The Doctor — after 40 years of being ‘in” every week — is finally out of the office.
Last month, Barret “Barry” Hansen, a Minneapolis area native better known to millions as Dr. Demento, gave up his weekly syndicated radio show, which had been distributed nationally since 1974.
At its peak, the two-hour conglomeration of zaniness and occasional bad taste aired in most of the nation’s major markets, featuring novelty songs, unbelievably obscure and offbeat 78 rpm tunes and a fair number of double-entendre offerings.
Dr. Demento, now 69, continues to do a weekly online version of his show. He was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame in 2009.
With news of the radio show’s end, Salon offered a fond farewell to The Doctor and pondered the fate of the always-neglected and often-disparaged genre of novelty songs, which usually have a short shelf life even at the height of their fame and then usually face a long afterlife of total obscurity.
Until Dr. Demento came along.
Remember the likes of the Thorndike Pickledish Choir’s “Ballad of Walter Wart (the Freaky Frog),” the Peels’ “Juanita Banana” or Guy Marks’ “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas”?
I didn’t think so.
You can check out year after year of offbeat recordings at Dr. Demento’s extensive playlist archive here — everything from the naughty “Shaving Cream” to the bawdy “Scotsman” to the controversial “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” a 1966 novelty hit that rose quickly to the Top 10 and faded even faster, along the way running into widespread criticism from mental health groups that led to its banning at several radio stations..
What was his weekly show like?
This tribute, on the occasion of his 35th anniversary, offers a small sample of Dr. Demento’s eclectic mix.
Among his many “accomplishments,” Dr. Demento may be best known for introducing parody expert “Weird Al” Yankovic, then a teenager, to the nation. “Weird Al” certainly credits Dr. D for his success in this offbeat interview.
And his parodies of such musical milestones as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” (“Like a Surgeon”) and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” (“Achy Breaky Song”) are still fun to hear.
Dr. Demento is also “credited” with popularizing such off-the-wall musical treats as Larry Groce’s 1975 “Junk Food Junkie” and Elmo and Patsy’s pseudo-Christmas classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
And Dr. Demento was spot-on for celebrating the contributions of such novelty geniuses as Stan Freberg and Spike Jones.
But for my money, Dr. Demento gets the biggest kudos for re-energizing appreciation for two satiric geniuses:
• Tom Lehrer, a Harvard math major-turned-social commentator who offered the likes of a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inspired science song on the Periodic Table (“Elements”) and a parental primer on the perils of “New Math” (It’s so simple, so very simple that only a child can do it!). Several of Lehrer’s acidic songs were featured in the 1964 short-lived “That Was the Week That Was,” a topical commentary TV show: the likes of “Wernher Von Braun” and “So Long, Mom (I’m Off to Drop the Bomb)” — which he billed as “a song for World War III.”
• Allan Sherman, a TV producer who found fame as a parodist of everything from the old Ames Brothers hit “Rag Mop” (“Rat Fink”) to “You Came a Long Way From St. Louis” (“You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louie”).
Sherman is probably best known for his 1963 mega-summer hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp),” but you gotta love something like his takeoff on “Heart” from Broadway’s “Damn Yankees,” a clever anatomical creation, “Skin.”