Music and comedy go together like peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. That’s what Dr. Demento says, anyway. And no one put the two of them better than Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones, today’s Two for Tuesday.
Jones’s father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Young Spike got his nickname because he was, according to many, as skinny as a railroad spike. He started playing the drums at eleven. In the 1930’s he joined the Victor Young Orchestra, and ultimately found himself playing in the backing band behind Cindy Walker, whose song, “We’re Gonna Stomp Them City Slickers Down,” provided the name for Spike’s band, the City Slickers. They recorded for RCA Victor records from 1941 through 1955, and appeared on numerous radio and TV programs through the Forties and Fifties. A heavy smoker, Jones died of emphysema in 1965 at the age of 53. His music and goofiness inspired numerous comedians such as Weird Al Yankovic and Billy Crystal.
Spike’s general modus operandi was to take a popular tune and spice it up with gunshots, hiccups, shouts, and other assorted mayhem. Today’s first selection, “Cocktails for Two,” is an example of that. Written by Arthur Johnson and Sam Coslow, it was intended as a romantic Big Band tune. Then Spike got his hands on it. The second, “Der Fuhrer’s Face,” was written to accompany the Disney cartoon Donald Duck in Nutzi Land, but Spike’s version, featuring the “birdaphone,” a device that produced a Bronx cheer sound, came out first. Disney loved it so much that he changed the name of the cartoon.
Spike did parodies of classical music and opera in addition to popular music. He did a wonderful Christmas album, It’s a Spike Jones Christmas, where songs such as “I’m Gettin’ Nuthin’ for Christmas” and “I’m the Angel in the Christmas Play” stand alongside traditional holiday favorites, including an absolutely beautiful version of “Silent Night.” If you need a laugh, Spike is a go-to guy.
Spike Jones: your October 30, 2012 Two For Tuesday.