Saturday, December 26, 2009

"My Ding-a-Ling" by Chuck Berry (1972)

I'm not really sure, within the scope of this ongoing list, how quite to deal with 'novelty songs'. See, novelty songs gain a kind of immunity from the hostility they should otherwise engender merely by the fact of their being 'novelty songs'. The thing is that you can't decry a song as annoying when it doesn't aspire to be anything more than annoying - though for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would voluntarily listen to it. Thus, you'll not find a song like "Witch Doctor" or "Eensy Weensy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" on this list, deserving though those two example undoubtedly are. It seems like flogging a dead horse to describe those songs as 'terrible'. It seems to be the point.

And I'm certainly not opposed to humour belonging in music (as Frank Zappa might have put it). I like songs that make me laugh. It's just that so-called 'novelty songs' rarely do make me laugh, and those that might upon first hearing get old lightning fast as soon as the novelty, so to speak, wears off.

So what of this song? Well, it's the incredibly lecherous Chuck Berry, who apparently created rock and roll before becoming known for breaking the Mann Act with a 14-year-old and for installing video recorders in the ladies' toilets at a restaurant he owned. In between those acts, he decided to prove his class by recording the puerile song under current discussion. Apparently, it's excerpted from what must be an excruciatingly-long eleven minute version recorded live in Coventry on the geographically-challenged The London Chuck Berry Sessions album. Essentially, two bells on a string can be considered a toy called a 'ding-a-ling'. Fine, but the whole track is a one-joke effort built entirely around the following conceit: 'Ding-a-ling' sounds like it could be a code-word for male genitalia, so you can constantly seem to make nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to masturbation while discussing playing with the toy in question. Yay. Funny-ha-ha.

The song has a stubborn inability to go anywhere musically, being a kind of half-hearted knees-up with a childish melody. Berry constantly circumvents whatever momentum the song might accidentally build by trying to get the audience to participate. Which they do - they seem to be having a good time. I guess you had to be there.

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