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Surprise! Songs that — ready or not — pack a last-minute surprise

Of course, they’re only a surprise the first time you hear them. After that, though, it can be fun to see how cleverly the composer handles the set-up.

A surprise topic this week — songs with surprise endings.

Of course, they’re only a surprise the first time you hear them. After that, though, when you hear the song again, it can be fun to see how cleverly the composer handles the set-up.

The surprises, too, come in many moods — from humorous (many of them) to horrific (one of the most controversial songs of its era — and a frequently banned song). We’ll save the horrific one for last.

And, of course, this is only a sampling of surprise songs, so please add some of your nominees in the Comment section below.

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The humorous ones, it seems, often have the cleverest set-up. Here are three of them:

• The Ames Brothers’ “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane,” a masterpiece of clever word play with the twist occurring in the final five words.

• Jim Stafford’s “My Girl Bill” — what a difference a missing pause can make.

• Master parodist Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp)” offers a nostalgic trip through  a kid’s “whinery” and quick change of emotions.

And how about two take-offs on the Jimmy Dean classic, “Big Bad John”?

• Phil McLean’s “Small Sad Sam,” with the unfolding tragedy set in a high-rise elevator.

• Frank Gallop’s “The Ballad of Irving.” There does seem to be a (tiny) disagreement over whether this is a parody of Dean’s song or Lorne Greene’s “Ringo” or just Western ballads in general. At any rate, the deep-voiced, longtime TV announcer tells of the sad fate of a Jewish cowboy known as “the 142nd-fastest gun in the West.” As Gallop notes:

         “141 could draw faster than he,

         but Irving was looking for 143.”

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Uppers and Downers
Let’s divide the rest up into two categories: pleasant surprises (Uppers) and unpleasant surprises (Downers). Again, we’ll save the downers for last.

• Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” — who’da thunk a wronged son could be so forgiving? Particularly after a street fight with the great line:

Kicking and a-gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.

• A classic Kingston Trio story song, “Reverend Mr. Black,” comes complete with a trick ending.

• Liza Minnelli’s clever “Ring Them Bells,” which reveals the main plot twist up front but then drives the point home with a gangbusters ending.

• Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” — one of the most illogical — but listenable — hit records ever. In all of the couple’s l-on-n-n-g time together, apparently she never ordered a pina colada and he never suggested champagne? Hmmm. Some pretty big communication problems here.

• Bobby Goldsboro’s “See the Funny Little Clown,” another of the heartbroken-funnyman songs — a lot like this one.

•Tom Jones’ “Green, Green Grass of Home” — one of the bigger out-of-left-field surprise endings.

• Dickey Lee’s “Laurie (Strange Things Happen)” — my nominee for the eeriest surprise ending. I’m still surprised it was never turned into a cheapo movie — a perfect drive-in second (or third) feature.

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• Bread’s “The Diary” — talk about a big letdown.

• The Buoys’ “Timothy.” And what can you say about a disturbing — and often banned — song (another Rupert Holmes creation) that made it to No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1971?