Are novelty songs useful?

The other day, novelty songs came up as a side discussion in the comments. Is there a place for novelty songs? I proposed the following answer:

At best, it could serve a role analogous to a preacher telling a joke before a sermon. It might get an audience to chuckle a bit and warm up a bit and pay attention when you’re delivering the serious content (through song or sermon). But novelty songs by themselves surely aren’t enough to make the sacrifices of road life worth it!

Two questions: First, is this a decent description of the purpose of a novelty song? Second, if so, what novelty songs have you seen to be effective and actually succeed at loosening up an audience?

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33 Letters to the Editor

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  1. The Kingsmen with Jim Hamil were masters of the novelty song. I believe “Excuses” was their best.

    • Perhaps one of the earliest was “Go Out to the Program” by the Oak Ridge Boys; an updated version was done by Chronicle. Although not novelty songs, the Hawaiian and “cowboy” albums by the Blackwoods and Statesmen are worth noting…

    • I was just about to say the same thing! I think novelty songs are great…for example, “Excuses” makes you laugh, but it also makes people think. One of the reasons comedic media is so popular today is because if you can make someone laugh, you can convince them of something easier. Scientific studies have been done on this…the brain responds better when we laugh. It brings our guard down (which is also why we must be especially careful around secular media that is advertised as “comedy.” Sadly, the world uses it to convince us of their ideology).

  2. Would you please post some (many) examples of novelty songs?

  3. There is the fun novelty song by Tim Lovelace, “Don’t Sit in My Pew”. Tim did the song just last week on the new
    Music City Show on RFD. It tells the story of a Grandma at church and all that she does there, but gets all upset
    when someone sits in “her” pew at church. It’s very true to real life, in a lot of churches today.

  4. The first one that came to mind is the Laughing Song that George Younce was so good at. Others have done that one also.
    I think Dennis Murphy, Kingdom Heirs drummer, proves that novelty songs are good. The audience is always thrilled when Dennis sings but it never takes away from the Kingdom Heirs’ songs that stir your soul….
    If anything, he is a drawing card where people hear the gospel in song and word.

  5. When I sang with Acclaim, we sang a song called, “So You Want To Be The Pastor,” which was written by a gentleman named Danny Ray out of Cleveland. The looks at all of the problems within the church, but does so with a humorous approach. The verses deal with the various “brothers and sisters” within the church that make being a pastor difficult – “Sister Nasty’s throwing mud on Brother Clean,” or “Brother I Will Do The Job is seldom seen.” It is very blunt in its approach, but it’s wrapped in a Hee Haw-like country arrangement that lends itself well to humor, but the group manager said, “You know, it really is a sad song when you think about it….” I agree.

  6. More novelty songs:
    If There’s Nobody Saved But Me
    Your First Day in Heaven
    The Dream
    An Old Convention Songs
    bordeline?: You Blesser Ain’t Never Been Blessed

    Songs that have been rendered novelty songs by the manner in which they are performed:
    Glory Road
    Movin’ Up to Gloryland
    Looking for a City

    • Ooh, Brian, you bring up a GREAT point….non-novelty (or at least, non-humor-based) songs that are played up for the novelty value.

      • It usually involves the tenor…

  7. Yes, novelty songs are useful. Any song that automatically causes people to smile (or render a good-natured groan) without having to go to the gutter to do it is a positive, useful thing.

    As that great comedian and sometimes preacher Jerry Clower said, “Learn to laugh. I’m convinced the only place there is no laughter is Hell, and I have already made arrangements to miss Hell. So, ‘Ha, Ha, Ha!’ ”

    And with that…have you ever heard someone play “Jingle Bells” on their teeth? This was recorded in my den four years ago. 🙂

  8. The two novelty songs that played on enLighten which brought the most “where can I get it?” questions from listeners are “The Wall Song” by Tim Lovelace and “Attitudes” by the retired Mast Brothers.

  9. They are useful. Like you said, they aren’t the meat and potatoes of the show, but are still part of the meal.

    A recent novelty song that I heard that I loved was Kingdom Heirs Video Song by Dennis Murphy. If you haven’t heard it, he sings about wanting Bill to put him on a Gaither Video. It was lots of fun.

    • Just remembered A Terrible Time Down There (?) by Triumphant Quartet. Also, just about anything dealing with Little Roy Lewis could be considered a novelty…

      • YES I have the album Home Free that has that song on it.

