Steve Martin Wrote the Most Hilarious Novelty Song of the Year

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Steve Martin Wrote the Most Hilarious Novelty Song of the Year

Stand-up comic, actor, playwright, composer, essayist, Oscar host, screenwriter, librettist, novelist, banjo enthusiast: Steve Martin is a man of many talents. And, of course, he’s also been a pop star. Well, perhaps that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but in 1978 he landed in the Top 40 with “King Tut,” which poked fun at the popular Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit that was then traveling across the country — or, more specifically, poked fun at the crass commercialization of ancient history. (One of the song’s key lyrics is Martin, with faux-seriousness, declaring, “He gave his life for tourism.”) 

Written by Martin, “King Tut” was both catchy and funny, a winning combination in any novelty song. In 2022, Martin did it again.

In recent years, the 77-year-old hasn’t done a ton of film or television work, preferring to go out on the road with his old friend Martin Short. But they’ve both received plenty of acclaim for the Hulu mystery series Only Murders in the Building, which Martin co-created. On the Manhattan-set show, Martin plays Charles-Haden Savage, a former TV star who’s pals with one of his condo neighbors, Oliver Putnam (Short), a flailing theater director. When the two older men aren’t busy (alongside Selena Gomez’s aspiring artist Mabel Mora) solving murders, they’re reminiscing about their show-business careers. Charles’ has been especially varied, and in Season Two it’s revealed that back when his bygone drama series Brazzos used to be huge, he’d recorded a song called “Angel in Flip-Flops,” which spent a little time at the lower rungs of the charts in Germany. So why does Charles still reap six-digit residuals yearly from the forgotten tune? Because it’s been a huge hit with hip-hop artists, including Del the Funky Homosapien, Missy Elliott and Post Malone, who have all sampled “Angel in Flip-Flops.”

Apparently the possibility of a Charles-Haden Savage novelty song came together in the Only Murders writers’ room, where it was decided that Charles would have tried to parlay his Brazzos fame into a music career. Series co-creator John Hoffman recalled in a statement, “When we shared this idea with Steve Martin — well, I think it was a day (if even?) before Steve had a title and a tune making its way through his genius mind and we were more than off and running. Steve dove in with (series writer) Kirker Butler to craft a late 20th century classic and then, incredibly, along came Paul Shaffer to arrange that classic that is now our ‘Angel in Flip-Flops.’”

What’s especially great about “Angel in Flip-Flops” is that it’s exactly the kind of hackneyed wannabe hit that a TV actor would come up with. Not unlike Baywatch-era David Hasselhoff, or Bruce Willis at the height of Moonlighting, Charles is chasing rock-star success, and “Angel in Flip-Flops” brilliantly gloms onto the beach-combing, laidback trop-rock that you could imagine Jimmy Buffett doling out. It’s a very clever sendup of a very specific kind of bad music, except it’s also kind of an amazing earworm. I can see why all those rappers sampled “pitta putta” — which is the sound the singer’s beloved makes when she walks while wearing flip-flops — because it really does get lodged in your brain.

As with “King Tut,” “Angel in Flip-Flops” plays the joke straight, which is what makes it funnier. (You could totally imagine the song blasting out of a Margaritaville unironically.) And knowingly banal lyrics like “Walking all alone with my past in front of me” just add to the track’s overall excellence. That Martin and the creative team didn’t just settle for the brief snippet of music that appears in Only Murders but, instead, wrote a whole great/dumb song was a gift to us all. 

“Angel in Flip-Flops” was released over the summer, when its sunny spirit was perfectly timed for the warm-weather months. But even now in the dead of winter, I find I’m still playing this banger all the time. Those cheesy, surf-y vibes will get me through. “Angel in Flip-Flops” only got to No. 83 in Germany in the world of Only Murders, But it’s No. 1 in my heart. 

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