Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jonathan Winters' brief foray into music (1958)



Music Weird previously wrote about Joan Rivers' unusual early-'60s pop single. Comedian Jonathan Winters also made one pop record early in his career. He recorded many comedy albums over the years but didn't record another "song" until 2006, when he cut the recitation "Old Folks."

Our story begins in 1958. Gerry Granahan's group, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts, had a new record out called "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," which was instrumental except for a nonsense vocal interjection. Granahan had scored two previous hits that year with Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Click-Clack" (the first-ever release on Swan Records) and a solo recording, "No Chemise—Please." In a wise promotional move, Granahan's group named themselves after Dick Clark's nickname for his son. Might help them get on American Bandstand, eh?


Billboard, April 28, 1958
Comedian Jonathan Winters at that time had been a disk jockey in Ohio and New York and had appeared on some television shows. He was making a name for himself with his zany humor and ad libs, and increasingly moved into straight comedy. Because of his growing popularity, Coral Records signed him to a "long-term contract," Billboard reported in 1958. 

The contract turned out to be short-lived. His first and only record for Coral was a cover of Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu." Because the nonsense title was like something from outer space, Winters' version was credited to "Jonathan Winters with the Martians."

The Dicky Doo record didn't have a space theme at all, so Coral must have been trying to out-market it by cashing in on the martian craze with Winters. Some people claim that Robin Williams took his extraterrestrial Mork character's "nanu, nanu" from "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu."

The flip-side of Winters' record was the similarly space-themed cut "Take Me to Your Leader," another song by the writer of "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu," Eddie V. Deane. Deane, who was a comedian too, would go on to write the Mike Douglas hit "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" and the "Big Bad John" parody "Small Sad Sam."

Billboard gave Winters' record a favorable review but noted that Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version had a head start. The Dicky Doo record was reviewed in Billboard a month earlier, and, predictably, the group appeared on American Bandstand. As a result, Dicky Doo & the Don'ts' version charted nationally, but Winters' version didn't chart even regionally, as far as I can tell. 


Billboard, May 5, 1958

That lone single ended Winters' musical career on Coral Records, and a couple of years later, he started recording comedy albums for Verve. As with Joan Rivers' pop record, Winters' contribution to the musicality of his Coral recordings is negligible; one side is mostly instrumental, and most of the other side is sung by a vocal chorus.

You can listen to both cuts below. 

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely amazing. I had the Dicky Do version, but had never heard this!

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