TV characters sing (usually badly)

Jaime Weinman on the TV tie-in novelty record

I was working on another post that didn’t quite come together, and you know what it means when that happens: off to YouTube to find novelties that can fill another post!

The theme is the TV tie-in novelty record, and what’s strange is that despite Glee and its success tying in with the new digital world of easily-distributed songs, we haven’t had as many TV-character and TV-actor albums as we got in earlier eras, when recordings had to be distributed on vinyl (well, I mean, people are still buying vinyl, but you know what I mean). The most famous tie-in recordings are probably the Star Trek ones, but another one that gets quite a bit of play is the album that was recorded by the stars of The Odd Couple. Someone had the bright idea of making them do it in character, which somehow made it easier to accept the fact that one of them could sing a little and the other one couldn’t sing at all (he’d barely croaked out part of one tune in Gypsy with Ethel Merman). The best-known track is their cover of “You’re So Vain,” which is “sung” by Oscar and a bunch of backup singers whose presence seems to surprise Felix; if the album were more famous, then the “Don’t you?” “Yes!” “Don’t you?” “YES!” bit would be a meme.

Generally, if you wanted to put a TV star on a record and he couldn’t sing, the preferred method was the Shatner method: have him talk his way through a song as if it’s poetry. This is what was done by Sebastian Cabot, known to the world as Mr. French from Family Affair and as a voice from The Jungle Book. His recitation of Bob Dylan actually makes you appreciate Shatner more. That man put absolute conviction into his pretentious and weird recitations of pop lyrics. Mr. French just can’t seem to pull it off; he tries to sound like he’s having fun, but his jollity sounds forced.

Then you’ve got the albums where the stars are so submerged under the arrangements and backups that it’s hard to tell if they’re even on the record. This is what happens with Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who unfortunately did not record their album in character. Or better still, they should have recorded it as themselves – think of the fighting and sheer rage that could have been preserved in musical form. But no, it’s just a cover that doesn’t really sound like anyone in particular is singing.

Finally, there’s the novelty song specially written for the TV star to sing in character. The most famous example of this, again, is from the Star Trek universe, Leonard Nimoy’s “Highly Illogical.” But it’s not the only one. The late Ted Knight went into the studio to cut an album, sort of in character – well, he always played the same basic character, anyway – and someone wrote him a song to sing based on his TV catchphrase, “Hi, Guys!” It makes “Highly Illogical” sound a lot better.

Now where are all the TV stars and second bananas who should be lining up to record songs that we’ll be enjoying and/or mocking in the future? The Smash tie-in album simply isn’t enough, but when Smash gets canceled, the network should at least consider retaining the songwriters (Shaiman and Wittman) to write novelty songs for their stars. At least some songs about how tough it is to be a Voice judge or something like that. This is an untapped market.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.