Snappy, happy monkey

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm Comments Off on Snappy, happy monkey

I can owe a number of trivial audio-related parts of my life to the cassettes my dad would play while driving me to primary school years and years ago. Most importantly, it introduced me to The Goon Show, which probably led into my interest in radio production and absurdist humour. It introduced me to Flanders & Swann, I heard the story of The Hobbit without ever touching the original novel, and I was probably subjected to the theme from The Adventures of Robin Hood more times than any child should be.

It also meant I got to listen to Little Red Monkey by Joy Nichols, Dick Bentley and Jimmy Edwards a bunch of times. For whatever reason, the song freaked me out when I was a kid.
It’s an upbeat, jolly little song about a cheerful red monkey. What’s not to like? The three singers are all trying to make it happy, either by trying to get it into the zoo to hang out with some chimpy chums or by playing it music! Hardly nightmare-inducing stuff. Okay, the strange organ ditty between the lyrics can be a bit odd, but nothing to really unsettle things. No, it’s the ending that’s unsettling.

Dick and Jimmy ask in unison, “little red monkey, won’t you stay to tea?” The monkey chirps giddily, and one of them translates: “He said yes!” That’s totally swell, right? Dick, Jim, Joy and their monkey mate are all going to have a tea party. That’s what adorable snuggle-bum dreams are made of.
Instead it chooses to end on some sort of scare chord. I don’t know what kind of instrument it is, or what kind of sound it’s trying to achieve; I guess it’s trying to find some way of closing off the song instrumentally, but it effectively undermines all of the previous jollity. It unnerved the hell out of me when I was a kid.

What did it imply? Were they going to eat the monkey? Were they– well, it doesn’t really imply anything else. They either eat it or they don’t. If they ended on “little red monkey, could you help me saw this woodblock in half?”, or “little red monkey, would you like to see my house of wax?” then you could imagine some sort of serial killer shenanigans. But “would you like to come to tea?”, in a horror scenario, implies nothing but GONNA EAT YA (which, in turn, implies GONNA KILL YA because you can’t eat something without killing it – at least, not if you’ve got some sorta ethics. It seems impolite to let a pig stroll about with a bite taken out of it).

This song has popped into my mind occasionally for the past few years, and it’s only today I remembered what it was. I bought myself the track on 7Digital, and admittedly the ‘scare chord’ isn’t quite as jarring as I recall. The improved sound quality probably helps – we listened to those cassettes a lot of times, it probably sounds much more horrific when it’s been played off a decaying strip of magnetic tape.

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