As long as there’s been music, someone has been making fun of it. German composer Jakob Paix wrote a “parody mass” all the way back in 1587, and if I know anything about 16th century church music, it must have been hilarious. Still, it wasn’t until the last few decades that song spoofs became as much a part of our culture as the hits that spawn them. Whether you’re making fun of a radio hit that you can’t stop humming, or a whole genre of music that leaves you scratching your head, these joke songs give us a way to laugh at the music industry’s self-importance, while still loving them for it. Before you catch Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story this month on IFC, check out some funny songs that totally nailed the whole spoof thing.
10. “L.A. Deli,” Kroll Show
Comedian Nick Kroll is an expert at parodying the clusterf*ck we call pop culture these days, where no two-bit celebrity will ever be forgotten as long as they have their own reality show. That’s how we meet hair metal superstar Nash Rickey, fronting a show about his quest to get the old band back together. And what song propelled him to these middling heights of fading fame in the first place? None other than “L.A. Deli,” a pitch perfect spoof of the David Lee Roth era of music videos. Seedy ’80s L.A. nightlife? Check. Slice-of-life footage that shows some “boys will be boys” goofiness? Check. A perfectly coiffed lead singer sexualizing everything from matzo ball soup to pickles? Checkmate. This song is both funny and could easily have been a hit in 1987.
9.”A Mighty Wind is Blowin’,” A Mighty Wind
Christopher Guest is a master at lovingly sending up different genres of music, and A Mighty Wind shows his appreciation for the mellow eccentrics in the folk music scene. There are a number of great songs in the film, from “Never Did No Wanderin‘” to “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” but none straddle the chasm between parody and legit hit better than the title track, which has the complex harmonies and sprawling geographical lyrics of the best folk music from the 1960s. The movie’s soundtrack scored a Grammy back in 2004, further blurring the line between spoof and the genuine article.
8. “Straight Outta Locash,” CB4
Chris Rock got to play rap star in the 1993 cult hit CB4, sending up the gangster rap that had taken over the genre at the time. Rock played “MC Gusto,” a regular guy who takes on the hard persona of a felon to get ahead in the industry. That is never more evident than in “Straight Outta Locash,” a NSFW play on “Straight Out of Compton” where the “Cell Block 4” gang sings about their hard life on the streets from the safety of a soundstage.
7. “Catalina Breeze,” The Blue Jean Committee
Fred Armisen is a master of the musical homage, having created fake bands ranging from punk legends Ian Rubbish and the Bizzarros to the monsters of soft rock in the Blue Jean Committee. First introduced back on SNL, the band’s rise and fall was chronicled on the IFC series Documentary Now!. Fred and fellow BJC member Bill Hader actually released a music video for the song “Catalina Breeze” and a EP of tunes on the Drag City label. Put back a watered down wine cooler, light a schwaggy doobie, and give this one a super mellow listen.
6. “I’m on a Boat,” The Lonely Island
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer have made a career out of creating hilarious songs and music videos that poke fun at hip hop tropes. One of their earliest SNL successes was this tribute to rappers and their obsession with hanging out on boats.
5. “Walk Hard,” Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
The music biopic, taking our Top 40 heroes through the rocky road of fame, is a movie staple these days. Walk Hard, coming hot on the heals of the one-two punch of Ray and Walk The Line, was a perfect spoof of the genre at a perfect time. John C. Reilly’s rendition of the title track nailed all the formulaic nonsense these movies celebrate, and it’s a catchy number to boot.
4. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” 30 Rock
Tracy Morgan got a lifelong anthem with this little ditty, poking fun at the “Monster Mash”-style novelty songs that became hits in the early ’60s. Here, Morgan gets to sing about boys becoming men, and men becoming wolves. Really, this song serves as an important reminder that wolfing out is all the more complicated when you also have Torah studies to get to. As the song progresses, it starts to fold in on itself, fully aware of its own absurdity. No matter how much the producer calls wrap, the lyrics just keep coming, refusing to end. It doesn’t matter if the song’s premise can sustain itself, Tracy Jordan has more singing to do.
3. “Abracadabralifornia,” The Pepper Men
Back in 2014, a new Red Hot Chili Peppers track started blowing up the Internet. Reactions were mixed, but no one doubted that this was the work of the funky, punky California rock band. Well, no one but fans of the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, because the song was actually the work of RHCP superfans Zach Galifianakis and Jon Daly, and their tribute band The Pepper Men. First released on the podcast, the spot-on Peppers parody seeped out into the larger world thanks to the ironic tweeting of some influential comedy friends. The brilliance of writing a song that makes fun of a band’s style, while also passing for it, lands this spoof high on the list.
2. “Tacky,” Weird Al
And then we come to the master. No one has done more with the song parody form than musical genius and Comedy Bang! Bang!’s new band leader Weird Al. He is the king. There are any number of his hit songs to choose from, but the one we still can’t get out of our heads is “Tacky,” his spin on the 2014 Pharrell Williams hit “Happy.” Be sure to check out the new season of IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, to see what else Al has in store for us.
1. “Big Bottoms,” This Is Spinal Tap
Spinal Tap changed the game when it came to music parody. With their loving look at the absurdities of metal, stars and cowriters Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean found the perfect balance between spoofing overblown rock egos while also penning legit hits. Perhaps their most famous single, “Big Bottoms,” covered the beauty of the female posterior years before Sir-Mix-A-Lot was even knighted. Bands will forever be indebted to this movie for teaching them how to turn it up to eleven.