“Shaving Cream” by Benny Bell

Benny Bell’s name is almost forgotten today, and even his songs, with the exception of this immortal classic, have practically vanished, but he ranks with Tom Lehr, Weird Al Yankovich, Jonathan Coulton, and very few others as one of the all-time great writers of comedic novelties. He was significantly more risque than the others I just named, but in a clever, even subtle way. He specialized in what I once heard dubbed “Clean songs for dirty minds”, where the obscene element is suggested in the listener’s head, but never actually spoken or stated explicitly. And with this song, he created the definitive archetype of that kind of song, the song that people immediately think of when they contemplate the technique of the subverted rhyme. There are supposedly over a hundred alternate verses to this song, many of them presumably added by others years after Bell originally wrote it, because he created a brilliantly versatile template from which it’s easy to improvise your own verses. Novelty songs were, of course, extremely popular during the era when Bell was writing (indeed, most of our “classic” novelty hits hail from this era), but as a rule, they were generally far less funny than this. Even the best of the novelties that made the Pop charts at the time (such as “The Purple People Eater” or “Monster Mash”) couldn’t approach the level of laughs that this radio-unsuitable underground hit could get from its audience. Benny Bell actually wrote a lot of other interesting stuff too, but I do understand why this song wound up being his primary legacy…it just might be the greatest novelty song of all time.

Verdict: Good.

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