Once more, With Feeling!: The Top 8 Original SNL Songs

Since the Grammy Awards are tomorrow night, let’s move on to Music on SNL…No, not Musical Guests (those clips are a little too hard to find, but I’ll keep that in the back of my head for the future), but rather “Original” music. After all, we are here to look at comedy and sometimes Music & Comedy manage to intersect in such a way that the bit becomes enjoyable. So on that note, this week we’re going to take a look at the Top 8 Original Songs made for SNL (A Topic that—now that I think about it—might’ve been a better fit for the Tony Awards, but it’s too late to change that now). And yes, you damn well better Believe there’s gonna be Criteria…

 

 

CRITERIA:

*Goes without saying; the Songs have to be either wholly Original, a Single sketch with a compilation of songs, or a sound-alike of an existing song with wholly original lyrics (though sound-alikes will cost a few points). This means things like Jimmy Fallon’s 2004 farewell—with a bunch of pre-existing songs in medley form—are DQ’d.

 

*The Songs in question have to have been Written FOR THE SHOW. I mention this specifically because of  two people—Dana Carvey, who used the all-time classic “Choppin Broccoli” for his Audition, and Adam Sandler whose “Lunchlady Land” was actually part of his 1993 comedy album “They’re all Gonna laugh at you” before it aired a year later. Simply put, It wouldn’t be fair to include something that wasn’t part of the show on a “Biological/Hereditary” level. I’ll excuse it if the piece came from a comedy troupe or workshop (I.e. “Second City” and such) because workshops are exactly that; a place where you can iron out the kinks before taking things public.

 

*I am going to make a RARE exception to my “Non-Recurring” rule this week, because once we get to the sketch in question, you will see why the moment was vital to future seasons of the show.

 

*NO MONOLOGUES!!! Not that I want to totally dis-credit the musical numbers that happen in the Monologues, but there’s just been too God Damn MANY of them (in the past 15 Years ALONE) that it would be a LOT easier to focus on songs that appear in SKETCHES ONLY this time around. Maybe next year, I can do a “Musical Monologue Only” list, but for now, let’s just keep things simple.

 

*With the Exception of an Obvious one, I’m also going to exclude Andy Samberg’s “Digital Shorts”—Partly because I’ve always considered them an independent part of the show; like “Update” or the Smigeltoons. With over 100 to choose from, it’s probably best if I do a list of JUST the shorts in the future as well.

 

 

8. “ALWAYS BELIEVE” – CHURCH OF NEUROTOLOGY (4/4/2015) – Ever since Andy Samberg & his “Digital Short” crew left in 2012, the show continues to find ways to entertain us on film…most of them in “Music Video” form; and trust me, If I were to include all of the ones I liked from 2012-present, this list would stretch over the equator. So for now, this is probably my favorite Original song of the “Modern” era of SNL. HBO’s “Going Clear” documentary is their target, with a dash of “Pop-up-Video” on the side. I always enjoy watching sketches that requires repeat viewings in order to fully get every single joke, and this one was no exception. From the ridiculous Late-80s costuming to the somewhat disturbing outcomes of ex-followers, this has a lot of density to it that even if it wasn’t completely funny, it still feels like an Easter Egg hunt for jokes that were buried underneath it. This is definitely going to take a couple of views in order to fully appreciate the effort that went into this on, but for now I gotta go with my initial instinct; this was a near-perfect slap in the face to Scientology without it actually being Scientology, and it may be the biggest effort they made for the night. I especially liked Bobby’s bits as “Not!L. Ron Hubbard”, The ultra-rare Jost sighting, and even Kenan had a good joke with “Left after Googling”. Like I said, it’s gonna require multiple views…and why not? We SHOULD be able to watch sketches over & over instead of simply discarding the bad ones.

