The Smothers Brothers, Live At The Purple Onion, Mercury SR-60611, 1961
The Smothers Brothers began their long fruitful career in 1958 at San Francisco’s The Purple Onion. The same small beatnik coffeehouse launched the careers of The Kingston Trio and Phyllis Diller, and this record is both of it’s time and ahead of it’s time for where The Brothers took musical comedy in the 60s. They sing some of the the same folk songs as The Kingston Trio, but there’s a bite to them that is missing from the trio’s #1 albums for Capitol.
But this really isn’t an update on the nature of the record, I’m writing today to show the lengths record companies went to to sell two different kinds of records. Record sleeves of the classic vinyl era were made of cardboard that was then covered with what was called a cover slick. It was more economical to produce a color front slick with a black and white rear cover slick. But, because albums were released in both mono and stereo formats, front cover slicks had to differentiate between the two.
The easiest thing to do was design an elongated front cover slick, with this record being a prime example. The top edge would scream that this was a stereo record, suitable for those who had the money to invest in a true stereo sound system and pay 10% more to buy stereo records. The bottom part of the front slick would be reserved for the more economical mono record purchaser. The sort of Chevy Biscayne driving record buyer who’s home player was “affordable” or only had one speaker. The record company could then fold either appropriate edge onto the back of the cardboard sleeve and cover the non applicable part with the back cover slick. This Mercury jacket shows how easy it was to do. Plus, I get to choose between stereo or mono when I need to hear The Smothers Cover of Tom Dooley.
Cost: $2, $270 Remaining
Dr. Murray Banks, What You Can Learn From The Kinsey Report, Audio Masterworks LPA-1210, 1956
The first thing I learned from this record is that Dr. Murray Banks missed his calling. Instead of being a Clinical Psychologist, a professor, and an in demand public speaker, he should haver been a stand-up comedian. At least he tries really hard to be one on this, his first of many self-help records he released from the 50s to the 70s. The Queens accent only adds to the charms of the lecture. When he tells stories of people who were interviewed by Kinsey, it’s like getting sex advice from Archie Bunker.
I suppose the comedy approach is what allows Banks to explain the material without coming off as creepy or perverse in the Eisenhower years. He has to explain some things that are probably not as taboo as they once were, and the record sounds even more dated when he delves into the “proper roles for genders”. Apparently Mrs. Dr. Murray Banks enjoys being home with the children while Dr. Murray Banks travels the country talking about sex to college co-eds.
What makes this record a must for a cocktail party though are the stories. One man who reveals his interest in a particular horse got irate when the interviewer asked if it was a male horse or a female horse. The man insisted that the horse was female and didn’t want anyone to think he was a queer. Speaking of queer, Audio Fidelity, the highly technical company that helped pioneer stereo records, released this record on the Audio Masterpiece label. I suppose it would have been difficult for Dr. Murray Banks to land a major label deal and Audio Fidelity came to the rescue. At least they didn’t go all out on describing the technical aspects of recording this lecture. That it’s in mono is just fine, lest we hear a horse screech from one channel to another.
Cost: $2, $285 Remaining
Jimmie Walker, Dyn-O-Mite, Buddah Records BDS-5635, 1975
This is one of the more noble attempts at fame for an album produced from the fame of a hit TV show. Good Times was a top 10 show spun off from a top 10 show (Maude) that was also spun off from the #1 show All In The Family. It’s probably always the hope of a family sitcom producer to have the eldest son on the show become a teen idol, and while that wasn’t really the case here, there’s no doubt that “JJ” made the show a hit.
By trade, Walker got his start in stand up. So when it came time make a sudden fame based album, recording a comedy routine seemed like a better choice than making a subpar funk album. Go with your strengths, right?
Except that comedy was going through a big change in the 70s. Censorship battles were largely over and the new freedom allowed Richard Pryor and George Carlin to go where no comic had gone before. Walker tries here, but the material just doesn’t work. At least if it did work in 1975, it doesn’t work now. Turning a TV catchphrase into a stand up set would be hard enough, but this performance is not what I would call dynamite.
