TMBG: Learning Can Be Fun

I’ve always appreciated how They Might Be Giants respect their fanbase and labor hard to provide high value for the entertainment dollar.  While their music has always had strong appeal to a younger demographic, in recent years They Might Be Giants have released albums aimed squarely at the school-age crowd, such as Here Comes the ABCs, (released as 25 tracks on CD, 39 on DVD) which has gotten a lot of airplay around our house.  Note the clever lyric and accompanying animation sequence for “Alphabet Lost and Found“:

“Alphabet Lost and Found”      They Might Be Giants     2005

There is a good reason why this YouTube clip was uploaded under the name of “DisneyMusic” — so says Wikipedia:

“While [the album] was produced and released by Walt Disney Records, the band was reportedly given complete creative control over the project, which at the time was very unusual for Walt Disney Records, which had until then followed a strict artist control policy.  As a result, the DVD features a variety of puppetry, animation and live action supplied by personal friends of the group, including A.J. Schnack, who directed the TMBG documentary Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns).  For guest vocals on a few tracks, they turned to family:  John Flansburgh’s wife Robin Goldwasser, and John Linnell’s son, Henry.  The music videos that appear on the DVD were also aired (in part or whole) on the Disney Channel’s children’s programming block, Playhouse Disney.”

Sounds like Alvino Rey‘s “Sono-Vox” being employed in the phased backing vocals — or some simulation thereof, yes?

TMBG-aDivya Srinivasan is the artistic hand behind the animation on “Alphabet Lost and Found” — check out the rest of her work at her website, which includes an animation reel and illustration slide show.

Here Come the ABCs would be the successor to No!, their first formal children’s album.TMBG-bTMBG Flexi-Disc Trivia

For their April 1992 edition, Reflex Magazine would release a “split 331/3 RPM flexidisc:  XTC b/w TMBG!  Side A features “Rip Van Reuben” – a home demo of an Andy Partridge compostion – with They Might Be Giants’s “Moving to the Sun” on the flip side.TMBG-ccTMBG-c

Mad Mag’s Multi-Groove Flexi-disc

Remember the Las Vegas Roulette record with the “multi-groove” in which the tonearm stylus randomly selects (at least, in theory) one of 38 separate grooves – one for each slot on the roulette wheel – so as to allow partygoers the ability to play roulette from the comfort of home?   That’s right, you, too, can be the croupier.    *(Link to original piece)

Fabulous Las Vegas Roulette LP-jrIn 1980, Mad Magazine would pull off an even more ambitious vinyl feat:  a “multi-groove” flexi-disc!   45Cat’s 23skidoo rightly emphasizes:

“A random groove record.  A different ending (usually) is heard each time the record is played.  Very rare for a flexi-disc to have this feature.”

“It’s a Super Spectacular Day” [all 8 endings]    Frank Jacobs & Norm Blagman    1980

45Cat lists Mad Magazine flexi-discs from 19611981

I am grateful to have had a neighbor growing up who allowed me to borrow freely from his 1960s collection of Mad Magazines — the best educational supplement a kid could ask for.

Mad Mag-sing along-a+Mad Mag-sing along-b+

Check out the hyper-minimalist animation video that Casey Killingsworth created for the 1980 disco update of Mad’s 1961 belch-rock hit, “It’s a Gas!”

The “Rock Revolution” as seen through the lens of Mad Magazine:  1965-1968

Mad Mag-guitar-a+Mad Mag-beatles 68-a

In 2011, someone would fork over $100 for a vintage copy of Mad’s debut (and only) LP.

     Beatles                            vs.                         Stones, man

Mad Mag-ringo+Mad Mag-jagger+mag

Beatles vs. Stones:  1-0

On February 7, 2014 Mad Magazine would post the following announcement:

“Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America!  And in order to thoroughly commemorate, celebrate, salute and pay tribute to this historic event, we present the only time that all four Beatles appeared on our cover [September, 1968 cover above with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi] — which is still one more MAD cover than the Rolling Stones ever had!”

Mad Magazine’s Don Martin gets in on the act

Mad Mag-beatles 65+

Management requires that I insert a plug for Zero to 180‘s Facebook page – like it or else!

Joe Meek’s Bike Anthem of ’64

Hey, just in time for summer:  here’s a catchy bicycle-themed dance step “Bike Beat” from 1964 that was actually a work-for-hire product by Joe (“Telstar“) Meek for Raleigh Bicycles and was only released on flexi-disc!  Providing the backing track are Joe Meek’s house band, The Outlaws, disguised as “The Rally Rounders” – with lead guitar work almost certainly supplied by future Deep Purple guitarist, Richie Blackmore, dude:

“Bike Beat” (pt. 2)     The Rally Rounders (a.k.a,, The Outlaws)     1964

Dance steps provided below – be the first on your block to learn the “Tandem” and “Brake”!

