Humour is a funny thing. Beautiful music can transcend time and place and culture; humour, not so much. What is comedic genius to one audience can fall flat to another, be offensive to a third, mystify a fourth.
I write parody lyrics to popular songs, and some get performed on a radio show, The Coodabeen Champions. The show is popular, and from time to time I have the joy of meeting someone who says “are you the Richard Evans who writes all those songs …” But it is a limited public. The theme is usually Australian Rules football, and unless you understand the culture, history, tropes and mythology of that sport, then the humour will almost certainly be lost on you.
Like unpasteurised fresh milk, humour is a wonderful thing, but it can’t travel all that far and has a short shelf life.
All of which is by way of introducing a mostly-comedy album, a live recording of various funny songs and banter, which came out in 1974. It is the work of Bob Hudson, an Australian folk singer who strayed into absurdist comedic songs, often half-sung, half-spoken. If you are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, that is the style.
Bob Hudson is better known now as a radio presenter than a musician. A bit of a renaissance man, Bob: he also did a PhD in archeology. Not making that up. But as a performer he had his moment in the sun. This album’s title track, “Newcastle Song”, was a number one hit in Australia in 1975. For a local musician to have a successful album, and even a hit single, drawn from original Australian material … this was not the first time it had happened, but it was pretty unusual.
However, forty-odd years on Hudson’s sardonic, slightly crass humour doesn’t stand up too well. In a smoky pub on a Sunday arvo in 1974, his set would have been side-clutching funny. Hudson’s skill is obvious – the audience is in the palm of his hand, his rapid-fire repartee is skilful, deft. The musicianship, both from Hudson and the supporting band, is strong. But funny now … nah.
Fortunately, as is often the case with mostly-comedy albums, there are some straight songs included for light and shade. One of these, “Girls in Our Town”, became a minor hit for another Australian artist, Margaret Roadknight, and it still features in the folk repertoire.
But the track I like most is a quiet, spare song, “Who’s Your Friend”. It is about the experience of jealousy, when you are young and mixed up, and about the caution and the fear and confusion which stalk a party full of young people.
I did not laugh once, listening to this album, but with this sad, subtle song Bob Hudson wins me over.
- Artist: Bob Hudson
- LP Title: Newcastle Song
- Track: Side 2 Track 1 “Who’s Your Friend? ”
- Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
- Label: M7 MLF.083
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Year: 1974
This record, and hundreds of others, is for sale on Discogs.