A few days ago, I was listening to “O’Malley’s Bar” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the subway, and when Cave sang, “I shot Richard Holmes in the stomach/And gingerly he sat down/And he whispered weirdly, ‘No offense’/And then lay upon the ground,” I started laughing out loud. Yes, an actual LOL. So much so that I got weird sideways glances from those around me (thank God they didn’t know I was chuckling at a song from an album called Murder Ballads).
It’s rare to find a song that makes you laugh that isn’t by the Lonely Island or Weird Al, or from a novelty musician, like Sheb Wooley (“The Purple People Eater”) or Napoleon XIV (“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”). Below, I’ve included five songs that never fail to get a giggle out of me, and myquestion to you is: what non-comedy, non-soundtrack songs always make you laugh?
“Better Off Without a Wife” by Tom Waits
“Well, an inebriated good evening to you all.” So begins Tom Waits’ 1975 album, Nighthawks at the Diner, not so much an album of music as an album of spoken-word performances with jazz in the background. The fantastically named Bones Howe, who produced Nighthawks, once said that the album’s like “Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band.” But Ginsberg was never as funny as Waits is in the outro to “Better Off Without a Wife” when he croons, “Yeah, I’ve got this girl I know, man, and I just…she’s been married several times…I mean she’s been married so many times she’s got rice marks all over her face.”
“Please Mrs. Henry,” by Bob Dylan and the Band
Genius. Voice of a generation. Greatest artist of all-time. BLAH BLAH BLAH. We’ve all heard those words used to describe Bob Dylan at some point, but there’s a description that’s sadly underused when talking about the former-Robert Zimmerman: he’s really fucking funny. How else to explain one of the world’s most famous Jews releasing a Christmas covers album four decades into his career? While “Ugliest Girl In the World” from 1988’s Down In the Groove certainly makes me chuckle, it’s more out of sheer amusement that the man who wrote “Visions of Johanna” is singing about his true love with two flat feet than because the songs itself is funny. But “Please Mrs. Henry,” recorded in 1967 and released eights years later, in 1975, as part of The Basement Tapes – now that’s hilarious. It’s the perfect representation of Dylan and the Band hanging out in Big Pink together, getting drunk, smoking weed, and telling bawdy jokes to pass the time. How else to explain, “Now, I’m startin’ to drain, my stool’s gonna squeak/If I walk too much farther, my crane’s gonna leak/Look, Missus Henry, there’s only so much I can do/Why don’t you look my way, an’ pump me a few?”
“The Ice of Boston” by the Dismemberment Plan
There’s nothing not funny about an over-earnest Travis Morrison speed-singing about being “buck-naked, drenched in champagne,” talking on the phone with (and mimicking) his mom on New Year’s Eve, while a group of “drunk Bostonians” stare at him from below.
“Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” by the Replacements
When Paul Westerberg & Co. weren’t writing songs about being white, bored, and stoned — actually, that sums up pretty much every Replacements song on 1984’s Let It Be, with the exception of “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out.” The track’s fairly straightforward: it’s based on the real-life experience of the Replacements’ youngest member, bassist Tommy Stinson, who had tonsillitis while the band was touring. Rather than consoling him, Westerberg instead penned a song about a doctor more interested in tee time than his work. Maybe it’s because I still have my tonsils, but “rip, rip, we’re gonna rip ‘em out now” makes for a great chorus.
“The Gift” by the Velvet Underground
As much a story set to music than an actual song, “The Gift” tells the sad story of Waldo Jeffers, who is so afraid that his long-distance girlfriend is going to cheat on him that he devises a plan to mail himself to her in a medium-sized cardboard box. Things…do not end well. Listen to the eight-minute song with headphones, its intended fashion, with John Cale’s droll tones in one ear and a staticy, feedback-laden jam in the right, and you’ll either laugh uncontrollably or want to jab a metal cutter into your head — or maybe both.
Again, what non-comedy songs make you giggle, chuckle, maybe even guffaw?
Josh Kurp is white, so white.