Novelty songs are the product of their times, responding humorously to the concerns of the day…and then they’re quickly forgotten, like these.
Clara Peller is the definitive ‘80s commercial pitchperson. At the behest of Wendy’s, the elderly character actress called out the competition’s small beef patties with her memorable, “Where’s the beef?” catchphrase. It caught on big, with Wendy’s sales growing and hundreds of thousands purchasing “Where’s the beef?” T-shirts. Even 1984 presidential candidate Walter Mondale tried to use it to look hip, uttering the line to call out Republican rival Ronald Reagan for broken campaign promises. Mondale lost the election, and Peller was fired by Wendy’s for appearing in a spaghetti sauce commercial (where she found the beef). But not before she recorded “Where’s the Beef?,” a 1984 novelty record with Nashville disc jockey Coyote McCloud.
“Breaking Up Is Hard On You”
The American Comedy Network isn’t a band – it was created by former disc jockeys in 1984 as a corporate radio service to syndicate novelty songs and pre-taped comedy bits to morning radio shows around the country. ACN’s first big hit: “Breaking Up Is Hard On You,” a parody of Neil Sedaka’s 1962 hit “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” The parody is about the dismantling of the AT&T Bell System after the government ruled that it held an unfair monopoly on American telephony. The song actually made it to #70 on the pop chart.
“Who Shot J.R.?”
In 1980, Cincinnati disc jockey Gary Burbank released “Who Shot J.R.?” to capitalize on the massive popularity of the primetime soap Dallas, and its famous cliffhanger as to the attempted murder of oil baron J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). The episode where the shooter was revealed was for a time the most watched episode in TV history; Burbank’s novelty song rode that wave to the pop charts, topping out at #67.