Big Daddy

TrackAlbum
Hotel CaliforniaWhat Really Happened To The Band of ’'59?
Super FreakWhat Really Happened To The Band of ’'59?
Dancing In The DarkMeanwhile ... Back In The States
Girls Just Wanna Have FunMeanwhile ... Back In The States
Like A VirginCutting Their Own Groove
Hold OnCutting Their Own Groove
Within You Without YouSergeant Pepper'’s
A Day In The LifeSergeant Pepper’'s
Theme From The MonkeesChantmania
SukiyakiThe Best Of Big Daddy

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Contributor: Peter Viney

With parody and satire bands, often the fun is changing the lyrics, as done by The Barron Knights (Call Up The Groups), or Allan Sherman (You Came A Long Way Old King Louie), then later by Weird “Al” Yankowitz (e.g. Like A Surgeon, Eat It, Another One Rides The Bus). Stan Freberg was doing it in the 1950s. The Rutles created new Beatlesque songs. Spinal Tap was a parody band with new songs too. The Book of Mormon does it on stage with a potted history of the musical and new(ish) songs.

Big Daddy don’t do it that way. They keep the lyrics of well-known songs but change the musical style completely. This kind of treatment brings out aspects of the original that hadn’t struck you before. Later bands that do this, owe a debt to Big Daddy. A favourite example is Run C&W who did two albums of bluegrass versions of soul classics, and The Gourds who put an Appalachian spin on Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Gin And Juice, as well as giving Ziggy Stardust the same treatment. Hayseed Dixie specializes in bluegrass versions of heavy metal, like A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC and Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute To Kiss. The King does later songs as Elvis would have done them if he’d lived. A recent example is The Civil Wars’ acoustic duo softly coo-ed version of Billie Jean.

Big Daddy started in 1983 with a back story, or as they would say in the 18th century, a “conceit”. The conceit is explained at length on the rear of their first Rhino album:

In August 1959, in preparation for the recording of their first album, Big Daddy’s manager arranged for the band to appear on a USO tour of South-East Asia to entertain US troops. He felt that it is not only a good opportunity to try out the songs for their forthcoming record, but that the publicity would be invaluable to the boys’ career. Unfortunately what their manager didn’t realize was that there would be no publicity since the US government was claiming no military involvement in the area. The band were captured by Laotian revolutionaries and held for 24 years. Since the Laotians only contact with the outside world was the US sponsored Radio Free Asia which regarded rock & roll as a communist plot, the band were regarded as fellow revolutionaries and well treated, until 1983 when a rescue bid freed them. (By the way, they were rescued on the pretext of making a movie in Laos, a plot line revived in Argo in 2012!) They had signed that recording contract in 1959 which had never been fulfilled, and they had kept going as a band entertaining their Laotian captors with renditions such as Peggy Lee’s “You Give Me Yellow Fever.” So they obtained the sheet music for some current hits and recorded them … but not having heard any music since 1959, and never having heard any of the records, they played the songs in 1959 style.

The conceit gets expanded a bit (early parodies borrowed styles up to about 1962, and later ones to 1967). The band had begun as a rock and roll oldies band around LA. The term mashup was not known at the time, but on quite a few tracks they mashed riffs or ideas from oldies onto current records. They use a lot of doo-wop, a lot of rock and roll classics. I find them more creative than the other parody artists.

The first album was Big Daddy aka What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59? after the fake National Inquirer (sic) headline on the album cover. The selections included Super Freak (done like the Everly Brothers), Star Wars (like Duane Eddy), Hotel California (like Del Shannon with Runaway organ), Ebony & Ivory (as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis). It’s all brilliantly performed, and perhaps it’s your affection for the original version of the chosen song and the style of the parody that counts. Also the larger the original song looms, the more audacious the radical treatment seems.

The follow up in 1985 was Meanwhile … Back In The States. Again we expand the story: the subtitle is Big Daddy: Truth or Cruel Hoax? It tells of a TV exposé, 59 Minutes, which discovered high school graduation photos of the band from 1969, as well as five women who claimed to have married band members in the 1970s. We’re told that the Laotian “former POW camp commanders” who testified and “fondly remembered the capture and torture” of Big Daddy turned out to be gardeners for Rhino Records executives.

That album led with a UK #21 hit (actually a hit EP) when they did Dancing In The Dark, but taken just as Pat Boone had done Moody River. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is mashed with Duke Of Earl, with a chorus of Do Do Do, Do the girls? Two favourite songs combined. Purple Rain is in the style of Not Fade Away/Oh, Boy! , and Billie Jean is as Gene Vincent might have done it. Sussudio is Dion in Runaround Sue mode. Van Halen’s Jump uses Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody which switches when the sax solo quotes Summertime Blues, as does the deep voice at the end (I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to jump). Better than the original to me!

