On November 6th, 1989, a guy named Dickie Goodman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Ironically, this sad act marked the end for the creator of a specific kind of novelty record known as the “break-in.” Seen nowadays as a (dubious) precursor to sampling, a “break-in” record is created by using clips of other songs to tell a story or perform a skit, usually with narration of some sort.
The written word cannot even begin to do the art form justice — and yes, it is an art form — so here’s an audio example by the king himself, Dickie Goodman. “Mr. Jaws” was a satire of the movie blockbuster Jaws, and was a Top 10 hit in the latter part of 1975.
When I heard this record as a kid, I thought it was hilarious. I was surprised to learn much later that he had been making this kind of stuff on and off for the previous 20 years!
Jump back to 1956. Rock ‘n’ roll music is starting to really break through to the masses. The charts are full of records by Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and countless others. In the middle of 1956, two struggling songwriters named Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman created something that would finally put them on the map… but not as songwriters.
They decided to create a novelty record by writing a fake newscast about an alien invasion from outer space, but while they would ask the questions, the answers would be provided by musical snippets from popular records of the day. After a lot of shopping around and rejections, they finally created their own label and released “The Flying Saucer.”
Surprisingly, the record was a big hit, making it all the way to #3 on the Billboard chart and hitting the top of the charts in some local markets. Unsurprisingly, there were numerous lawsuits once the record became a hit. Most of the record labels that had a sample on “The Flying Saucer” sued Buchanan and Goodman for copyright infringement. The whole legal morass that followed is too much to detail here, but in the end it was decided that the record was a new work in the form of satire and wasn’t infringing on anyone’s copyright. It was one of those rare cases where the little guy actually won.
Buchanan and Goodman made a few more “break-in” records, most of a flying saucer nature, over the next couple of years — some making the charts, some missing the mark — before going their separate ways. Buchanan made a few records on his own and with other partners over the next few years. Some of them were more of the novelty type that he made with Goodman, others were straight attempts at actual music. He eventually got out of the business and died in 1996.
Goodman continued a balancing act over the next couple of decades between trying to be a legitimate songwriter and record producer, and creating more “break-in” records. He rubbed shoulders with the charts from time to time, but never had another big breakthrough until “Mr. Jaws” in 1975. Once that record came and went, he kept making novelty records periodically until his untimely end in 1989.
What’s really beautiful about Goodman’s novelty records — and this is a serious statement — is they’re excellent time capsules of different eras. Pick up any of his records and you’ll get an idea as to what was being played on the radio at the time. Wanna know what was big in 1969? Check out “On Campus.”
Ol’ Dickie also left behind a nice sampling (no pun intended) of what was on the public’s mind as well. Communism, the flying saucer craze, the moon landing, campus unrest, Watergate, and the energy crisis were just a few topics covered by both the evening news and Goodman’s records. He also satirized television shows like Ben Casey, The Untouchables, Bonanza, Batman, and Happy Days among others, and various movies including Superfly, Shaft, King Kong, Star Wars, and E.T.
Keep in mind that these may look easy to do, but they’re not. Granted, anybody can throw one together (and many others have over the years), but to make one that’s actually funny is no simple task. Give it a shot sometime and see how well you do. Then tip your hat to Mr. Goodman. He didn’t hit it out of the ballpark every time, but when he did, it was pretty impressive. A personal favorite of mine — and the first Buchanan and Goodman record I ever heard — was “Flying Saucer the 2nd” from 1957.
The sad part about it all — aside from the irony that a guy known for comedy died a tragic death — is how little Goodman is remembered today. The concept of making “break-in” material isn’t completely gone, but it might as well be. Chris Rock actually made some of his own on a couple of his comedy albums, but that’s about it. Oldies radio rarely, if ever, digs up something Goodman created, and precious little information is known about the man himself. Articles exist here and there, along with a very poorly written and practically unedited biography by his son.
When all is said and done, it doesn’t really matter. The recordings still exist; you just have to know to look for them. Do a search for Dickie Goodman on YouTube, and you’ll be treated to most of his creations. The Cherry Red label released The King of Novelty: Works 1956 – 1959 a few years ago. It’s a flawed but fairly comprehensive collection of his earlier work and worth picking up if you’d like to actually own some of his tracks without seeking out the original records.
Comedy is in the eye of the beholder. Lots of people might hear one or two of Goodman’s records and decide that’s enough, which is fine. If you take more than a passing interest in this kind of humor, however, dig a little deeper, check out as much of his stuff as you can find (and there is a lot), and be amazed and amused.