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This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
You’d expect that songs that have funny in their titles would be, well, funny. Having collected these songs, it seems that that isn’t so (mostly). They’re good songs nonetheless, if a little on the depressing side of things. Let’s get to the funny songs.
Funny is certainly not the way to describe BILLIE HOLIDAY’s life.
She had a really hard life but in spite of that (or maybe because of it), she produced some of the most sublime music ever put on vinyl. He's Funny That Way was written by Neil Moret and Richard Whiting and it first appeared in the film “Gems of M-G-M” in 1929, sung by Marion Harris.
Since then it’s been tackled by many singers of both genders, changing He to She whenever appropriate. This is the way Billie does it.
In the early sixties, BURL IVES had a rather unexpected worldwide hit with the song, Little Bitty Tear.
He followed that pretty much immediately with what to me was a follow-up song, trying to explain what had happened in the first one. A bit like someone trying to talk their way out of an embarrassing situation. I’ll let Burl try to explain that with Funny Way of Laughin'.
My Funny Valentine was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It first appeared in the musical “Babes in Arms” sung by Mitzi Green to Ray Heatherton. Since that time, it’s usually sung by a male to a female, although, if you listen to the words, it makes more sense the original way.
However, you’re probably like me and have pretty much only heard male performers sing and play it, and my goodness, there are a lot of them. It’s certainly popular with jazz musicians, and here’s one of those, CHET BAKER.
Chet was a fine trumpeter and terrific singer and he threw it all away on drugs. Before his decline this is the way he sounded.
JESSE BELVIN could have been a contender, up there with Sam Cooke, but he was killed in a car accident in 1960.
The accident was almost certainly orchestrated by the Klan or another white supremacist group as he was returning from the first integrated concert in Little Rock, where there were several death threats.
Coincidentally, Sam was at that one too, along with Jackie Wilson and others. Jesse sings Funny.
JOHN SEBASTIAN sings a rare happy song in our category today.
The song She's Funny was from his album “Welcome Back” which was based around the song of the same name that became a big hit when it was used as a theme for the TV program “Welcome Back, Kotter”.
Funny (But I Still Love You) was an early single for RAY CHARLES.
That was back in 1953 and was the flip side to his big hit, Mess Around. I image people were surprised when they flipped over the record as it’s a complete contrast to that one. Ray wrote the song and that guitar playing is by ace session guitarist, Mickey Baker.
HELEN SHAPIRO was easily the finest female English singer of the sixties, maybe ever (excluding classical ones of course).
Helen toured with The Beatles very early in their career. Actually, it was a matter of The Beatles toured with Helen, it was that early.
She was offered a song they had written but her manager refused it as he didn’t want her recording songs by unknowns who’d be forgotten in a couple of months. She would have been the first person other than themselves to record one of their songs. This isn’t one of them: It's so Funny I Could Cry.
Things Aren't Funny Anymore was MERLE HAGGARD’s 17th number one song on the country charts. He went on to have 38 of those.
Hag was the master of the tear-jerker songs, although not as blatantly as some others, and this is an excellent example of that genre of country music. Of course, there are some who’d say that’s all country music is, but I’m not one of those.
It probably comes as no surprise that BOB DYLAN is present today.
What is a bit unusual is the song he sings: It's Funny to Everyone but Me. It was written by Jack Lawrence in 1939. The Ink Spots were the first to record it and Frank Sinatra followed soon after when he was still with the Harry James Orchestra. Also unusual is the way Bob turns himself into a crooner.
Okay, just insert here my usual rave about what the record companies insisted on accompanying NAT KING COLE with, rather than his terrific trio.
Good, I’ve got off my chest. Nat recorded and released Funny (Not Much) in 1952 and since then it’s been recorded by a bunch of people. However, I can’t imagine anyone surpassing Nat, even with that orchestra behind him.
Funny How Time Slips Away has become a classic, a standard, over the decades which isn’t surprising as it was written by Willie Nelson. The first time I heard it wasn’t by Willie, it was JIMMY ELLEDGE.
It was some years before I knew of Willie, but I obviously knew his songs – not just this one, but others by Patsy Cline, Faron Young and so on. I’ve found that the version you first hear tends to make a big impression and that is so with this song. I still prefer Jimmy’s.