Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Woke up this afternoon...

No - this is not the second part of my 'blues' strand, but a quote from one of my favourite musical humorists, Martin Mull. His 'Middle Class Blues', from the 1973 album 'Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture Live in Your Living Room' contains the following verse:

Woke up this afternoon and both my cars were gone
Said I woke up this afternoon and both my cars were gone
Felt so low down deep inside, I threw my drink across the lawn.
This is accompanied on a ukulele played bottleneck style, using a baby's feed bottle as a slide. It contains all the elements of 'funny' music that I love. The playing is good in its own right, the genre is satirised from the inside, that is, by someone who obviously completely understands the music and -where applicable -the lyrics are extremely sharp. As far as I know Mr Mull hasn't recorded any new material since the early eighties, having concentrated mainly on painting and on his acting career. Only two of his albums are still available - the above mentioned 'Fabulous Furniture' and 'I'm Everyone I've Ever Loved', which spoofs every popular music genre from folk to the Philadelphia Sound, with contributions from Rob Reiner and Tom Waits and some of the best musicians around. Unfortunately all I could find in the way of clips is his folk spoof, 'Men' which is good, but doesn't really do him justice musically. The two albums available are well worth tracking down and can be found on a number of US web-based retail outlets.
I was first introduced to musical humour through the recordings of Michael Flanders and Donald Swan (see 'Wonderful round, black, shiny things'). I loved the cleverness of the lyrics and the way they fitted so naturally and seamlessly with the music. Most people probably associate Flanders and Swan with 'The Hippopotamus Song (Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud)', if they know of them at all, but their work could also embrace more adult topics, witness 'Have Some Madeira M'dear'. I used to love this song and could sing all the words, but I have to admit that, at the age of ten or thereabouts, I wasn't entirely aware of the significance of all they were singing about. Well, these were more innocent times...
It was a few years after this that I first heard Tom Lehrer on my friend Paul's father's reel to reel tape recorder. I must have been about fourteen when 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' first made me wet myself with laughter. I'm happy to report that there is a whole host of Lehrer performances available on the web which clearly illustrates that his facility to combine music and words with satirical intent (which easily stands comparison to Gilbert and Sullivan) still resonates today. I'm not quite so sure about 'The Merry Minuet', performed by the Kingston Trio, which I heard from the same source and was pretty taken with at the time. That same tape recorder also introduced me to Victor Borge, whose wonderful routines I happily plagiarised a few years later for The Jugular Vein (see Mutt and Jeff). His superb explanation of a Mozart Opera confirmed all the prejudices I was already developing about that particular branch of music (and I'll undoubtedly return to this subject), although in his case I think there was probably slightly more affection for that art form than I have.
Next up was probably an EP of The Firehouse Five plus Two, which was one of Muff's purchases. The band was the spare time project for a bunch of Disney animators who played humour-laden dixieland Jazz. This clip of 'Tiger Rag' from 1951 or thereabouts doesn't demonstrate this terribly well but this was definitely another link in the chain of influences that would lead to founding of the J.V. A little later, The Temperance Seven (see 'Pop and me') arrived upon the scene, with their elegant recreations of Twenties dance music, which were played 'straight' but presented in a highly amusing fashion. Despite the fact that you couldn't actually see them whilst listening to their records, they somehow managed to communicate the drollery of the live performances. Certainly the sleeve notes of their LP's contributed to this, as did all of their publicity material. I went to see them play many times. It was their habit to arrive at the venue by hearse and to ceremoniously carry a trombone case onto the stage in the 'coffin' position. As they all tended to dress like Victorian undertakers and never smiled, the juxtaposition of personal solemnity with the jauntiness of the music was their stock-in-trade and I loved it. They were, inevitably, another source of influence on the soon-to-be Jug Band. This clip of 'Everybody Loves My Baby' gives a good flavour of their stage presence.
The 'Temps' achieved the height of their fame during that brief, weird chapter in British Pop History, The Trad Boom which , as I have observed before, is worth a posting in its own right. It only lasted a couple of years but led straight into the start the 'Beat Boom' which in turn ultimately led to the birth of Rock. There's a strange intermingling of strands in the early sixties. Us teenagers were into a variety of different types of music, thrashing around in the worlds of Pop, Rock and Roll, Folk music, 'Trad', and Modern Jazz and looking for something new...and that too, is a theme to be developed. But tomorrow I'll conclude this segment about humour in music.