‘I didn’t think it was annoying enough’: how Spitting Image made The Chicken Song

Philip Pope, music

I was in parody band the Hee Bee Gee Bees with Angus Deayton and Michael Fenton Stevens. Our first single, Meaningless Songs (In Very High Voices) – written with Richard Curtis – got to No 2 in Australia. We joked that we were big down under. John Lloyd was producing Not the Nine O’Clock News and asked if he could use our songs, but we wanted to keep them for ourselves. Then when John started Spitting Image, he said: “How do you feel about being musical director?”

We did political songs like One Bad Apple about police corruption, Dawn of a New Age about water privatisation and Walk on By about homelessness. We also did pop parodies. We’re Scared of Bob was a parody of We Are the World. We did ZZ Top singing We’ve Got Beards, Bob Dylan protesting about cheese, and Paul McCartney turning everything into a song: “The fish fingers are nearly ready / Dinner’s on the table.” I wrote the music and did most of the impersonations.

Hello, You Must Be Going was a bit cruel on Phil Collins: “I’ve lost my wife / I’ve lost my hair,” but he liked it so much, he had the whole of Genesis turned into Spitting Image puppets for their Land of Confusion video. When we did the Police parody Every Bomb You Make, they said: “We’ve got someone perfect.” I went: “Who sounds more like Sting than me?” They said: “Sting.” So that’s him singing: “Every bomb you make / Every job you take / Every heart you break.”

The Chicken Song was originally called The Holiday Song. The genius is in the lyrics. If Rob Grant and Doug Naylor really did write it in four minutes, then hats off. I don’t think the music took very long. It just had to be annoying. It’s pretty repetitive so I put in lots of key changes, which made it more complicated to record than it sounds.

See also  111+ Happy Mother’s day 2023 Images, Photos, Pics, Posters, HD Wallpapers

Dave Lee Travis refused to play it on Radio 1 because it was keeping Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel and Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer off No 1. John Deacon from Queen said to me: “Don’t knock having a No 1.” I doubt I’ll have another one. I’ll probably have “Known for The Chicken Song” carved on my gravestone.

Doug Naylor, co-writer, lyrics

Rob Grant and I had been brought in as head writers and script editors for the second series of Spitting Image. The press had battered the first series, so we were given carte blanche to change the format. We dropped lots and tried to make it more topical.

Rob and I had written a few songs with Phil Pope. I said: “Let’s do a piss-take of Agadoo by Black Lace, one of those mindless summer hits.” We were big fans of Steve Martin so there’s a lot of influence from A Wild and Crazy Guy, the album he put out in the late 70s.

Rob said: “Hold a chicken in the air?” and I went: “Stick a deckchair up your nose?” We wrote alternate lines and finished it in four minutes. Ian Hislop and his writing partner Nick Newman would come in on Fridays to write topical stuff for that weekend’s show. We went: “We’ve just written a No 1 hit.” They said: “Oh yeah?” We said: “All Phil Pope has to do is write a really annoying piece of music and it’s guaranteed.” When the music came through a couple of weeks later, I was really disappointed. I said to Rob: “I don’t think Phil has made it annoying enough.” But by the time I was driving home, I couldn’t get the bloody music out of my head.

See also  Working with Image Trace in Adobe Illustrator CS6

It got to No 1 and stayed there for three weeks. The puppets performed on Top of the Pops. Rob and I went along as producers, which was a huge thrill. I’m sure the proper musos were pretty pissed off. Billy Ocean complained that the puppets were putting him off by dancing along to his song.

Of course, people say it was throwaway but really The Chicken Song was a post-postmodern parody celebrating the media manipulation of a largely unsuspecting public in contrast to the bitter postmodern cynicism of the Thatcher years. You’d be surprised how many people miss that.