 

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7. THE WAYNE’S WORLD THEME SONG BY AEROSMITH (2/17/1990) – I almost didn’t want to include this one not just because it utilizes a recurring character (and a highly popular one at that), but also because the use of a Well Known band might give this performance a bit of a “Ringer” quality; but it’s still original lyrics, and they look like they’re having a good time with it. But more importantly than that, it was also one of the first times (not counting Gerald Ford) where an object of a character’s affection or ridicule came on the show to give a “Stamp of Approval” of sorts. Ever since Aerosmith came, It also wound up happening with Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, Alex Trebek, Janet Reno, Neil Diamond, Nomar Garciaparra, Phish, Barry Gibb, and countless others since 1990 (NOTE TO SELF: “Stamp of Approval/Insider Cameo” list in the Distant future…need to catch up on other things first); but it never would’ve happened if Steven Tyler & Co. didn’t rip the door off of Wayne Campbell’s basement first. The appearance turned the “Insider Cameo” into one of SNL’s most frequently used stunt-casting gimmicks, and we thank “The Bad Boys from Boston” for doing so. Party on, Steven; Party on, Joe (and the rest)!

 

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6. LEVELS OF OFFENSE (2/11/1989) – I’ve always liked Glenn Close; to quote Brian Griffin, “She is a Handsome Woman”. But because of all the great performances she’s made throughout the years in the movies, I sometimes forget that she actually made her bones first as a classically trained stage singer (something I was reminded of when I started seeing commercials for her appearing in a revival of “Sunset Blvd.” on Broadway). So when I came across this sketch again recently, it was a revelation all over again. What’s more, an overly complicated musical number begins in probably the most basic of ways. Lovitz is telling Close about a friend of theirs being happy since she is “Getting it Regular”, and we’re off and running. Close is clearly channeling her inner Julie Andrews as she gives Lovitz the business, while the rest of the cast are representations of said levels of offense. The Andrews comparison is a fair one to make, considering the number itself heavily borrows elements from the likes of Rogers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe and ESPECIALLY the Sherman Brothers—given the content of the song, it almost felt like something Anti-Disney. Best of all, they were able to get the point across in less than 4 minutes…unlike today where thanks to reduced commercial times, some things tend to drag out a little. This is a very underrated gem that stands out against other Overplayed (but still enjoyable) pieces…such as…

 

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5. DICK IN A BOX (12/16/2006) – I just KNOW that if/when I eventually do a list of favorite Digital Shorts, this is probably going to be one of the most redundant entries on that list. Nevertheless; if “Lazy Sunday” was the sketch that helped bring SNL to Cultural relevance again in the 21st century (In addition to turning a simple video streaming website into a digital monolith), then “Dick in a Box” brought that same cultural relevance into hyperdrive…That, and in the grand scheme of things, this one was just plain funnier than “Lazy”. Part of why that is could have something to do with the Early 90s get-up that Samberg & Timberlake had going on (supposedly inspired by the likes of “Color me Badd” and other Slow-jammin’, New Jack Swingers), Part of it could’ve been the frequent bleeping of the word “Dick”—though truth be told, I thought they said “Cock” when this first aired, would’ve fit more lyrically, wouldn’t it? So why is such an iconic piece in the middle of the list? Because even though it’s still very much a funny and iconic piece; the flipside of being Iconic is that you also become Highly Overrated thanks to The Law of Diminishing Returns (Just ask Alec Baldwin & his Schweddy Balls). I mentioned this a few weeks ago in a particular Trump-related sketch that there’s a long-held belief by some that if you repeat the joke enough times, it will go from being funny, to being unfunny, and then back again to being funny just because you’re waiting for something else to happen that probably won’t. Same rules apply to sketches that are supposed to stand the test of time—which this one does, but to a point. Again, It’s funny, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I wonder if even Samberg & Timberlake are sick of it.

 

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4. “THE PENIS SONG” – NUDE BEACH (10/15/1988) – Here it is folks, the song (and the sketch) that made a TV Legend Blush. I put this one in the middle because even though there were enough mentions of the word “Penis” to take down a squadron of fighter jets, the song itself is a relatively short one–but not short enough so you can pick locks with it (Ba-Dum-Bump). But in all seriousness, not only was this one of the most Bold moments the show had since its early years, but if the conditions were right, somebody else would’ve been involved that’s NOT named Mathew Broderick. That someone else’s name? Long Dong Hanks. That’s right, a week before this aired, Davis S. Pumpkins was supposed to appear in this sketch, and he actually did perform in Dress Rehearsal (a sketch you can ONLY find on Hanks’ “Best Of” DVD). But as is the case with most sketches, it got cut after Dress, either for Time or (almost certainly) for content. So on to the next question, HOW was this able to make it to air? Well, Kevin Nealon sort of telegraphs the answer for us at the end by saying the Standards & Practices at NBC had dissolved…which I THOUGHT was a Joke because ALL TV Networks (Except for Premium Cable) need the Censors—no matter how prudish they may be, we still need some boundaries sometimes. But lo and behold, it happened…in fact, it happened on ALL the Broadcast networks in 1988—not because they wanted to, but because of everybody’s favorite corporate excuse; “Cost Cutting”. The censors eventually came back about a year later, but by then the damage was done; though talk about striking while the iron’s hot. Bonus points for this being a Conan O’Brien co-written piece, and for the rare Dennis Miller sketch sighting.

