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Michael Quick

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“Does Humor Belong in Music?”

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There is a very specific portion of the musical spectrum that music snobs often look down their noses at, and that is music that is intended to be humorous. Songs that exist in this realm are often brushed off as gimmick-y and “low art” as some call it; I, however, hold a different opinion. The way I look at it is the same way one would approach movies: sometimes you’re in the mood for a comedy, sometimes you’re in the mood for a drama. Does that make the comedy less of a film than the drama?

Frank Zappa is featured in Michael’s humourous playlist of the week (Photo obtained via Facebook)

Frank Zappa is featured in Michael’s humourous playlist of the week (Photo obtained via Facebook)

Sure, they should probably be judged differently, but that doesn’t make one greater than the other. For this week, I assembled a collection of humorous pieces, whether the artist intended it to be that way or not (I chose to bar parody songs, a la Weird Al Yankovic, simply because they’re a little more obvious).

First of all, I would like to talk about Frank Zappa (whose album title inspired the name of the playlist). Zappa was an artist that people either revered as a genius, or brushed off as a lunatic. His ridiculous and lude lyrics, coupled with his complicated and often discordant music, had many questioning his sanity. Zappa was, first and foremost, a composer. He never particularly liked singing and didn’t think that the inclusion of lyrical content was necessary; however, he decided to incorporate lyrics into his music in order add another element to his music for people to latch on to. And why not make them funny and lighthearted? The song I’ve included is literally about feet that smell bad. He’s ridiculous, but he’s certainly made a name for himself and his extensive catalogue of music is standing the test of time.

Another piece that appears in my playlist is “Levi Johnston’s Blues,” a collaboration between Ben Folds and writer Nick Hornby. Hornby actually wrote all of the lyrics for the album that this song appeared on, Lonely Avenue, and Folds set them to music. For those who don’t know, Levi Johnston is the guy who knocked up Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, and this song is a fictitious retelling of how Hornby imagined Johnston to take the news. The premise in and of itself is pretty funny, but listening to the song takes it to a whole different level. It’s obviously full of Alaskan jokes, like Johnston playing hockey, fishing, and killing moose, and playfully picking fun at the Palin family’s conservative tendencies. What really pushes the song over the edge, in my opinion, is the fact that it sounds so serious! There are some incredibly dramatic string and percussion parts behind Fold’s piano and vocal. It took me a few listens to actually understand what exactly was going on, but once I did, I had to laugh. All of Folds’ music plays with humor in a more subtle way that the listener will only really appreciate if they are paying close attention.

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Spotify Playlist of the Week