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Accent-U-Ate the positive

Gentle Readers, a little assistance, if you please.

Your Humble Blogger has started for himself a little tradition (if you do something twice, it’s a tradition, right?) of making a mix CD as opening-night gifts for the cast and crew. For The Man who Came to Dinner, I did a mix of songs from the 1930s, the era the show was set, although I did mix in some other songs that fit the mood, even if they were recorded later. For Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I made an Early Music mix (explaining that after a fair amount of research, I decided that I just don’t like music from the 1780s). For Pygmalion, my idea is a mix of songs where the singers put on funny accents. Or songs about people with funny accents. Probably supplemented by songs where the singers actually have funny accents, to fill up an hour.

Off the top of my head, there’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, and probably Noel Coward’s “Has Anybody Seen My Ship”, and either Mel Tormé singing “Autumn Leaves” in a Faux French Accent or Trout Fishing in America singing “Proper Cup of Coffee” in Faux French. There’s Bing Crosby and Bob Hope singing “Hoots, Mon” from the Road to Bali.

I could find “Yes, We Have No Bananas”, either the Irving Kaufman hit or the Spike Jones travesty. Louis Prima, of course, does it in Mock Italian rather than Mock Greek, but I could come up with some other Louis Prima Mock Italian, like “Angelina” or “Felicia No Capicia”.

One problem, of course, is that many of the possibilities are racist, or at least smell of racism, to the point where I’d rather not include them. Is Harry Belafonte putting on the Jamaican accent he lost as a child to sing Calypso racist? No, not really. I could put the Banana Boat song on, or even “Matilda”. What about Nat King Cole singing “Calypso Blues”? I mean, somewhere along the line you get to Al Jolson, yes? Not that “Yes, We Have No Bananas” is not racist. It is. But somehow, now that Southern European isn’t a race anymore, I don’t mind it too much. Of course, there’s the anti-immigrant thing, but isn’t that the whole point of funny-accent music? Perhaps I could put that in the liner notes.

Anyway, I’m looking for suggestions. My own taste leans to mid-century stuff (er, the 20th century, you remember), but I’d be happy to have a ton of rock-and-roll, if we can come up with enough. I find that a mix that is mostly in one (broadly defined) style but has one or two songs from a different style doesn’t work very well, but a mix that swings from style to style can work very well indeed. I am aware that the lead singer of Green Day affects an accent, but I don’t know their stuff, and I would have to put on, I don’t know, Ian Dury’s “Billericay Dickie” to cushion it. Does that count as a fake accent? Mr. Dury wasn’t really from Essex, you know.

Anyway, I’m—did I mention this?—looking for suggestions. Criteria: Song must have at least one verse in accented English, preferably fake, ideally outrageously obviously fake. Song must be reasonably pleasant to listen to anyway. Song should ideally avoid outright racism. It would be nice to avoid vicious mean-spirited mockery, although affectionate mockery would be acceptable. Obscenities are a strike against, although I could presumably make a different disc for the children in the cast. Songs from stage musicals are also a strike against, although later recordings by different singers may well be fine. Sock it to me, Gentle Readers.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Well, it's not fake, but dude in Gogol Bordello has a crazy thick Hungarian accent, and their music rocks balls. You could do worse.

Almost anything Dick Van Dyke ever sang, speaking of doing worse, has an affected accent. Oh, and lots of British pop bands (The Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds) sang and/or sing with American accents. Which are faked. Flanders and Swann probably affect outrageous accents on some of their stuff, although I can't think of anything off the top of my head, and I bet you can find a Monty Python track or two with silly accents floating around.

I would say you could pick up the soundtrack from the recent Sweeney Todd movie and throw some Johnny Depp on there, but I actually have no idea what his natural voice sounds like. Is he American, Brit, or something... even more sinister?


"Mother's Lament" by Cream.

It's a little-known fact that Sting was actually born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, so that should give you a number of option to choose from.

Slightly more seriously, there are the songs from Spinal Tap, which I think come across as Americans-doing-British-people-trying-to-sing-like-Americans.

