The Best of Spike Jones BMG 53748-2
Spiked! The Music of Spike Jones Catalyst 09026-61982-2
If you don’t know what this music is, no description
I can think of will suffice. These were originally 10" single 78rpm
records and when I was five years old and above they were my introduction
to the concept of satire, more commonly known as spoof. I listened to
them over and over again and laughed myself sick each time. After that
I would sit and marvel at the multilayered humor and the many cute little
jokes in the background that were thrown away. I mention the names of
the collectors above in amazement at their self control because almost
everybody else played and played their copies till they were completely
worn out and unlistenable.
Lindley Armstrong ‘Spike’ Jones was born in 1911 and
grew up in the desert towns of California where his father worked for
the railroad. He probably knew my grandfather who (when he was sober)
was railroad telegrapher at Amboy. Like many comedians his off mike
jokes were not always funny and like many successful people he pushed
his way past others some times. But his generosity to his band members
was legendary; he may have hogged the limelight, but he didn’t get rich
at their expense. Clearly his first big hit, Der Fuehrer’s Face
was not all that funny but it went with the sentiment of the times perfectly
and from then on Spike was a household word. The humor on most of these
disks seems to be so quintessentially American, lower middle class working
man American at that, that I don’t see how they could be fully appreciated
in other countries, and I suspect they aren’t, but Der Fuehrer’s
Face was a universal sentiment. Hitler must have had special plans
for the City Slickers if he ever caught them; fortunately for us all
he never did.
Some of Jones’ jokes were pretty old. Probably his masterpiece, Cocktails
for Two makes reference to the end of Prohibition more than ten
years after the fact. The Dance of the Hours is a spoof of Disney’s
Fantasia eight years after the film was released, but not so
long after it eventually circulated to the cheap movie houses where
Jones’ core audience would see it. My Old Flame parodied the
Peter Lorre horror movie persona which was at least ten years old in
1947, although those old movies ran constantly at neighborhood movie
houses and were always new to each generation. The Russian gypsy song
Dark Eyes (Otshi tshornye) was hardly new in 1942 (the tune was
first heard about 1800, and the usual lyrics are by K. P. Grebenko).
When these records were played on the radio they were never announced;
at first you just might think you were hearing the original song, but
once things warmed up and got going there was no need to acknowledge
who it was.
All the cigarette jokes were the same, a gut-wrenching,
wheezing cough, a sad premonition of Jones’ death at 53 from emphysema.
When they just played the music, the City Slickers
were a sort of zany Chicago Style Dixieland band. But they carried their
impressive array of noise makers and Spike’s famous washboard with squeeze
bulb auto horns (talk about an old joke) with them and actually did
these numbers live over and over again exactly the same way hundreds
of times before live audiences and on the radio.
These disks have been previously issued at higher prices
on BMG CD’s, and one asks if these transfers from production pressings
are as good as the ones from the BMG vault originals. As with most Naxos
historical reissues, the answer is generally yes, overall. There’s more
background noise in this Cocktails, but also a little more highs
than on BMG 53748-2, which also has some hum but no more bass. William
Tell Overture on this disk is a different ‘take’ than on BMG 53748-2,
although you do have to listen pretty carefully to notice. This version
of Chloe is an air check and in addition to the introduction
has a laugh track and a little more background noise overall. Since
the ‘originals’ were acetate transcriptions that had to be played over
and over again to make new pressing masters, a mint copy early production
pressing might actually sound brighter than the ‘master’ in the vault,
which has probably by now long been replaced with a tape dub.
Unique to this collection are Siam, Ya Wanna
Buy a Bunny, and Little Bo-Peep Has Lost her Jeep; missing
from this collection are None but the Lonely Heart, Hawaiian
War Chant, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, Red Wing,
Deep Purple, Serenade to a Jerk, Knock Knock Who’s
There, and some others that us completists could hardly live without.
If after devouring this collection you find you must have more, the
disk numbers are given above. Happy Hunting!