Cost: $2, $298 Remaining
Mel Blanc, Tweetie Pie, Capitol J-3261, 1963
You could say that Alan W. Livingston made Capitol Records. He was hired by the new company in the 1940s to create a line of children’s records. He created the character Bozo The Clown and wrote the 1951 novelty hit I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat for Tweetie Pie. later singed Frank Sinatra to the label. On becoming president of the label, he oversaw design of the famous Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. Despite how bushy was, he still dabbled in producing from time to time, and this album was one of his last efforts.
It was clearly Livingston’s strength to work with Mel Blanc, the famous Looney Tunes voice actor. I don’t know if the four stories on the album are new or not, but it’s classic Mel Blanc. For a children’s record, this one plays really quite well. But perhaps Alan Livingston shouldn’t have produced this album after all. He should have been reading his industry’s trade magazines instead.
I found a Billboard Magazine review of this album online. They sometimes come up by googling a record’s catalogue number, in this case Capitol J-3261. From the August 31, 1963 issue of Billboard, they wrote a special note of praise for Tweetie Pie in a review on page 75. But on page 37, in the International News section, I read that a man named Brian Epstein is planning a November trip to New York to find support for the three Liverpool groups he manages. One of these, The Beatles, is apparently selling an unimaginable number of record sales in the UK. Ireland reported that most EPs only sold a few thousand copies a year, but the new Beatles one sold 7,000 in one week. On the Hot 100 Chart, Del Shannon “bubbles under” at #108 with a cover version of The Beatles British #1 From Me To You. The man who passed on releasing the original version in the US on Capitol Records was Alan W. Livingston.
Cost: $2, $349 Remaining
Soundtrack, Laugh In ’69, Reprise RS-6335, 1969
This is an even easier soundtrack to produce than yesterday’s. It sounds like they just took pre-recorded bits from the show and strung them together into an album. The comedy bits from the sketch show could be played in any order from any episode. All they had to do was to take the least visual puns they had and segue them together.
The back cover pretty much gives the schtick of the show away. For some reason, the corniest puns of all time ended up making Laugh In the #1 TV show on the air when this record came out. I’m sure the jokes didn’t age well, TV writing got much better in the 70s as boundaries got expanded by people like Archie Bunker, but Laugh In certainly pushed the visual boundaries of the era. I don’t think people realized how corny it was, they were too busy looking at Goldie Hawn in a bikini doing the frug with “PEACE” written on her mid section.
So what if I don’t listen to this again. This record really is from a different era, and it was fairly priced at $2. Still, I’m glad I found it, even if I have to explain who Spiro Agnew was to anyone under 40 years old who listens to this with me.
Cost: $2, $351 Remaining
Original TV Soundtrack, Dennis The Menace, Colpix CP-204, 1960
This is the easiest kind of record to make. In attempt to cash in on the temporary success of their comic strip based sit-com, the producers of Dennis The Menace dusted off two old scripts from the show and edited them down into to two 12 minute episodes, one for each side of an album. The actors came in to read though it, record it, and voila! A soundtrack is born.
I have vague memories of this show being shown in re-runs. It was a predictable, light hearted comedy like Leave It To Beaver. Dennis bothered his neighbor Mr. Wilson in every episode, but it all worked out well in the end. At no point was Dennis arrested, and he didn’t bring and grandbabies home, but flower beds were overwatered occasionally. It’s really hard to imagine a show like this being produced today.
I don’t really know if this is a collectable record or not. Generally when something is collectable, it’s because there’s excessive demand for something people remember fondly, and I doubt very many people today even know there was a show called Dennis The Menace, let alone search out an obscure soundtrack album from it. I only really bought it because it was at a half price sale, and because I’ve never seen one before. I also like the graphics and weirdness of it. I listened to it once, and that will good enough for me for years to come.