Do you have the soundtrack for "Once More With Feeling" (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode)? James Marsters sings with a British accent, which is not real. Also his song ("Rest in Peace") is really good.

Surely Weird Al's done something along these lines.

Good call on “Mother's Lament”!

There's a whole essay to be written on English rockers singing with American accents, but it's so common I don't think it would be entertaining in the mix. It is a question whether one of the ones where Paul McCartney (f'r'ex) switches to singing in his Liverpudlian voice would fit in...

I actually was considering Gogol Bordello, probably “Supertheory of SuperEverything” although the advantage to “I Miss Carpaty” is that the Hrungarian is named Zoltan Carpaty (Or Karpathy) in later versions. Still, I'd rather fill the mix with phony accents, if I can get an hours' worth, rather than foreigners singing in English.


Fiddler, If I Were a Rich Man

monster mash
one night in bangkok ("the creme de la creme of the chess world in a show with everything but yul... brynner")
queen: lazing on a sunday afternoon

Because YHB is picky, I'll reiterate that I'm trying to avoid stage musicals if possible.

Freddie Mercury is an interesting case. I don't know what his “natural” accent is. I know he grew up in South Asia, but I don't think I've ever heard an interview with him... I might choose “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, because he is clearly putting on an Elvis voice.


Freddie Mercury is an interesting case. I don't know what his “natural” accent is.

I believe it was rather British patrician, surprisingly.

Another idea: Surely there must be something you can crib from the Goon Show.

In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with this progenitor of modern English comedy, the Goon Show was a radio program that ran in the 1950s starring Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, and Spike Milligan. Not sure if there is any singing, but you should be able to liberally sprinkle bits of Eccles and the others throughout the tape, much as modern radio stations play 5 second clips of Warner Brothers characters between songs.

You can find basic info at http://www.archive.org/details/Goon_Show, but they are all over the net and you might find some downloadable clips.

Rosemary Clooney, "Mambo Italiano" (on the "Big Night" soundtrack). Special bonus nested accents: American mocktalian spanglish!

Doing in-between clips is an interesting idea; I will have to think about that. I suspect that the Goons did some singing, or rather I know they did some singing because I have seen them sing Down among the Zed Men from the movie of the same name (“Down, down, down, down/down among the Zed Men let them lie”). I may have to look into that.

Good thinking on “Mambo Italiano”! Definitely goes on the list.


I am startled that nobody's mentioned "That's Amore," but perhaps only because I haven't noticed that someone has mentioned it (possibly OP, the Order of Precedence... I mean Original Poster - the rap works as well, either way, which is to say: poorly). I think my only Known Recorded Version of the song may be from a non-canon character Looney Tunes cartoon involving a dog, but it's entirely likely A) that I've heard some other version some other time, B) that it was in fact a canon character, or C) that I'm making the Looney Tunes connection up. However, I'm pretty convinced that I've heard that song done with a goofy fake accent.


Speaking of rap (even tangentially), the Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice come to mind. Or is that a Brit Doing American kind of thing?


Hm, rap accents. Interesting. Have to think about it. Although I don't know that I want to think about it much. Hmmmmmm.

As for "That's Amore", it certainly qualifies, but I might decide to have only, say, two mock-italian fifties dance songs, with Louis Prima and Rosemary Clooney taking precedence over Dino. Or not. I'll put it on my list. Thinking about it, what an odd thing: a craze for dance music of no particular italian sound, except for a vocalist putting on an accent. Here's an odder thing: Cab Calloway singing "Abi Gezindt"!


Ooh, ooh, Flanders and Swann! "Paris", from the Bestiary. I'm not quite sure this meets your verse-in-accented-English criterion, because it's Englishmen singing about France. ("France, Europe.") But one of them's a brilliant polyglot, and the other's the brilliant Michael Flanders:

The boulevards were busy,
The champagne sweet and fizzy
And we felt safe
Inside that little cafe
Along the Champs Elizzy...

--- melissa, catching up a little at last

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