“The world is naturally averse to all truth it sees or hears
but swallows nonsense and a lie with greediness and gluttony.”
– Samuel Butler
Fans of songs with silly titles like In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo and Sookie Sookie, you’ve come to the right place. Nonsense songs Be-Bop-A-Lula and Bama Lama Bama Loo have been around since rock’s early days, so there was plenty to choose from for our Top 11 Nonsense Songs.
Let us know in the comments section below if we’ve left out any of your favorites.
- De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da by the Police
Sting said he was inspired to write De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da because he wanted to know why nonsense songs became hits. “I was intrigued with why songs like that worked,” Sting told Q magazine. “Why Da Do Ron Ron, why Doo Wah Diddy, why Be-Bop-A-Lula, why Tutti Frutti worked. I came up with the idea that they worked because they were totally innocent. They weren’t trying to tell you anything or distort your vision – it was just a sound.”
Released in 1980, De Do Do Do became a Top 10 hit. “I think the lyrics have an internal logic,” Sting said in The Independent. “But it’s true, a lot of kids like it. In fact, my son came up with it. I’ve never paid him – so that’s another possible lawsuit.”
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da by the Police
- Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye by Steam
Gary DeCarlo, Paul Leka and Dale Frashuer were members of a doo-wop group in 1963 but split up when Leka and Frashuer became writer-producers and DeCarlo pursued a solo career. Fast forward to 1969 when the trio reunited to record a new song for DeCarlo.
“They wanted me to do a song called Sweet Laura Lee, but they needed a B-side,” DeCarlo recalled in The Arts Fuse. “We had written a doo-wop song back in 1963 called Kiss Him Goodbye. It had no hook, no chant, it was just a blues shuffle. I always liked it and wanted to record it, so we figured we’d use it for the B-side. Dale and Paul pulled the drum track from a recording I had made of a Neil Sedaka tune called Sugar and made it an eight-bar drum loop. To add piano overdubs Paul put masking tape on the strings of the piano and recorded it in three different ranges. Then we added the organ, the vibes and I played percussion on a board with cloth along the tips. Paul added the chant with ‘na na na na’ and I threw in ‘hey hey.'”
Mercury Records wanted to release Na Na Hey Hey under a group name, Steam – a band that didn’t exist. The catchy tune reached No. 1 in late 1969. “So they hire this road version and they wanted me to sing an entire album and have them take credit for it. I said no,” explained DeCarlo. “And there’s the video of the road group – if you watch it you’ll see that the singer they hired can’t even lip sync to my vocal, and the guitarist and congas are nowhere near what was happening on that track.”
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye by Steam
- Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups
The origin of the Dixie Cups‘ 1965 hit Iko Iko dates back to 1953, when James “Sugar Boy” Crawford recorded Jock-A-Mo. The song describes a battle between warring Indian tribes during Mardi Gras back in the day. “It came from two Indian chants that I put music to,” Crawford told OffBeat. “‘Iko Iko’ was like a victory chant that the Indians would shout. ‘Jock-A-Mo’ was a chant that was called when the Indians went into battle. I just put them together and made a song out of them.”
In 1964, The Dixie Cups – Barbara Ann Hawkins, her sister Rosa Lee Hawkins and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson – launched into an impromptu version of the song during a recording session break. The teenagers used drumsticks on ashtrays as accompaniment as they sang the song they’d learned from their grandmother in New Orleans. The tape machine was rolling and Iko Iko became a surprise hit the following year.
That triggered a lawsuit, as the Dixie Cups claimed songwriting credits despite its similarities to Jock-A-Mo. The case was settled out of court in 1967. In the agreement, Crawford could not claim authorship of the song, but would receive royalties for public performances and radio broadcasts of Iko Iko. “I don’t even know if I really am getting my just dues,” said Crawford. “I just figure 50 percent of something is better than 100 of nothing.”
