I think that everyone would have heard the tune Yakety Sax. It was composed in 1963 by James Q. Rich and Boots Randolph and played on the saxophone by Randolph. For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing this very catchy tune that is guaranteed to lighten anyone’s mood, here it is.
It was inspired b the 1958 song Yakety Yak by The Coasters which has a saxophone solo in the middle.
There is something about the uptempo tune and the percussion accompaniment that has a zany quality to it. The tune got a new lease of life when slapstick comedian Benny Hill used to end his sketch comedy TV show with a speeded up chase of him being pursued by others, set to the music over the closing credits, so that it became known as the Benny Hill theme. Ever since, it has been the go-to choice for comedic chases or whenever someone wants to make a comedic point.
We saw it recently when people set it to the clip of senator Josh Hawley on January 6th running to escape the mob that he had saluted just a short while earlier.
Josh Hawley running away to a variety of soundtracks.
Pt. 2: Benny Hill Theme pic.twitter.com/3cl6otJxiJ
— Mallory Nees (@The_Mal_Gallery) July 22, 2022
Steve Bray is apparently a well-known political activist in the UK and anti-Brexit campaigner. When Boris Johnson announced that he was resigning, actor Hugh Grant suggested to Bray that he bring along his boom box to the announcement and play Yakety Sax while Johnson was speaking, which he did. Johnson gave his resignation speech outside the door of 10 Downing Street and this is close to public streets so we had the spectacle of Johnson’s speech being accompanied to the tune of Yakety Sax. It was kind of appropriate really, since Johnson used the bumbling persona as a way to deflect attention from his many failures, so his exit evoking images of Benny Hill running away from crowds was fitting. It gave the whole event a celebratory air, hardly the solemn moment that Johnson may have envisaged.
It also resulted in news announcers having to keep a straight face while reporting on Johnson’s speech with Yakety Sax playing in the background.
“THE BENNY HILL THEME TUNE” IS BEING BLASTED OUT ON SKY NEWS. pic.twitter.com/N06wBwcoZl
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) July 7, 2022
It is another stunt by Steve Bray (who played by "Bye Bye Boris" on GMB just yesterday.)
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) July 7, 2022
It must be exhausting to play this tune. Playing a saxophone requires considerable lung effort and this tune is so fast-paced that it is a tribute to Randolph’s skills.
Melanie Macfarland writes about why the tune is so funny and has become strongly associated with political failure.
July is bookended by Boris Johnson’s resignation from his position of Britain’s prime minister at its start, with the Jan. 6 committee hearing in which footage of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., cowardly fleeing insurrectionists he courted outside the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, made its debut serving as its closer.
Neither of these events is naturally comedic . . . until you add a soundtrack. And this is where that so-called “special relationship” comes into play, since the device most popularly used to satirize and shamed each man is the same: Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax.”
All of which is to say, Americans and Brits have long understood “Yakety Sax” to be the universal theme of lunacy and fecklessness, regardless of whether a person has seen “Benny Hill” or even knows who he was. And that leads us to wonder what it is about this tune that lends it the ability to inject hilarity, appropriate or otherwise, into everything from the benign to the enraging, including the most abhorrently violent movie scenes imaginable.
“Yakety Sax” has been adapted by guitarists – Chet Atkins recorded a version he dubbed “Yakety Axe” – but there’s a significant difference between shredding a stringed instrument with one’s figures and employing that same level of dexterity and acuity to a woodwind. Even for the most skilled professional saxophone players, “Yakety Sax” is highly challenging to perform. Randolph’s singular athleticism in performing the tune regularly for decades is an astonishing feat of precise breath work and fast finger placement.
Speaking with the Associated Press in 1990, Randolph embraced “Yakety Sax” as his trademark. “I’ll hang my hat on it,” he said. “It’s kept me alive.”
One wonders whether Randolph would be tickled to know that piece of his musical legacy maintains the uncanny ability to blunt the scary or unpalatable, thanks to a melody that disguises its difficulty in absolute absurdity.
Maybe in the US it should replace ‘Hail to the Chief’, the pompous tune that is played when the president makes an official appearance.