob Fosse and Wally Cox appeared in this one and “A Cow And A Plow” etc. with its nursery rhyme flavor was the hit of the evening.
  2. “Bow!  Barn!  Zonk!”  Singing this song the titular hero attacks a dastardly villain and frees the heroine.  I always felt that the title lent itself to a football fighting chant.  Can’t you imagine cheer-leaders leaping high in the air and singing “Bow!  Bam!  Zonk!”  It should, at least, put the opposing team on the alert.
  3. “Hottentot Love Song.”  This musical, starring Marie Cahill, was about a woman who often gets married but within the hour runs away from her groom.  At the turn of the century, anything with the word “Hottentot” in it struck a songwriter’s funny bone.  It takes a surrealistic imagination to introduce a Hottentot love song into an American musical comedy, but where love is, can surrealism be far behind?
  4. “I, Yes, Me! That’s Who” This had music and lyrics by Julie Style and Sammy Cahn.  In the “me” decade this song is just waiting for the right moment to be revived.
  5. “Hi Hiccough – Hic-Hiccough.”  This by William Gill.  I opened with “Garbage” and so I thought I would end by citing another song written to an all too neglected topic.  How many songs about Hiccoughs do you expect me to know?

Louis Phillips is the author of over 50 books for children and adults. His most recent book is 4, four stories, four plays, and four poems. Available as a paperback or e-book.

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