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Friday, December 12, 2003

It's all my father's fault 

If he hadn't innocently asked me to locate Stan Kenton's rendition of Ride of the Valkyries, I would never have taken a trip down kitsch lane to peruse through one of my all-time favorite places.

I must confess: I have a fondness for incredibly bizarre musical tracks. I think this may have begun when I was very small, sitting in the car with my older brother in the backseat as our parents drove from Ottawa to Florida on two occasions. Both times we kids were entertained by the sounds of Mickey Mouse and his brethren singing C&W tracks. As we grew up, comedy records became a big staple in our house (and car.) I heard Stan Freberg's version of Heartbreak Hotel long before I heard Elvis's original. I memorized the lyrics to Allan Sherman's My Zelda ("Members of Hadassah!") and was confused when Harry Belafonte's song didn't match up. The parody versions were just so much more fun. Then there were the unintentionally funny stuff. My eighth grade year wasn't terribly eventful, but the most fun I ever had was in comparing and contrasting two versions of The Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's Die Zauberflote. The first was sung by dependable singer (though not one of my faves) Cheryl Studer. The second, less successfully attempted, was by Florence Foster-Jenkins. Luckily, my classmates, though not opera fans in the slightest, appreciated the joke once they finally got it.

Naturally, as I became addicted to the web, I discovered all sorts of weird gems. There's the usual stuff, like William Shatner's The Transformed Man. There's the kind of things that are on heavy rotation on the Dr. Demento Show. But then there's the really, really offbeat stuff. A friend of mine, knowing my penchant for such oddities, sent me a mix CD of all sorts of lovely tracks. My favorite is still Dweezil & Ahmet Zappa's cover of ...Baby, One More Time. What was once an innocently naughty song suddenly becomes an oily, sleazy number that best embodies the kind of scuzzy bars found on the "wrong side of town" (which will be apparent to anyone who ever went to high school in Ottawa. It's otherwise known as Hull.)

Which brings me to Frank's Vinyl Museum. I can't even remember when and how I first came across it, but once I did, I went back to the well again and again and again. There hasn't been any new additions in a little while, but who cares, when you can listen to selections from the Ethel Merman Disco Album, William Shatner's OTHER album, or Polka Disco (or is it Disco Polka)? Classic, classic stuff. No doubt you'll all spend hours and hours perusing the contents, but allow me to highlight the, uh, "gems":

5. "Silver Bells" from DISCO NOEL. This is actually incredibly catchy and horribly fun. Unfortunately, there are a number of other Disco christmas albums out there, but perhaps it's better that they stay undiscovered....for now.

4. "Fonzie, Fonzie, He's Our Man." Just another example of why the mid-70s sucked. It also helps that the album was done on the serious cheap and that "Fonzie" doesn't sound anything remotely like Henry Winkler.

3. "You're So Vain" from THE ODD COUPLE SINGS. Especially amusing in light of the fact that someone brought up the show in a completely different context the other night. Suffice it to say that this particular track is so beyond trippy, and especially demonstrates two things: one, why the word "gavotte" really doesn't work in a rock song, and two, that letting Jack Klugman sing anything at all was a very, very bad idea.

2. "Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from Bill Cosby's HOORAY FOR THE SALVATION ARMY BAND. I want this album so bad for so many reasons, but this track highlights the biggest reason of all: it's an absolute certainty in my mind that Cosby was channelling Shel Silverstein's vocal talents. The resemblance is uncanny. FWIW, Shel remarked in an interview with the Chicago Tribune back in 1973 that he'd turned down the opportunity to write some liner notes for Cosby's first album, which in all likelihood was this very one. Still, I'd be willing to venture a guess that Shel enjoyed the album immensely at the time.

1. As it never fails to crack me up every single time I listen to it, top honors go to the theme song of MUHAMMAD ALI VS. TOOTH DECAY. For one thing, it's totally incomprehensible. "Who put the crack in the Liberty Bell....Ali!" And on it goes. Amazing shit, really. Howard Cosell calling the fight between Ali and Tooth Decay....Frank Sinatra as the evil man selling ice cream to the kiddies....the incredibly psychedelic back cover....no doubt about it, I want this album now. Someone get it for me pronto. And somehow, I suspect it didn't even garner a mention in the $3000 tome that is GOAT.....

Have a great weekend, and happy listening.

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