From garage rock to soul to hip hop with our round friend.
The nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” was one of the most startling literary works to inspire pop music in the second half of the 20and century. Garage punk, top 40 rap, soul, teenbeat and bubblegum all paid homage to the egg-shaped fairy tale legend. Unlike most protagonists, Humpty Dumpty is celebrated because he is destroyed. Its destruction represents a magnificent spectacle, a moral victory that signals the triumph of a society desperately yearning to escape the tyranny of cold calculation and perfectionism.
The Epics (1967): Fuzzy power chords and sharp arrangements electrify this hellish track, Love Records’ only release from Walnut Creek, CA’s Epics. Led by singer/songwriter Bobby Winkelman (known for his later work with pre-Journey psychic heads Frumious Bindersnatch and The Steve Miller Band), this Northern California crew emerged from the suburbs of San Francisco to conquer the teenage scene. local with a painful sound power. Both sides of their single rank among the best West Coast punk tracks. The raging intensity of the record is primarily inspired by the cycle of events that led to Humpty Dumpty’s inevitable downfall. Winkelman makes this especially clear during the slow end of the cut, one of 1960s punk’s most explosive conclusions.
Several other teenage rockers recorded their own manic “Humpy Dumpty” anthems during the British music invasion. The best of them include The Beagles, a Hanna-Barbera-inspired team (whose “Humpty” also features explosive fuzz guitar, as well as frenetic Harold McNair-style flute lines), “Humpty Dumpty Was Making Out” by Southeast unknowns from beach party The Malibus, Texas band The Visions’ fairy tale tribute and Pittsburgh legends The Fenways’ bubblegum garage oddity; their “Humpty” also got a great rendition from fellow Pittsburghers The Vogues (of “Five O’Clock World” fame).
Joan Berry (1964):
This 60s soul girl group record is a charming love song about Humpty. Obscuro Joan Berry recontextualizes the character’s legendary plunge as a symbol of eternal devotion. The lyrics imply that a shambolic personality could spark the ideal romance, a relationship that could never be boring. With Humpty Dumpty’s passionate embrace, there would never have been a big fight to “spice up” the romance.
Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” (1990): There’s no direct connection between Humpty Dumpty and the lyrics of this mega-rap hit. Either way, its title alone makes it the most famous track to give the character even a vague reference. In many ways, the topsy-turvy spirit of the original fairy tale lives on in the absurd lyrics and mythology created by Digital Underground and their frontman Shock G, the muted alter ego of DU’s outrageous comic book hero Humpty Hmm. G.’s genius as a performance artist was best embodied in an innovative deconstruction of the traditional image of the rapper. At a time when politically charged/positive hip-hop and menacing gangsta rap ruled the airwaves, Humpty provided much-needed respite from the hyper-serious posture of his contemporaries. Nothing is more antithetical to dogmatism and criminal bragging than Humpty Hump’s fried nose, his Groucho glasses, his big furry hat and his immortal proclamation “Once I was ‘busy’ in a bathroom Burger King!”