 

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3. SINGLE WOMEN (10/10/1981) – Back in the “One & Done” list, I mentioned Christine Ebersole as my #2 pick. Part of the reason for that, is because she has since become a far better performer on the stage than she was on the show—not that she didn’t try…Having a good set of pipes help, too. This song was performed on her second show in 1981; and despite the fact that a uniquely dark performance piece usually sticks out like a sore thumb on a comedy show, the performance itself remains powerful enough to render any other comparisons to be moot. I later found out that the song itself was written by the Prince of Darkness himself, Michael O’Donoghue (who happened to be the head writer for half the year); and even though the lyrical content is very much Mr. Mike’s handywork, the whole thing seems more sympathetic than apathetic; a point made even bigger thanks to Ebbie’s voice. But then the song wound up taking on a life of its own; adding a country twang and Dolly Parton’s voice makes it even more sympathetic when she released it as a single a few months later. And THEN the song reached another level when it was used as the basis behind a 1984 TV movie called “Single Bars, Single Women” starring Tony Danza & Jean Smart. This song was as dark as it was durable; and if Mr. Mike was alive, he’d probably be epically confused as to how durable it became.

 

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2. DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY CHRISTMAS (12/16/1990) – This one gets the silver because of Quantity over Quality—not that it’s lacking in quality, far from it—sometimes writing multiple mini-songs that are 10-15 seconds at most is a feat in itself (Just ask your average commercial Jingle writer…while they’re still around). And that’s pretty much what this is, a series of “Jingles” about Dysfunctional families trying to keep a stiff upper lip during the holidays; But if I’m being honest, that’s not the ONLY reason why I enjoyed the sketch. Having had to put up with the antics of my own dysfunctional family throughout my lifetime, this sketch (along with “Stuart Smalley”) proved to be decent coping mechanisms—but that’s a story for another day. The songs themselves are highly quotable, but by far my favorite one of these bits is Phil Hartman’s “Let’s Pretend we Like Each Other”. TRIVIA: Several years ago, Hallmark put out a couple Christmas cards with Audio Chips in them; this sketch and Steve Martin’s “Holiday Wish” were among the ones that SNL licensed out to Hallmark. I still have the “Dysfunctional” card in my basement, but because it’s been sitting there for so long, it’s now dysfunctional for a completely different reason.

 

 

 

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  1. NOT GONNA PHONE IT IN TONIGHT (12/14/1991) – Whether you’re a Diehard Fan of the show or a Casual viewer, chances are you’ve seen this at one point in your lives (I’m sure), but for redundancy purposes, I’m not going to actually review the sketch per se (Quite honestly, it speaks for itself). Instead, I have a bit of a story about this sketch you may not have known…Strangely enough, if it weren’t for a little extra research I did, this sketch could’ve been a lot lower on the list. Why? Well, while brushing up on Shales/Miller, I came across a passage about this particular sketch that the authors saw fit to add—basically, the claim that the song was Based on the title track from a long-ago MGM musical called “Babes in Arms” (Which now that I think about it, might explain why there was a sketch with Carvey’s Mickey Rooney in the same episode…but I digress). It kinda surprised me that a moment on the show that has gone down in history as one of the most iconic pieces they ever did would actually be a lyrically re-worked piece from a pre-existing show. But then I saw the so-called “Source Material”, and I realized that the ONLY thing SNL copied from that was the whole “Gathering Crowd” dynamic, they didn’t borrow a Single Note from the song in Question. Seriously, Watch The Clip highlighted above, and Then Watch the so-called “Original”. There Is NO Comparison, and therefore, this piece is instantly vindicated because of such a stark difference…and What a difference; with the exception of a few contenders, I have not seen anything before or since that could galvanize an audience the way this opening did. At the same time, the song’s plea for the show to make a little effort once in a while might’ve made sense back then; but as history has shown us over time, 1991 was probably SNL at either the middle or the beginning of its second zenith (or maybe 3rd, depending on how you felt about the Ebersol years). Quality was high across the board in writing, performance, host, MGs, you name it…quite honestly, they didn’t start “Phoning it in” again until 1994—sure, Season 20, but also the latter half of Season 19 should’ve been a warning sign. If anything, this piece was the show’s chance to show off, get a little cocky, and pretty much say “Nothing’s gonna stop me”—except of course for overconfidence catching up to them a few years later, but they didn’t know at the time (what cocky person does, Mrs. Clinton?–Honorable mention, BTW). “Not gonna phone it in tonight”; one of SNL’s all-time showstopping original numbers.

