Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Adventures In Recordland, post #2: The As, part 2

Remember when I said I'd be back tomorrow? I lied. I had some technical problems with my turntable. But now I'm back to work and got five more albums done today. I'll briefly offer some thoughts on them.

#1: Fred Allen- "Linit Bath Club Revue"

This album offers two half-hour shows from Fred's earliest years in radio. Hints of the later satirical Allen work are on display, but much of the scripts are more of the wisecracking vaudeville one-liner school, as was typical of most radio shows of the time: comedy sketch, musical interlude, another sketch, more music, and so on. On these early shows, Fred would apparently have a different occupation each week and do various sketches involving whatever the occupation was. On these, the only two extant "Linit Bath Club Revue" shows, Fred runs a department store in the first show and is a courtroom judge in the second. The department store show is the funnier of the two. Unfortunately, both are dragged down by the presence of Roy Atwell, a vaudeville comic who specialized in rambling spoonerism routines, stumbling over his own words and constantly trying to correct himself while getting ever more confused. It's mildly funny, but he seems to go on for about eight minutes with such nonsense, and seems to be an excuse to pad the show out to half an hour. Other than that, there's some amusing material here. That's about all I have to say.

#2: Allen & Rossi- "Hello Dere!", 1962

Shortly after Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis split up in 1956, there was another comedy team featuring a good-looking Italian singer and a zany Jewish comic. Their names were Marty Allen (comic) and Steve Rossi (straightman). As far as I can tell, their rise to fame was not quite as meteoric as that of Martin and Lewis, but they got good reviews and appeared prominently on television for a while in the '60s. Over the years they would get back together occasionally. Steve Rossi passed away just a few months ago, but Marty Allen, as of this writing, is still with us at age 92 and apparently still working.
This record is short- only 10 minutes on each side- but it was recorded live in Vegas and gives a good idea what their nightclub act was like. Allen assumes various characters and is interviewed by Rossi, using the basic vaudevillian question-and-answer pattern. I've read comments recently from people saying they never found the team funny at all, so I may be in the minority, but I enjoy them. Their act was cute and silly (with an occasional mildly suggestive line for the grown-ups) at a time when people really needed to laugh. Some of the topical material (Rossi interviewing Allen as various people who were in the news at the time) is a bit dated, but a lot of their stuff is still fun.

#3: Steve Allen- "Funny Fone Calls", 1963


Unlike the micro-managed and overly prepared late-night talk shows, Steve Allen's early TV shows had a fun air of genuine spontaneity about them. Steve was a quick wit who could ad-lib and experiment with different ideas as they came to him. One night, just to kill time, he made a prank phone call on the air. I don't know whether history has recorded what this first call was or not, but whatever it was, it went over quite well, and making gag calls, usually based on classified ads in the newspaper, became one of Allen's trademarks, and some of the most memorable ones are collected on this album.If such a thing were tried on today's shows, they would undoubtedly have to make the pranks completely outrageous and mean-spirited, but here Steve is simply playful, and usually the people he's calling are unintentionally funnier than he is. I enjoyed this album so much that I just bought a copy of the second volume that came out later. More about that when I get it.

#4: Steve Allen- "Man On The Street", 1959

Another regular feature of Steve Allen's early TV shows was the "Man On The Street" segment, an homage to Fred Allen's famous "Allen's Alley", where a regular group of characters- Louis Nye as flamboyant advertising executive Gordon Hathaway, Don Knotts as jittery Mr. Morrison, and Tom Poston as a befuddled character who could never remember his own name- were asked questions by Steve and would give funny answers. This segment was only done for a few years, but is still fondly remembered by baby boomers today. Steve mentions in the liner notes that after a while the audience responded less and less to the bit and that for whatever reason it seemed to be getting old, so this album was compiled to sort of preserve and document what had been a very famous and well-loved routine. I feel the same way about this album that I do about Dayton Allen's "Why Not?" album (see previous blog)- it was meant to be a three- or four-minute bit, but hearing it for more than half an hour is a bit much. Not that I'm denigrating the album, though, because Nye, Knotts and Poston were, of course, wonderfully funny performers and their material is a lot of fun.

#5: Woody Allen- self-titled album, 1964

I hardly think I need to introduce anyone to Woody Allen. He started out doing stand-up, was terrified by it, and quit as soon as he possibly could. That said, I'm grateful that his early work was preserved on three albums (I don't have the other two.. yet), because, as a comedian myself, his writing is awe-inspiring. The jokes on this album are like some kind of perfect, comedic haiku. It's a great album. It's just too bad the guy never had much of a career after this. He had potential.

Well, that's it for today. I'll see you tomorrow (this time I mean that!) for a very special blog. You'll find out why.

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