Iko Iko by the Dixie Cups
Jock-A-Mo by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and his Cane Cutters
- Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band
Abracadabra was a No. 1 hit for the Steve Miller Band in 1982. “Abracadabra started off as a great piece of music with really atrocious lyrics,” Miller told the Dallas Morning News. “One day I was out skiing in Sun Valley and, lo and behold, who did I see on the mountain but Diana Ross. I skied down off the mountain to go have lunch. I had played with Diana Ross and the Supremes on Hullabaloo in the ’60s, and I started thinking about the Supremes and I wrote the lyrics to Abracadabra in 15 minutes.”
Miller has been outspoken about the competence and integrity of the music industry. “When Abracadabra came out in the United States, my record company said, ‘Ah, this is terrible, nothing’s going to happen,’ Miller told the Wall Street Journal. “So I canceled my American tour and went to Europe. When I got to Europe it was already No. 1 all over the world except the United States. And then it became No. 1 in the United States. So those kinds of things happened that are above and beyond record company stuff. I was never one of these kind of guys who felt like I had a great relationship with my record company. I was always at war with them. I was always auditing them and suing them. Basically telling them what a bad job they were doing. And I was right. They took advantage of everybody.”
Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band
- My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry
Despite writing and recording songs that have become the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry‘s only No. 1 hit is 1972’s My Ding-a-Ling. The innuendo-rich novelty song was written and first recorded by R&B’s Dave Bartholomew in 1952. The Bees renamed the song Toy Bell and released a rockin’ version in 1954. Berry did a version as My Tambourine in 1968 that went nowhere.
In February 1972 Berry performed the song – as My Ding-a-Ling – during Britain’s Lanchester Arts Festival. That live version topped the charts later that year. Despite its similarities to the Bartholomew song, Berry took the songwriting credit. Rolling Stone asked if he’d heard the other versions.
“Might have heard it. Well, let’s say I might have listened to it. You know, when you’re riding along you hear these songs that you don’t really hear.”
My Ding-a-Ling by Chuck Berry
My Ding-A-Ling by Dave Bartholomew
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles
Though Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was written by Paul McCartney while on retreat in India, the song was inspired by an African expression. “I had a friend called Jimmy Scott who was a Nigerian conga player, who I used to meet in the clubs in London,” McCartney recalled in Anthology. “He had a few expressions, one of which was, ‘Ob-la-di ob-la-da, life goes on, bra’. I used to love this expression.”
McCartney labored over the tune for three days at Abbey Road during the recording of the Beatles‘ 1968 White Album. John Lennon was infuriated by the amount of time spent on a song he’d never liked. One day Lennon stormed out of the studio but returned, buzzed on pot, and banged out on piano what became the song’s introduction.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles (Demo version)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by Paul McCartney
- She Bop by Cyndi Lauper
One of Cyndi Lauper‘s co-writers, Stephen Lunt, suggested the controversial topic of She Bop, a Top 5 hit in 1984. “Steve Lunt called me up, a little tipsy actually. ‘Cyn, you gotta go come here because I want you to write a song about masturbation,” Lauper explained in a promotional video. “‘Because no woman has had this before.’ He said, ‘You’ll be the first.’ I said, ‘I’m good for firsts, I was the first female streaker in my college.'”
Lauper said she wanted kids to think She Bop was about dancing, but that didn’t fool the Parents Music Resource Center, which put the song on its “Filthy Fifteen” list. That angered Lauper. “Guys are always singing about it,” she told Female First. “I always felt like whatever guys can do, why can’t I? If you don’t want me doing it, don’t do it yourself.”
She Bop by Cyndi Lauper
- Sussudio by Phil Collins
Phil Collins admitted that he was influenced by Prince‘s 1999 when he wrote Sussudio, a No. 1 hit in 1985. Collins says the title has absolutely no meaning. “I set up this drum-machine pad, and I got some chords, and I started to sing into the microphone, and this word came out, which was ‘su-su-sussudio,'” Collins explained on VH1 Storytellers.
“I kind of knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as ‘sussudio’ and I couldn’t find one, so I went back to ‘sussudio.’ Then I thought OK, let’s give ‘sussudio’ a meaning, what is it? The lyric, the words are all about this guy who has this schoolboy crush on this girl at school.”
