Bizarre Performers of the 60’s – My Top 5
Sometime between Beatlemania and the time we all started taking ourselves too seriously , there were some pretty strange acts and hits on the radio. The halcyon years of the novelty record which produced hits like, "Purple People Eater" and "With Doctor" were a few years in the past, but there was somewhat of a resurgence in the mid to late 60's. in my memory, it all started with Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In, and the classic appearance of one Herbert Khoury who strummed a ukulele and warbled "Tip Toe Thru The Tulips" in a (somewhat disturbing) falsetto voice. There were others.
Some of the people had talent, some didn't and some didn't even exist.
It was fun. (as you can tell by the picture of me on the left) Nobody really cared that most of it was just plain silly. It was the 60's and we had not yet become so self absorbed. Here are five of those strange hits from that very fun, innocent era.
1. I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman-Whistling Jack Smith- # 20 May 1967
The story of Whistling Jack Smith is somewhat convoluted. First of all, the guy in the video is not Whistling Jack Smith. He is an actor hired to play the part. The actors name (according to some sources) was Noel Walker. Walker was a producer for Deram Records at the time. But he didn't do the whistling.
The man doing the Whistling is John O'Neill. O'Neill was a professional trumpet player who was also known for his whistling. He was also the whistler on "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".
At any rate, it was a pretty odd hit. Let's move on to a real bizarre act. A housewife from Joplin, Missouri.
2. Mrs. Miller-"Downtown" #82, April 1966
Yes, Mrs. Miller was a big star for about a month in 1966. She was "discovered" by Gary Owens of Laugh-In who decided that her singing would make a good comedy album. At first, Mrs. Miller was not in on the joke, but she later good naturedly went along with it to the point of telling an interviewer that she recorded several takes of each song and they picked the worst to go on the record.
She made an appearance on several TV shows during her 15 minutes of fame ( a phrase not in use then) including Laugh-In and Ed Sullivan. Mrs. Miller passed away in 1997 at the age of 89.
Next: A career cut short by the Robert Kennedy assassination.
3. Wild Thing-"Senator Bobby" - #20 January 1967
The song was doing fine until the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The entire mess was recorded by Bill Minkin and the Hardly-Worth-It- Players.
4. Tip-Toe Thru' The Tulips-Tiny Tim- #17 May 1968
His real name was Herbert Khoury. He was born in Manhattan in 1932 and was a big fan of many of the singers of the 20's and 30's. His only hit was a remake of "Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips" , a song originally recorded in 1929 by Nick Lucas.
Before being "discovered", Tim and recorded several songs hoping for a record deal. Several of the song were produced by Robbie Robertson and Tim was backed up by what would later be known as The Band (Up On Cripple Creek). His appearance on Laugh-In launched him into the spotlight.
On December 17, 1969, over 21 million people tuned in to The Tonight Show to watch his wedding to "Miss Vicki". The marriage lasted eight years.
Tim died after suffering a heart attack while performing in Mantague, Massachusetts at the age of 64.
And in the #1 Spot....
Perhaps the most bizarre hit of all time..
5. Napoleon XIV-"They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haa- #3 June, 1966
Napoleon XIV was, in reality, Jerry Samuels who was a record company executive. Despite the insanity (pun intended) of his hit, Samuels was actually a serious songwriter. Sammy Davis had a minor hit with one of Samuels' songs called "The Shelter of Your Arms". Neil Diamond also covered the song on one of his albums.
Samuels is now a performer and talent agent.
Hope you had fun with these songs. We'll have more "Bizarre Hits" coming up soon!