Question: We are going bonkers trying to get to the bottom of this. When Eddie Murphy was on Saturday Night Live, he did a sketch called "Buckwheat Sings" in which he sang several songs as Buckwheat (i.e., virtually incomprehensible). We recognized most of the songs ("Three Times a Lady," "Bette Davis Eyes"), but there is one that we just can't figure out "Oona Panoona Bonka." This has caused a major disagreement: My friend says that it is a song that Murphy made up, and I say that it is a real song from the '50s, but I just can't put my finger on it. Can you enlighten us? We have resorted to the Bet: The prize is a tasty adult beverage at our favorite watering hole. Please, wise Televisionary, quench my thirst for knowledge so that I may be rewarded with a tasty beverage.
Answer: All right, everybody. At the risk of turning poor Mike into the kid who was singled out by the teacher for his perfect essay and then jumped and given a wedgie at recess, allow me to point out what he did right: I'm constantly nagging those making wagers over questions to specify what's at stake, and Mike came through for me. Be like Mike.
Now, the really good news, Mike, is that your buddy's buying. The song in question is "Una Paloma Blanca," a song that's been covered by Tom Jones and various other artists. However, around the time Murphy performed that skit, the song was more widely known than ever due to a then-relatively obscure yodeler and folk singer named Slim Whitman, who was hawking a greatest-hits album via a ubiquitous TV commercial.
A company called Suffolk Marketing put together the ad and started selling the album in 1979. It immediately became a running joke among the kids in my school since the ad pushed Whitman as a near-legend and we'd never heard of him. (Hey, we were sheltered suburban kids there was a lot we hadn't heard of.) We deemed it awful and lame, yet fascinating, and any one of us could sing snatches of that song on command.
The truth was, Whitman was no Johnny-come-lately. Having lost two fingers at a meatpacking plant before learning to play the guitar (try that and see how easy it is!) in the Navy, Whitman was championed by future Elvis manager Colonel Tom Parker in the late '40s and went on to score hit singles in the '50s with songs like "Indian Love Call," "Singing Hills," "Love Song of the Waterfall" and the theme song to the movie Rose Marie. He enjoyed a flourishing career in the U.K. but only a so-so one in the States during the '60s, and he gave up recording in 1974. Then came the ad we all goofed on so.
Slim had the last laugh. All My Best went on to sell a whopping four million copies and became the best-selling record sold on the tube.