Cost: $4, $353 Remaining
Soundtrack, All In The Family, Atlantic SD-7210, 1971
All In The Family was so controversial that the plot bounced around from network to network until CBS took a chance on it as a January 1971 replacement. Two weeks later, it was the #1 show in America and held that position until 1976. As befitting a huge TV hit, Atlantic Records won a bidding war to release a “soundtrack” album.
It’s really nothing more than excerpts from episodes from the brief first season of the show. The bits don’t really translate into an audio only format because it wasn’t just one of the best written shows of all time, but it was also one of the best acted shows. But it’s a nice, interesting souvenir. Plus it comes with an extended version of the famous theme song, Those Were The Days. On its own as a single, the 1:27 song hit #30 on the Adult Contemporary chart, but the album didn’t chart.
Still, the show was such a cultural force that Atlantic tried again with a second album. That one is really hard to find, but this record really isn’t. This still shrink-wrapped but cutout copy is nearly perfect and it set me back $2. So there’s really no need to jump on the first one you see, assuming of course, that you even want one of these records.
Cost: $2, $424 Remaining
Johnny Carson, Here’s Johnny!, Casablanca SPNB-1296, 1974
Casablanca was one of the biggest labels of the 70s, but in 1974, it was just starting out. Without much of an artist roster, they looked for other ways of selling records. Releasing a greatest hits record on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson was one of their earliest releases. Even in 1974, Carson was mining his past to increase his income.
As schlocky as it seems to have a sound recording of a TV that was taped before a studio audience might seem, there are some pretty decent moments on here. Unfortunately, much like the way the show ended up, the Carson bits go on too long and take up too much of the space on the album. Which isn’t helped by the lengthy crowd responses, some of which I suspect were added in way after the fact. No one wants to hear the first 5 minutes of the first show when three minutes of it Johnny Carson being introduced and cheering while he gets ready to begin his monologue.
There’s a really unnecessary poster included, but the real draw are some of the music and comedy bits. Johnny always gave a great introduction, and some of these are just incredible. Lenny Bruce and Bette Midler (“she had an unusual start singing in a Turkish Bath in New York”…which is one way to put it). I wouldn’t go our of my way to find this record, but it was a decent listen.
Cost: $2, $512 Remaining
David Frye, Richard Nixon Superstar, Buddah BDS-5097, 1971
What John F. Kennedy was to Vaughn Meader, Richard Nixon was to David Frye. As a public servant for 25 years before winning the presidency, Nixon was a very distinct personality, complete with mannerisms and policies that cried out to be made fun of.
But like the Lyndon Johnson record from last night, this record just doesn’t play well today. President Nixon gets put through the ringer in a number of zany ways, but it’s just not that funny. The impersonations are better than the Johnson ones, but that’s about it.
This is one of the newest of the first generation Buddah Records labels that I’ve seen. By 1972, the company turned to a maroon and brown label familiar to anyone who owns a Gladys Knight & The Pips record. This one is a decent collectable, but like the Nixon presidency, something most people could live without.
Cost: $2, $675 Remaining
Gerard W. Purcell Associates, LBJ In The Catskills, Warner Brothers W-1662, 1966
Vaughn Meader sold millions of records doing an impersonation of President Kennedy. The Beverly Hillbillies, about a rural family striking it rich and moving into exclusive society, was the number one show on TV. So with the sudden presidency of the very Texan Lyndon Johnson, it didn’t take long for comedy producers to try their luck at “going there” with poking fun at the new First Family.
Rather than Beverly Hills, the Johnson Family gets sent to the upstate New York resort area in the Catskill Mountains at the height of the Borscht Belt era. Picture the movie “Dirty Dancing”, only not retro. For an obvious and easy set up, the material is just so weak. The impressions aren’t that great and the comedy is full of stereotypes that don’t play well now. It’s hard to imagine that this passed for comedy 50 years ago.
Maybe not very funny Presidents in not very funny times don’t make great comedy records.
Cost $2, $677 Remaining