There are few hit pop songs that nearly everyone knows without knowing the proper title. I mean, after all, most songs played on the radio say their title numerous times in the chorus, so it isn’t too difficult to figure out the name. But, chances are you’ve heard the song “Yakety Sax” plenty of times in your life and you still don’t know its name. Or, if you do, you refer to it as the Benny Hill song.
“Yakety Sax” was originally written by Americans James Q. “Spider” Rich and Boots Randolph and was performed by Randolph in 1963. For those of you who haven’t heard the tune before, it’s an instrumental that heavily features saxophones.
Both men were professional musicians who played in a number of different genres, but Randolph later made his mark in Nashville playing with some of Country music’s biggest stars, including Elvis Pressley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The idea for “Yakety Sax” is believed to have come from the sax solo in the popular 1958 doo-wop song “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters. Randolph recorded two versions of the song in 1960 and 1963, with it getting as high as seventy-nine on the Billboard 200, but it was quickly forgotten.
Until Benny Hill came along.
If you’re a baby boomer or Gen Xer who grew up pretty much anywhere on planet Earth, then you’ve probably seen at least a few episodes of the Benny Hill Show. The British sketch comedy show, starring Benny Hill in nearly every skit, ran on television from 1955 to 1989. During its peak in the 1970s, it was broadcast to nearly one hundred countries. In the United States, episodes were often shown late at night on weekends on public television; the premium cable network HBO also showed unedited episodes.
The repeated sexual innuendos and double entendres on the Benny Hill may seem tame by today’s standards, but they were truly risqué in the 1970s, and the Benny Hill show just wouldn’t have been the Benny Hill Show without them.
The Benny Hill Show also wouldn’t have been the Benny Hill Show without “Yakety Sax.” The show began using its own version of the song performed by Ronnie Aldrich in its closing credits in 1969. As the credits would roll and the song would play, a silly accelerated chase sequence would take place, involving Hill and usually several scantily-clad young women. The international success of the show coincided with the addition of “Yakety Sax” in the concluding scenes.
I can say from experience that the closing credits sequence was extremely popular with young boys around the world!
In the decades since the Benny Hill Show has been off the air, “Yakety Sax” (or the “Benny Hill Show Theme” as many now know it) has been replicated along with the accelerated chase sequence. The song and sequence were famously used in the 2006 film V for Vendetta and have also appeared in numerous American animated television shows. There is little doubt that the catchiness of the tune and the slapstick nature of the Benny Hill Show will ensure the undying popularity of “Yakety Sax”/“The Benny Hill Theme.”