        Story time- So Wonderful Time Up There By Gold City was always a favorite of mine growing up (and still today). It is one of those songs that made me fall in love with Bass singing. So when I got Home Free as a gift, I didn’t know that Terrible TIme Down There was on it, and when it came to that song on my first listen, I couldn’t stop laughing! I never expected anything like that.

  10. I don’t know if this is considered a novelty song but i thought of Delivered out of the hands of Pharoah

    • Do you mean Led Out of Bondage?

      I think of novelty songs as a vehicle for humility. You can’ tell me you’ve never had “Don’t Sit in My Pew” moment at church.

      Would anybody consider Happy Rhythm a novelty song or is it one like Brian described? I’ve seen it done for laughs but I’ve also seen it done straight. Either way, I enjoy the song but don’t take a lot away from.

      I often wonder to why groups today don’t use convention songs for fun (not novelty). Kingsmen & Cathedrals both got a lot of mileage out of doing convention songs in a comedic way.

  11. Come on guys……….You’re missing a great one even by the composer’s own admission. Billy G and “There’s Not a Hoof Shall Be Left Behind!!!!” Exodus 10:26. Can’t be considered a novelty song. It’s straight from the Bible. “All scripture is given by inspiration……” 2nd Tim 3:16.

    • I love the story behind that song!

      Bill: “When I heard that, I got soooo excited!”

      Yes, because even the great ones get excited before writing a flop. The way he sings it to is hilarious because he really thought Hovie & the Statesmen could or would sing it.

  12. A few novelty songs from the Gaither videos, mostly by Mark Lowry include
    1. Why not crocodile me
    2. God help the USA (this one has a serious tune, if only…)
    3. Shalom Y’all
    4. You needed me.
    Others include
    Give the world a smile by “George Younce and the Quackers” (they quack this one instead of singing it)
    Wore Out by Jake Hess

  13. Can you name one of your own? “The Old White flag”. Neither Clayton or I ever dreamed what this one would do (hahaha).

    • Yes, I think that’s another one that is more “novelty” in the way it’s sung than in the content of the song itself.

      • I was thinking the same thing Brian posted. They perform it in a novelty way, but there’s nothing about the lyrics that would prohibit it from being done in a serious way. 🙂

  14. The Kingsmen had several and one that had serious overtones but I would consider novelty is “The Game of Life”, though it is a recitation more than a song.

  15. Are there any novelty songs other than “Excuses” and “Oh Buddha” that have been number one on the Singing News chart?

    • Here Come the Rattlesnakes
      Antioch Church Choir
      We Want America Back

  16. The Inspirationals did a parody of I Shall Not Be Moved. Mack Evans did an entire album of novelty songs including Tip Toe Through the Tithers and others.

  17. You could probably consider Get Away Jordan as sung in a novelty way

  18. I personally feel that “novelty songs” have their place but should be used in the appropriate setting, environment, and timing. This all comes back to the group leader being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the needs of the current congregation.

  19. A regional novelty song that is fun is “Baptist to the Bone”. With my group we use “Ride that Glory Train” and “Rocked on the Deep” as novelty songs, inviting an audience member to play the train whistle wearing an engineer’s hat or ringing a ship’s bell while wearing a sailor hat. These work in the smaller venues we sing. Also have hammed up endings for “Winging My Way Back Home” and “Feeling Fine”. We usually try to have at least one number which will give an opportunity for a chuckle.

  20. Pretty much anything Tim Lovelace does is going to be considered a novelty song
    Same goes for Aaron Wilburn. Maybe that is because they are comedians who also sing. I do get tired of the serious songs oversung just for the effect. “Gloryroad” and “Lookin For A City” would fit that bill. Both feature the tenor. That point was brought up already. And what about the second verse and ending of “Oh What A Saviour”? Once again its the tenor showing how high he can sing. Of course then we could name songs that show off the bass singer. “Rainbow Of Love” and “Lonesome Road” come to mind. Hey, I guess people come to hear the tenor sing high and the bass sing low. And these songs do just that.

  21. As many have said, in some ways the ‘novelty song’ is helpful in getting people to loosen up, laugh, and draw them in for the more serious message, but many of them also have a fairly serious message to them though it is presented in a funny way. “Excuses” and “Don’t Sit in My Pew” come to mind – both are funny stories, but when you look at the broader message of the song, it shows just how petty and ludicrous our little attitudes are in the big picture. We should be out to win souls and help get people to Heaven, and instead people are get all uptight about the preacher not shaking their hand or someone sitting in their pew.
    So, in my opinion, while they are usually funny, they do serve another purpose and have a broader message than just the comedic one.

    And then there some songs that just have no redeeming qualities at all…