The Novelty Is Wearing Off, 60s Edition! A Baker’s Dozen +1 of The Oddest Songs In UK Chart History


No other decade demonstrates the transition of generational power better than the 60s.

That applies for novelty records too. The gap between the early decade releases and those later on is massive. Though starting with this mid decade effort suggests not everyone was moving forward to a new era:

Ronnie Hilton
“A Windmill In Old Amsterdam”
#23 – 1965 

Clog wearing, dancing mice complete takeover of a windmill in Old Amsterdam. How lucky they are, they continually remind us. 

Amsterdam does have a particular set of attractions. Not ones that a burgeoning family of mice should be partaking in though. Or maybe that’s why they’re so happy. 

This was the last of Ronnie’s 18 top 40 hits. Which apparently overshadowed everything else he did and became something of a millstone for him. The perils of recording a novelty right there. Mike Batt should have paid attention. 

Benny Hill
“Gather In The Mushrooms
#12 – 1961

Delivered with a nod and a wink.

Benny would become one of the biggest TV stars of the 70s and 80s. There’s a particular trope of the British seaside resort with picture postcards featuring lurid animation, suggestive situations and saucy double entendre. Benny’s comedy was this brought to life.

He’d have a #1 hit with “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)” in 1971 but this was his chart debut and already came replete with not so subtle sexual references. 

Mrs. Mills
“Mrs. Mills Medley
#18 – 1961

You might recognise the piano.

It’s a 1905 Steinway Vertegrand upright:

That has been the property of Abbey Road studios since 1931. As well as being used on this medley it features on “Penny Lane,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and many others.  

In the 50s they had Steinway adapt it to produce ‘an old time bar room sound.’ This entailed using lacquer to harden the hammers and detuning some of the strings. Although Lieutenant Pigeon didn’t use this piano it has echoes in “Mouldy Old Dough.”

It became known as the ‘Mrs. Mills Piano,’ having been her instrument of choice when recording. 

Mrs. Mills (Gladys) was 43 when she made her chart debut with this. Her act was a reminder of the past at a time when progress was picking up speed. 

She didn’t look like a pop star but she did look exactly like you’d expect of a purveyor of traditional good time bar room singalong.

Despite being discovered when entering middle age, she managed to knock out around 40 albums through the 60s and 70s before her death in 1978.  She might be largely lost to history, but her legacy lives on through the piano.

Eddie Vedder’s 2022 solo album; Earthling includes Mrs. Mills, though it is in honour of the piano rather than Gladys. 

As a special treat, a clip of Gladys performing. It might not be my kind of music but just look at the delight on her face as she plays. 

Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren
“Goodness Gracious Me”

#4 – 1960

It really is a record of two halves.

  • There’s the bits when Sophia is singing in her alluring voice, be still my beating heart indeed. Not even the fact she’s saying ‘boompitty boom’ can detract from the effect.
  • Then there’s Peter Sellers putting on an Indian accent. Which should dampen any ardour created by sultry Sophia. 

It’s George Martin’s fault. 

Sellers and Loren were starring together in The Millionairess. As producer of Sellers comedy records, George commissioned this song for the soundtrack. Which the film makers rejected. 

Not on the grounds of good taste, mind. Given that it had Sellers playing an Indian doctor, that ship had long sailed. They made the record anyway and got a big hit out of it.

The title would be reclaimed in the 90s for a BBC sketch comedy show created by a team of British Asian comics, the theme song being a bhangra reworking of the Sellers / Loren song. 

Peter Sellers
“A Hard Days Night” 
#14 – 1965

Sellers again, with a less problematic Beatles connection. 

It comes from a 1965 TV special; The Music Of Lennon & McCartney, with a range of performers celebrating their songwriting skills. 

This is “A Hard Day’s Night” performed in the manner of Laurence Olivier playing Shakespeare’s Richard III. A much more acceptable use of Sellers skills.

Dora Bryan
“All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle”
#20 – 1963

Obviously: The Beatles were fertile ground for covers and cash ins. 

This one has the disconnect of 41 year old Dora, established star of stage and screen in comedy and serious roles, playing the role of adolescent Beatles fanatic. The vocals are delivered in a theatrical music hall style.

She’s not fussy, any of them will do. After all, ‘they’re all the same’. The Beatles apparently approved of it playing a version of it within days of its release for their BBC Radio Christmas show.

Anthony Newley
“Strawberry Fair” 
#3 – 1960

Newley had quite the career.

He transitioned from child actor to adult star of TV, Film and music. He had two #1 singles early in 1960 with typical of their time pop. It seems he became a bit bored at this point.  

