Novelty earworms

Since last week’s news story about businessman Toddington Harper’s plans to radically improve the electric charging points at motorway service stations, an earworm has remained.

The BBC reports that Toddington’s parents named him after the service station on the M1 motorway, although the service station derives its name from the nearby medieval village, so it is a name of some antiquity.

Anyway, the name of Toddington service station recalled an annoying lyric from a novelty pop song of the 1970s:

I’d tried Newport Pagnell, Toddington and even Watford Gap
But after so many eggs and chips and sausage and beans,
What I really needed was a nap.

I have no recall of hearing those lines since the song was in the charts, and an online search revealed that it was in 1976 that BBC Radio 1 DJs Dave Lee Travis and Paul Burnett released Convoy: GB, a parody of C.W. McCall’s 1975 hit Convoy, which was itself a novelty song.

C.W. McCall was the stage name of country singer William Dale Fries Jr. and Convoy is a tale in truckers’ CB radio patois of a journey across the United States in which the drivers defy the regulations on speed, the weight of loads, and the payment of tolls.

Convoy: GB was attributed to a band called Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks. It was a piece of silliness which nonetheless made No 4 in the charts when having a Top Ten hit demanded substantial sales.

Novelty songs were popular in 1976.  Sometimes the parody versions could be more popular than the songs they had parodied. The Wurzels reached No 1 with Combine Harvester, their parody of Melanie’s 1971 hit Brand New Key, which had reached No 4.

It is hard now to imagine a novelty song achieving such levels of popularity, certainly it is hard to imagine them remaining in the memory of listeners some forty-five years after they were released.

In retrospect, it seems odd that people went to record stores and bought 7 inch recordings of novelty songs. In 1976, money was not plentiful and singles would have been played dozens of times. Some people talk of playing records so often that they were physically worn out. There are many such songs that might have been humorous on the first or second or third play, but would the lines of Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks have been just as funny on the twelfth or the twentieth play?

The annoying thing is that the voices of Dave Lee Travis and Paul Burnett remain fresh in the memory, as do the voices of Joe Dolce, the Baron Knights, and numerous other novelty artists.

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