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Where have all the funny songs gone?

Country Musings by Robert Loy, March 2004

Has country music lost its sense of humor? Our music has always been at its best when it deals in real emotion and when it tells a story. It used to be that many of story-songs dealt with the emotion of humor.

Humor has been part of country music at least since Little Jimmy Dickens wished the bird of paradise would fly up your nose. Minnie Pearl had a long career based solely on comedy and silly songs. It used to be if you had a big hit it was only a matter of time before Sheb Wooley (AKA Ben Colder) had a parody version out on the airwaves, i.e. Conway Twitty's song of longing for a lost love "Fifteen Years Ago" became Sheb's lament of longing for a men's room "Fifteen Beers Ago" and Sonny James' "Running Bear" morphed into "Running Bare" about a skinny-dipper whose clothing was stolen. Roger Miller had huge hits with "Dang Me'" "Chug-a-Lug" as well as his signature classic "King of the Road."

The golden age of funny country music was probably the late '60s and early '70s. Ray Stevens could play it straight in tunes like "Everything is Beautiful," but had his biggest hits with humorous ditties like "Ahab the Arab'" "Gitarzan" and "The Streak."

Before he became a movie star, Jerry Reed had a big career in country music, doing almost exclusively novelty songs like "Amos Moses," "Lord, Mr. Ford" "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)" and the Grammy-winning "When You're Hot, You're Hot."

You couldn't turn on the radio in the early '70s without hearing some new bit of tomfoolery from Jim Stafford, great stuff like "Cow Patti'" "My Girl Bill'" "Spiders and Snakes'" "Wildwood Weed" and my favorite "Swamp Witch," which managed to be both funny and fearful.

Even mainstream country artists had to let loose every once in a while. Mac Davis had a big hit with "It's Hard to be Humble." Bobby Bare did "Dropkick Me Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life") and "Marie Laveaux'" while Roy Clark did several funny songs, probably the most memorable of which was "Thank God and Greyhound."

Yes, I know about Cletus T. Judd, but he doesn't get much airplay, and he seems to be giving hints on his last CDs of (believe it or not) going straight and stuff like John Michael Montgomery's big hit "SOLD! (The Grundy County Auction Incident)," but that was really more of a tongue-twister than a joke.

I blame political correctness. The same bit of bluenosery that drove all the fun stuff like alcoholism and adultery off the airwaves seems to have also eliminated humor as well. But I'm an optimist. Drinking songs may be making a comeback (God bless Alan Jackson and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere") Surely adultery and humor can't be too far behind.

The views expressed in this column are Robert Loy's and do not necessarily reflect those of CST.