Cutting Their Own Groove was the first on CD. Like A Virgin is done as soppy poppy puppy-love boy idol (think Frankie Avalon) with chorus, and works in a way Madonna never contemplated. Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime gets Harry Belafonte calypso (Day O …). The calypso treatment of Once in Lifetime not only reveals their range, but works freestanding as a great song. Ice T’s Ice Ice Baby is Johnny B. Goode, with a pointed touch of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Money For Nothing revives Sixteen Tons. Mike & The Mechanics’ The Living Years is Leader Of The Pack at the start. Help Me Make It Through The Night is a mashup with Yaketty Yak. Born To Run nods to Travelin’ Man. I’m tempted to include two Springsteen parodies. I suspect that reveals my affection for the originals as well as the treatment. Wilson Phillips’ Hold On shows that Big Daddy can do straight Motown (they channel Ain’t No Mountain High Enough) absolutely convincingly. It goes in because bringing in 1966 Motown is outside their normal rock and roll groove. This is the best of the first three albums.

The masterpiece was the complete Sergeant Pepper’s in 1992, yes, the entire album in chronological order. Half the fun is matching the parody, though it’s not always song or artist specific. Within You Without You becomes cool avant garde jazz with dramatic poet voiceover. Lovely Rita uses the riff from His Latest Flame. Fixin’ A Hole is The Wanderer. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band visits Poison Ivy by The Coasters. A Day In The Life is Buddy Holly complete with plane crash. They start like That’ll Be The Day, then switch in the middle section to a pastiche of Everyday. It’s the best thing they ever did. The CD (today) runs from £127 to £190 on amazon resellers, but you can buy a download for £7.49.

Chantmania in 1994 saw them switch the band name to The Benzedrine Monks of Santa DoMonica for an a cappella album in monastic chant style: The Monkees Theme, We Will Rock You, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Losing My Religion, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.

The Best of Big Daddy in 2000 was a compilation with three new bonus tracks. There’s an Elvis-inspired rockabilly look at My Heart Will Go On from Titanic. The Hawaiian guitar, and the fade out “drip drop, goin’ down on a sinkin’ ship” followed by gurgling water then a sax solo is inspired. Little Red Corvette is live from 1989 (think Beep Beep). Sukiyaki had been a bonus track on the Japanese CD of Cutting Their Own Groove. It becomes a dramatic ballad, owing a debt to Don’t Worry Baby. It’s such a lovely tune and from the charts of 50 years ago so the interference from the original is minimal, and this works as a song in its own right.

Smashing Songs Of Stage And Screen is a recent funded project, reviving the band for 50s musicals and “silver screen”. It hasn’t been issued in the UK. The first two albums have never been on CD, but the four first albums are all on iTunes. Doing this Toppermost revealed how well the albums work as straight good music, regardless of the parody. The band can play and sing all of it and every song has a melody strong enough to take messing with. The songs that are not on my other existing playlists like Jump, Super Freak, The Living Years, Hold On, Memory (Barbra Streisand), The Safety Dance (Men Without Hats), Ice Ice Baby, Sussudio made me want to hear the originals with greater appreciation too.

The official Big Daddy website

Big Daddy discography

TopperPost #192

9 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Feb 9, 2014

    Much as I don’t want to rank, this has been my favourite Toppermost so far. ‘do do do do the girls’… just utterly, utterly, brilliant. I’ll be giggling for hours after this one.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Feb 9, 2014

    This post has been great fun. I was aware of Big Daddy but thought they were a one album session musicians venture, but there is a whole catalogue.

    I keep looking at my Al Yankovic catalogue and think, should I? Well maybe now I should

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Feb 9, 2014

      There are lots on YouTube, the cover of Born To Run is top, I love the original anyway. Here’s a link to Sukiyaki.

  3. David Lewis
    Feb 9, 2014

    I was thinking a Weird Al toppermost too… I already own three to four, and have a few gaps, so Ian, all yours if you want it. ‘Bob’ is an absolute must for mine. As is ‘I bought it on eBay’. I’ll save it for the comments.

    • Ian Ashleigh
      Feb 9, 2014

      David, I don’t have a complete collection either.

      I believe you’re in Australia and I’m in Sussex UK but if our host passes us each other’s e-mail addresses we could try an submit a joint posting. What do you think?

      (Nice one! Ed.)

      • David Lewis
        Feb 9, 2014

        Sounds great. Look forward to it!

        (Check those inboxes … Ed.)

  4. David Lewis
    Feb 10, 2014

    Just rereading this, any discussion on parody acts must include Homer and Jethro, who were doing song parodies in the 1940s and beyond (‘we didn’t sink the Bismarck’ springs to mind).

    Also, the obligatory ‘wot no?'(from someone who hadn’t heard of Big Daddy until this post) is ‘Money for Nothing’, which takes Knopfler’s self deprecating lines, and makes them something else.. (The little f****t with the earring and the makeup gains a menace).

  5. Peter Viney
    Feb 25, 2014

    I now have “Smashing Songs of Stage & Screen” the new Big Daddy album. I’ll comment more later. it’s on the “Mash King” label. The one that leaps out after a couple of hearings is The Music of The Night from Phantom of the Opera. They’ve mashed it with Monster Mash. Tara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago gets the Telstar treatment. It’s all wonderful stuff.

  6. Tom Lee / Big Daddy
    Jun 29, 2014

    Hello, Peter! So glad that you are enjoying “Smashing Songs of Stage & Screen”. I wanted to let you know that we’re finally on “Amazon.com”, so we can virtually be there with you where ever you are! Thank you for your kind post on Toppermost. Deeply appreciated.
    Tom Lee/Big Daddy

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