Novelty songs have been around for centuries, slipping in and out of popular fashion. But never in modern musical history were novelty songs quite so popular as they were in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It began in 1958 with David Seville’s “Witch Doctor,” which inspired “Purple People Eater” and led directly to “The Chipmunk Song.” It reached its peak two years later with an outbreak of silliness led by the Hollywood Argyles, a one-hit wonder whose “Alley Oop” topped the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1960.
Alley Oop, for those too young to remember, was the name of a time-traveling caveman whose exploits were chronicled in a long-running comic strip of the same name created in 1932 by cartoonist V.T. Hamlin. At a time when Blondie and Beetle Bailey were often the best things going on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Alley Oop had a cultural currency that the children of today might have difficulty imagining. It was still strong enough in 1960 to make a #1 hit out of a novelty song that did little more than intersperse nostalgic references to dinosaur rides and bearcat stew with comments like “He sho is hip, aint he?” and set it to a doo-wop tune.
The Hollywood Argyles actually consisted of a singer named Gary Paxton fronting a group of hired studio musicians paid $25 each for their efforts. Because Paxton was contractually forbidden by an existing recording contract from recording elsewhere under his real name, he released “Alley Oop” under the guise of a fictitious group that he named for the intersection of Los Angeles boulevards where the song was recorded. It was the one and only hit record for him or for the Hollywood Argyles.
It was not the only novelty song, however, to top the charts in 1960. In a year when Frankie Avalon and Chubby Checker rocked almost as hard as the post-Army Elvis Presley, America’s appetite for light entertainment also made a #1 hit out of Brian Hyland’s timeless “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini.”