8 January 2015
The Beatles were masters of parody. Some musicologists/critics believe it was their chief songwriting strength, that they were always using parody as a creative tool. I think it's a bit difficult to separate consciously using an influence (cribbing a riff and changing it to avoid copyright for instance), and true parody, which I think the Beatles also mastered. But good musical parody is a feature of popular music particularly in British popular culture and goes a long way back even to Gilbert and Sullivan, and a true Beatles site would be remiss to not explore it. For the purpose of this topic we define musical parody as a deliberate mimicking of the style of an artist for comic effect or for a stylistic purpose. Both are viable, but the second one is trickier to pin down sometimes.
If we start with Gilbert and Sullivan, examples of the second type (which often include the first!) can be seen: the hornpipe parodies of HMAS Pinafore for example or the rather obvious musical parodies of Chinese music in the Mikado. There's a thematic purpose to these parodies as well as stylistic purposes, it's a bit difficult to do an operetta about pirates without piratey songs in Penzance, that would sound weird. Beatle examples of the second kind of parody usually get quoted from the White Album, and really from the vast variety of styles within; Yer Blues and Back In The USSR are obvious choices. What about Piggies, which deliberately uses a baroque style even down to a harpsichord riff, does the lyric content match the musical content, is that a parody?
Then we have more straightforward parody such as the entire career of Weird Al Yankovic, whose work is probably unmatched by any American musical parodist except perhaps by Tom Lehrer. Yankovic is less restricted in style than Lehrer, who was piano-based, and has less political content, but few have bettered Lehrer at his most biting. Here he is using a waltz (he loves parodying waltzes) to skewer not simply Braun himself but those who chose to employ him:
And I'm going to finish this initial post with one of my favourite parody songs. This grew out of a radio series which itself was spawned by a successful Edinburgh Fringe Festival show and led to a terrific album, it is of course the Heebeegeebees. Somehow the album was so popular here in Australia they actually toured and this clip is from the seminal Australian music show Countdown complete with Molly interview.
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