It takes real talent to be perfectly silly. Comic bandleader Spike Jones (not the Jonze with a z) and his City Slickers turned the big band on its head, playing truly zany parodies of well-known tunes. Jones colored the arrangements with slide whistles, bulb horns and other sound effects. In a Jones tune, there was rarely a need for more cowbell.
His big break came in 1942, when “Der Fuehrer’s Face” hit the airwaves, poking fun at the Nazis at the height of World War II. Oliver Wallace wrote the song for a Disney project during a time when the studio was a major cog in the war-propaganda machine. Wallace arranged it as an oompah band opener for a Donald Duck cartoon, which put the unintelligible fowl in a nightmarish place called Nutsiland. Even as the Disney artists were inking and painting cels for the fever dream of a cartoon, Jones and band released their version, giving the Germans the old Bronx cheer with an instrument he called the birdaphone. It was a major radio hit.
The cartoon — filled with caricatures of Axis power figures and effeminate jokes that wouldn’t pass in our politically correct times — came out in 1943 and replaced the birdaphone rasps with bleats of tuba. It went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short (the only win for a Donald Duck cartoon). But it was the Jones version that soldiers would sing to boost morale, blowing raspberries right in der Führer‘s face.
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