He created and starred in TV comedy; The Strange World Of Gurney Slade, that did badly in the ratings but was way ahead of its time.

Within the show he’s an actor in a sitcom who breaks the fourth wall, decides he’s had enough of the format constrictions and sets off on flights of fancy.

In one episode he’s put on trial for not being funny enough in the preceding episodes. The 60s weren’t yet swinging, recreational drugs were yet to be invented, Britain wasn’t ready for this. 

Strawberry Fair” came out at the same time as Gurney Slade. It was a lot more successful but still self indulgent. Its an old folk song delivered at a gallop. He starts off respectful but after a while the effort is too much. His telling goes awry and he again breaks the fourth wall, rather than repeating the same lyrics he tells the listener “well, you know how it goes”. 

If that wasn’t enough, the following year he released a swing version of “Pop Goes The Weasel.”

Unlike the stables of carefully curated stars doing whatever their manager told them, Newley seemed as interested in entertaining himself. 

He did knuckle back down to it, though. Come 1963 he was married to Joan Collins and was winning a Grammy with songwriting partner Lesley Bricusse for “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” 

After that there was film directing, writing musicals, as well as providing the songs for the 1971 Willy Wonka film. 

And in case you’re thinking his voice sounds so familiar:

A young David (not yet Bowie) Jones was paying close attention.

Master Singers
“The Highway Code”

#25 – 1966

It literally is The Highway Code. Delivered acapella in the style of an Anglican church chant. Perhaps this should be assigned to all learner drivers. 

The Master Singers were teachers at Abingdon School – hence: Master. 

They’d been performing it at social events for several years but to celebrate the schools 400th anniversary they committed it to tape.

Which found its way to the BBC where it was played by Winston Churchill.

Not that Winston Churchill.

This was his grandson. Who also went on to become a politician, just not as successfully. Then again it was a tough act to follow. 

From there they found themselves re-recording it with George Martin (he gets around a bit. As hard as the Beatles worked maybe they should have put in a bit more effort to keep him busy) on production duties. 

They followed this up with The Shipping Forecast which charted at #50. George Martin also came up with the idea of recording them singing the telephone directory. Which may have been a gag to far but thanks to petty bureaucracy (and copyright) they weren’t allowed to.

Love Sculpture
“Sabre Dance” 
#5 – 1968

By the late 60s rock was taking itself very seriously. One way of showing that off was to borrow from the classical world. 

Love Scultpure are a Welsh blues rock band, with this single providing the first commercial success for Dave Edmunds. 

The Sabre Dance is borrowed from Gayane, a 1940s ballet from Russian composer; Aram Khatchaturian. Love Sculpture give it the full power trio blues rock treatment, speeded up and full of self-importance.

Radha Krishna Temple
“Hare Krishna Mantra”
#12 – 1969

The Beatles influence yet again. This time it’s George (not Martin) helping out his friends down at the temple by producing this recording of the traditional Hare Krishna Mantra. It does exactly what it says on the label. 

You’ll soon pick up the lyrics. The chant is hammered home to the point that it will never leave you.

Pat Campbell
“The Deal”

#31 – 1969

On one hand, I want to be gracious about this.

  • It appears to have been written and recorded with complete sincerity.
  • But that sincerity just adds to the ‘wow’ factor.

As in; “Wow, That’s Bad.” 

It grabs the attention from the first line. With plenty more of that to come. It’s difficult to pick out a favourite but its not often a song lyric makes me laugh out loud as this one did;

“What was wrong?” I wondered, “Why was I lying there on the floor?”

It’s quite something to hear for the first time waiting for the penny to drop as to what ‘the deal’ is. Death ballads have long been popular but this one really goes to an unexpected place. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to include this as every other song is a deliberate attempt at novelty whereas this achieves it inadvertently.

Then again, it really is quite something.

The Barron Knights
“Call Up The Groups”
#3 – 1964

The premise is that the Knights imagine a scenario where popular beat combos of the time are called up into the armed forces. While performing parodies of those groups and bringing it altogether in a medley. 

So we get The Searchers, Freddie And The Dreamers, The Rolling Stones, The Bachelors, Dave Clark Five and The Beatles getting into various scrapes as they’re signed up and detailed around the world in service of Queen and Country. 

It proved a fruitful option. They carried on in the same vein, with eight top 40 hits, the last of them in 1980 and they were still TV regulars into the 80s and touring into the 2010s.

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
“I’m The Urban Spaceman”
#5 – 1968

This is as straight as it gets for the Bonzos. So it’s worth including the B-side; “Canyons Of Your Mind,” for extra flavour. Plus, that does feature the worst guitar solo in rock. Though the fact that it’s intentionally bad may make it one of the best. 