Collins collaborated with synthesizer wizard David Frank of The System. “I wanted to work with different people at the time, people that could do things I wasn’t capable of doing,” Collins told Rolling Stone. “So I got ahold of Dave Frank and I said, ‘Do you fancy having a go at this?’ And he programmed the whole song. There’s a killer horn section. At the time, I wasn’t being me. I’ve grown up a bit now and much prefer to play songs that are me. I only play a bit part in that one.”
Sussudio by Phil Collins
- Boom Boom by the Animals
Blues legend John Lee Hooker wrote Boom Boom, a 1962 R&B hit that also cracked the pop charts. “I used to play at this place called the Apex Bar in Detroit,” Hooker recalled in Working Musicians. “There was a young lady there named Luilla. She was a bartender there. I would come in there at night and I’d never be on time. Every night the band would beat me there. Sometimes they’d be on the bandstand playing by the time I got there. I’d always be late and whenever I’d come in she’d point at me and say, ‘Boom boom, you’re late again.’ And she kept saying that. It dawned on me that that was a good name for a song. Then one night she said, ‘Boom boom, I’m gonna shoot you down.’ She gave me a song but she didn’t know it.
“I took that thing and I hummed it all the way home from the bar. At night I went to bed and I was still thinking of it. I got up the next day and put one and one together, two and two together, trying to piece it out – taking things out, putting things in. I finally got it down right, got it together, got it down in my head. Then I went and sang it, and everybody went, ‘Wow!'”
Boom Boom was a staple of British bands in the early ’60s. The best-known version is by the Animals, fronted by Eric Burdon; it reached No. 43 in 1965. The Animals were not the only ones to share in the song’s success. “That barmaid felt pretty good,” said Hooker. “She went around telling everybody ‘I got John Lee to write that song.’ I gave her some bread for it, too, so she was pretty happy.”
Boom Boom by the Animals
Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker
- Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann
In 1963, American vocal group the Exciters released Do Wah Diddy Diddy, a Jeff Barry-Ellie Greenwich composition, with little success. Soon after, British group Manfred Mann began playing the song in concert. Drummer Mike Hugg and guitarist-bassist Tom McGunness told Rock Cellar in 2012 that audiences were less than enthusiastic about the song.
“When we were recording our first album our producer, John Burgess, asked us if there was anything else we had in the repertoire to make up the right number of tracks,” said Hugg.
“He said, ‘Is there anything in the live set that we haven’t recorded yet?'” added McGuinness. “And we said, ‘Well, there’s this song we’ve been doing, but it hasn’t been going down well, we’re thinking of dropping it.’ He listened to it and said, ‘That sounds like a hit to me!'”
Recorded in one take, Do Wah Diddy Diddy reached No. 1 in the States in 1964 and earned Manfred Mann an American tour. “We went over to the U.S. in late 1964 and were playing support to Peter and Gordon on the tour and the first gig in New York, they decided to add another act,” said McGuinness. “The Exciters were on the bill with us! We were vaguely embarrassed. We hadn’t ripped them off, we hadn’t done a cover before theirs even came out. It hadn’t done anything in England and we put our version out. But we were still embarrassed. They were knocked out to find the record had even come out in England. They performed it and then we performed it a bit later in the same evening.”
Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann
Do Wah Diddy Diddy by the Exciters
- Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
In 1965, at the height of the British Invasion, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs was one of the few American bands to dominate the charts. Their Tex-Mex hit, Wooly Bully, spent 18 weeks on the Top 100. Wooly Bully was written on the fly by Domingo “Sam” Samudio during a Memphis recording session. Samudio was frustrated because his producers asked him to record rockabilly songs, which was not the band’s style.
“I said, ‘This ain’t me. This ain’t us,'” Samudio told Voice of Memphis Music. “And they said, ‘Well, do you have anything?’ […] We had an instrumental thing that we played. We didn’t have any words for it so we played it. And he said, ‘That’s good. Do you have any words for it?’ I said, “I’ll make some up.’ He said, ‘You’ll make some up?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And I told the band to kick it off again and I made words as I went along. That’s one of the reasons they called me the Sham. ‘Cause I could do that.”
Samudio knew he had a hit. “We did three takes and all three versions were different. When we got through with the first one they were blown away and I said, ‘Put a label on that and watch it go.'”
Wooly Bully by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs