Friday, July 24, 2009

Road Trip Album Picks: Dr. Demento's 20th Anniversary Collection

Mr. Show's Dr. RetardoWHAT: Collection of some of the best-known comedy and novelty songs of all time
LABEL: Rhino Records
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Dr. Demento, classic comedy, pop culture nuggets
WHERE TO FIND IT: Widely available at better record stores

The subtitle of this album is "The Greatest Novelty Records of All Time," which is a fair description for this double-disc collection. I've had this in my possession for years, and looking at it then, a lot of it wasn't too funny. On the other hand, some of it was pretty spectacular. The word "Records" is really telling, because pretty much everything here was released during the era of vinyl and this collection dates back to 1991, when CDs were just starting to really replace tapes and licorice pizzas.

"Novelty" is another key word, because a lot of this isn't particularly funny, just required listening for young pop culture fanatics. Regardless of your opinion of the cultural value of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, you can't say that it isn't important to hear "The Time Warp" so you know what it is. The same can be said of "Surfin' Bird," which isn't a comedy track so much as it is something of a garage song that is, to say the least, likely to invite smiles.

Since some of the tracks date back over 50 years, odds are modern ears aren't going to take much delight in Spike Jones and his City Slickers or Ray Stevens due to a lack of context or the fact that they did not age well. On the other hand, the great "Weird Al" Yankovic, Frank Zappa, Tom Lehrer, and Steve Martin appear here, as does Shel Silverstein. Novelty nuggets like "Star Trekkin'" work great as a way to infuriate your fellow passengers, while "Fish Heads" may well be the greatest novelty record ever made. Take that as you will. "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater" can be found here too, making this the ultimate snapshot of the best the Dr. Demento radio program had to offer.

Poison tracks include:
  • Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!
  • Witch Doctor
  • Junk Food Junkie
  • The Battle of Kookamonga
There's little in the way of sketches here, but you'll find a lot of songs you or your parents found amusing at some point in their lives. "Beep Beep," "King Tut," and "Eat It" are all cultural treasures, but I can't guarantee that this two-hour collection of 36 tracks is going to bring a smile to your face unless you enjoy watching others suffer. And really, isn't that the half of the fun when it comes to road trips?

Oh, and I would also give this album my highest possible rating as a gift to any comedy-inclined tweens you may know. They will enjoy parts of it now, infuriate their friends and family with it, and outgrow it before they turn 25 so they can move on to better music and comedy. Really, you're doing them a huge favor.

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