 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

THE INCREDIBLE MAN (1980) – Now HERE is a sketch that I’m almost certain NOBODY remembers (unless you still have your Season 5 DVD set). Short Answer: It’s “Canadian Wizard of Oz” sponsored by a Canadian Pharmaceutical company. Long Answer: It’s probably one of the most ambitious things SNL did in their first 5 years next to “The Pepsi Syndrome”; but perhaps a little TOO ambitious as they seem to go out of their way to make sure that their sound-alike songs are different enough so they don’t get sued by MGM. Nevertheless, this was probably one of the Original Cast’s first signs of a last hurrah on the horizon.

 

THE BENEFIT SONGS (1991-1997) – The “Benefit Song” sketch was a thing for a little while; we have to mention 1991’s “Musicians for Free Range Chickens” (One of the FEW sketches from the infamous Steven Segal Episode that I actually Liked), 1993’s “Recurring Characters for Unity” for breaking the most 4th walls in a single sketch, and 1997’s “Set Our Nanny Free” for being the last one they ever did…at least for now. There was another one from 1993 involving Michael Jordan’s first retirement, but those were parodies of existing songs. And while we’re on the subject of “Semi-Recurring”…

 

THE COWBOY SONGS (1989-1992) – I already mentioned the first one with Woody Harrelson back in November, but it bears repeating that this too was once a thing. In addition to Harrelson & company going on about being lonely, we were also treated to Kyle McLaughlin (as KD Lang) singing about the joys of cattle slaughter, Jeremy Irons being woefully miscast (FOOTAGE UNAVAILABLE), and Woody again talking about all the other kinds of “Boys” there are in addition to “Cow”…I’m sure it made more sense back then.

 

DOGS (1992) – Whenever you think SNL has become too mainstream, there’s sometimes a rare flash of experimental material that keeps viewers on guard. This piece where Adam Sandler leads a “Seattle-Grunge” type band whose members exhibit certain canine qualities was one of those times where you wonder if you took some leftover acid from the 70s.

 

DO IT ON MY TWIN BED (2013) – See 8/19/2016 entry.

 

WISHING BOOT (2015) – I’m guessing Kate is supposed to be either Reba McEntire or Martina McBride, Aidy is supposed to be Wynona Judd, and host Blake Shelton is either supposed to be ½ of “Brooks & Dunn”, Alan Jackson, or whichever other country star has ample facial hair (Pick one). Despite the fact that the premise was pretty ridiculous—even by SNL Music Video standards—at least the song itself was both catchy and  pretty uncanny to the country genre in general…which (unfortunately) I know all too well thanks to wasting 2 years of my life playing that stuff on the radio.

 

As always, I can’t help but feel like I’ve left a sketch or two out; feel free to comment below if I did, and I’ll squeeze it into a future “Viewer’s Choice” edition.

 

NEXT WEEK/PROGRAM NOTE: We’ve still got 2 weeks to go until the Oscars, so we’re going to save our list of Movie Parodies for that day. In the meantime, We’re going to stay on the subject of Music…or rather “Lack Thereof” in this case. HOWEVER, because I’m gonna be out of town for President’s Day Weekend, this commentary will be out (I hope) on MONDAY 2/20. (NOTE: “Music Edits” Editorial has been PPD’d TFN. I’ll explain why later this weekend) Otherwise, as soon as I find out which “Vintage” airs this evening, I’ll see ‘ya tomorrow.

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3 thoughts on “Once more, With Feeling!: The Top 8 Original SNL Songs

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