Monday, November 06, 2006

Remembering STAN FREBERG who gave us a hodgepodge of laughs

Stan Freberg was a child of radio and a huge fan of folks like Fred Allen, Jack Benny and Henry Morgan. Born in Los Angeles and reared in Glendale, he put on his own equivalent of live radio shows in high school, then headed over the hills to Hollywood via bus to get on the real thing. His first jobs (at age eighteen) involved supplying voices for Warner Brothers cartoons, usually in support of Mel Blanc and always without credit. Soon though, Freberg was being heard on radio shows and on early television. He and a brilliant actor named Daws Butler worked puppets and supplied the vocals on Bob Clampett's Time for Beany, the first kids' show to attract an adult audience.

In 1950, he launched a long association with Capitol Records, recording silly and satirical material. The sales and critical reaction stunned the Capitol execs so they let him keep on doing pretty much anything he wanted, even when it meant attacking their own industry. His recordings all had two outstanding qualities. One is that they were funny. The other is that they were produced with high production values...first-rate music (usually supplied by arranger-conductor Billy May) and a fine supporting cast that included Butler, June Foray and Peter Leeds, along with the hundreds of voices that came out of Freberg himself. Even if you didn't get the satire — and some folks didn't, especially when Freberg records were released overseas — the material was always fun to listen to.

You'll recall these HUGE HITS which provided even BIGGER LAUGHS:

Released February 10, 1951 [45, 78 RPM] Stan's first record, John and Marsha, baffled the folks in charge at Capitol Records. It was just a man and a woman (both played by S.F.) saying each other's names in a burlesque of radio soap operas. At first, they thought they had a massive flop on their hands but audiences took to it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Released April 13, 1957 [45 RPM] On Banana Boat — aka, "Day-O" — Peter Leeds is the laid-back bongo-playing beatnik and Stan is the lead singer as Freberg parodies Harry Belafonte's then-recent hit record. The flip side is a new recording with some changed lyrics of Stan's earlier calypso creation.

Released November 11, 1957 [78, 45] Freberg's spoof of TV bandleader Lawrence Welk was originally done for Stan's radio show but it was so popular that he redid it for Capitol. As with Jack Webb, the parody subject later embraced the catch phrase Freberg assigned to him: Welk titled his autobiography Wun'erful, Wun'erful, which is how Stan heard the way Welk often said the phrase, "Wonderful, wonderful..." Daws Butler and Stan play the two sailors heard near the end and the two sides of the record are listed as "Side Uh-One" and "Side Uh-Two." One of Stan's best efforts. "Turn off the bubble machine" became a well-remembered catch-phrase. This was another one that the puppets on The Soupy Sales Show used to pantomime every few weeks.

Released October 3, 1953 [78, 45] Co-written with co-star Daws Butler, and also featuring June Foray as "The maiden who had almost been devoured" and Hy Averback as the announcer. Stan is St. George and Daws is everyone else. These two lampoons of the radio and TV series Dragnet (starring Jack Webb) and made a catch phrase out of its hero Joe Friday saying, "We just wanna get the facts," a line Webb had rarely, if ever, uttered on the actual series. But thanks to Stan and Daws, it became such a part of the Dragnet vocabulary that Webb eventually used it a few times in episodes and often when he was called upon to spoof his own show. When he died, almost every obit cited "just the facts" as a line he'd uttered constantly. The Freberg-Butler single was one of the best-selling comedy records of all time and even hit the top of the charts in Australia, more than a year before the Dragnet show was aired there.

Released December 2, 1958 [45 RPM] This scathing attack on holiday-connected advertising — a modern version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Freberg as Scrooge and Daws Butler as Bob Cratchit — offended a lot of radio stations and ad agencies. Still, it remains among Stan's best-remembered work. This was apparently the last time Butler recorded with him. Daws was getting busy as the voice of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and almost everyone else then starring in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

1956 [78, 45 RPM] The Platters had a big hit with The Great Pretender so Stan (playing both the vocalist and the jazz pianist who interrupts him) came out with his version. The Quest for Bridey Hammerschlaugen was a parody of the publicity that surrounded a housewife named Virginia Tighe who claimed that hypnotic regression had enabled her to recall past lives, including one as a 19th century Irishwoman named Bridey Murphy. The odd last name in Freberg's parody was because the Capitol Records legal staff insisted on a name that in no way resembled "Murphy" and Stan chose one out of a phone book.

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