As the band name suggests, they weren’t taking things too seriously. A mix of trad jazz, rock and pop psychedelia with a surrealist comedy bent. They appeared in Magical Mystery Tour playing their song; Death Cab For Cutie.

The Beatles connection extends to “Urban Spaceman,” which was produced by a certain; Apollo C Vermouth.

Better known as Paul McCartney.

This was their only single to chart, they were just too weird for the mainstream. After their split Neil Innes worked with Monty Python, writing the songs for Holy Grail (he’s also the one whistling on “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” before creating The Rutles with Eric Idle. 

While eccentric frontman Viv Stanshall reached his biggest audience as Master Of Ceremonies on Tubular Bells. 

Next time, its onwards… and backwards…

To the 1950s – And the beginning of the chart age.

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Famed Member
June 18, 2024 8:39 am

None of these songs reached the Hot 100.

Anthony Newley had four songs that did: “Do You Mind?”, “If She Should Come To You (La Montana)”, “Pop Goes The Weasel”, and “What King Of Fool Am I”.

The Barron Knights reached the Hot 100 once, with “The Topical Song”.

Famed Member
June 18, 2024 9:27 am

I’m only familiar with “Sabre Dance” and “I’m The Urban Spaceman,” so this will be an interesting day trying to get work done while listening to, um, whatever the rest of them are.

“The Shipping Forecast” reminds me of “Heligoland” by Overseer. It’s from 2002 with a groovy downtempo beat and a very shipping forecast voice reading the weather. And the forecast starts out straight. “Viking North Utsire South Utsire, southeasterly 3. Rain at times. Visibility good. Calm.” Then they go a bit off. “Dover Wight, southeasterly veering southwesterly 7 or severe gale 9. Head-on impact. Continents collide. Atoms split. Dilated pupils. Elation. Vertigo. Visibility zero.”

As it fades out, a ringing phone fades in. It rings for 15 or 20 minutes. Then someone picks up and says, “Hello?”

I’m not sure it qualifies as a novelty song, but it’s not normal.

Famed Member
June 18, 2024 11:57 am

When I ripped the CD to .MP3 to play in my car, I edited out all but 15 seconds of the phone ringing. It made for a more enjoyable experience.

That whole album is pretty good. I don’t know anything about the band and it skips around through different styles and singers, but I like it.

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
June 18, 2024 10:04 am

Listening to these selections, I was thinking “most of these are fairly tasteful.” Even Sellers’ mock Indian is fairly subdued.

But then I got to “All I Want for Christmas is a Beatle.” There’s the rancidness I was looking for. My goodness.

And yes, “The Deal” is ridiculous. Sort of reminds me of Little Cindy from the 50’s, who delivered her own Christmas classic:

Great stuff, JJ! I’ll be jamming to “Highway Code” while I work today.

Famed Member
June 18, 2024 7:19 pm

Jeez, you Brits and your inscrutable sense of humor. Just drop an easy-to-digest ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron’ on us then drop the mic. Anthony Newly? Gregorian chants? Apollo C. Vermouth? Who has the time to appreciate these ocean-deep levels of wit?

Famed Member
June 19, 2024 2:22 am

An independent channel in my neck of the woods used to run Benny Hill without any edits.Word quickly got around in the schoolyard. KIKU was VHF, but Benny Hill went unedited for quite some time without any complaints. It functioned like a pirate station. But then, the same station ran Trading Places without any cuts. People noticed. People called in. And Benny Hill disappeared from island airwaves forever.

Famed Member
Online Now
June 19, 2024 9:21 am

This took some digging: When I heard “Call Up The Groups,” I knew that it reminded me of something. I finally found it. From 1961, here’s an American version about 1950s vocal groups:

Famed Member
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June 20, 2024 7:09 am
Reply to  mt58

Well done! I think it’s all in good fun, but those gibes are pretty barbed! A fun one, mt.

Famed Member
Online Now
June 19, 2024 8:41 pm

I really do like these entries, JJ. I think you’re the one that introduced me to “Right Said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins. And that is still on my regular playlist. Today, my favorite was your first entry. “Windmill in Old Amsterdam” has a really interesting chord progression that captured my attention right away. I really like that song.

I also completely love the Highway Code song. I’m not sure that I want to listen to it everyday, but I am delighted that it exists. Mrs. Mills appears to be a delight, too. And “Canyons of Your Mind” is brilliant. I feel like the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band comes highly recommended from Bill in the past.

Packed with (mostly) great stuff!

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