Bike Beat sleeveThis is the tenth refreshing example of Music in Advertising on Zero to 180.

“Hold It Baby”: Swedish Soul

Just as “Boliver Shagnasty” conveys the comic sensibility of a more modern mindset, Sweden’s Slam Creepers similarly seems like a band name of relatively recent vintage (e.g., 80s hardcore?) — and yet, their first release, fascinatingly enough, was a split single in 1965 a 7-inch flexi-disc in which shared Slam Creepers shared space with The Hollies and fellow Swedish band, Lucas!

Vinyl debut:  Slam Creepers on … flexi-disc!

Slam Creepers flexi-discFour years and a handful of singles later, Slam Creepers would find themselves in another “shared” arrangement — a 12-inch “Shelby Singleton product” wherein the band would be rubbing shoulders on the same LP with Jeannie C. Riley, The Hep Stars, and Mister “Cincinnati Kid” himself, Prince Buster!

The Hep Stars would include future ABBA founder, Benny Anderson
Title of the Hep Stars’ first album:  ‘WE AND OUR CADILLAC

Great Youth Festival LP-xWorth considering  how “radical” it was in 1969 to release a sampler album that co-mingled late 60s country (Riley), Jamaican rocksteady (Buster) & Swedish pop (Slam Creepers & The Hep Stars) – although this album was issued in the Spanish market.

From a typography standpoint, I am very intrigued that Slam Creepers utilized – as would their American musical colleagues, The Afro-Blues Quintet Plus One – the “Future Shock” typeface for the cover of their 1967 debut album:

Are there any earlier LPs with this same “Future Shock” typeface than these from 1967?

Slam Creepers LPAfro Blues LP-x

CONTEST OPEN TO ALL:
Who can find the earliest musical use of this 1960s typeface?

Future Shock-x

In 1968, Slam Creepers would issue two singles, and – in the noblest Beatles fashion – these four songs would not find release on the band’s sophomore ’68 LP Sweet Ruth.

Slam Creepers’ 1968 B-side “Hold It Baby” reveals a refreshing American soul influence:

“Hold It Baby”     Slam Creepers     1968

Wanna take a trip to Catchy Town?  Check out 1968 sure-fire hit, “We Are Happy People“.

Nashville Chowdown: Rice’s Great Image Makeover

I cannot imagine why anyone would let this album go, but someone obviously did, and five dollars later, we became family:

Nashville-Chowdown

The album’s subtitle is a bit of a hoot:  “country & western supper music and singing rice-ipes” (as in recipes for rice).  Would you be surprised to learn that this album is yet another “Columbia Special Product” – in this case, CBS Records teaming up with the fine folks at Riviana’s Brands to market rice more effectively to American women and help counter public perception among down-home Americans that rice is “difficult to cook”?

According to the press release that came with my particular copy of Nashville Chowdown: “The singing rice-ipe was first used a year ago (1969) in radio spots in the New York Metropolitan area for Carolina Rice … In collaboration with Riviana’s home economist, Mrs. Judy Youngblood, the agency submitted musical ideas for ‘singing rice-ipes’:  bossa nova for a Latin American rice dish; Caribbean, Hawaiian, Hindu and Country & Western for their special dishes.  Mrs. Youngblood then developed a recipe, copywriter Mike Hale wrote lyrics, and Arnold Brown, director of recording, supervised the appropriate musical arrangements.”  As of February 1970, the Carolina rice campaign was still running with singer, Blossom Dearie, the voice on all these spots – chosen “because of her versatility in different styles and her exceptional annunciation.”

Back when this musical ad campaign took place, $1.50 and proof-of-purchase from any Riviana rice product got you this “doubly unusual” musical package:  one 10-song LP of hits from many of the biggest country artists in the Columbia stable (Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy Dean); one 7″ flexi-disc record that contains 7 singing rice-ipes (including such dishes as Houston Hash, Hopping John, and Blue Ridge Flap-Jacks); plus one double-sided document listing the actual recipes for each of the 7 flexi-disc selections on one side with song lyrics to the singing rice-ipes on the the other (“Houston Hash,” as it turns out, is a truck driving song).  And, if you’re lucky like I was, you might also end up with a 4-page strategy document put together by Biderman Associates on behalf of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, who “conceived, produced and designed” this “full-scale record promotion … a real first in the industry”:

Nashville Chowdown Strategy Document

One song on the “supper music” LP does seem to steal the show – the Carter Family’s upbeat and fresh arrangement of The Man in Black’s “I Walk the Line,” first released as a single in 1966:

I Walk the Line – The Carter Family

Also for your enjoyment is the singing rice-ipe for “Houston Hash” from the flexi-disc — keep in mind that you will need to add 1 tsp. of chili powder plus salt & pepper when you add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rice to your green pepper, onion and ground beef saute:

Houston Hash – Riviana All-Stars

[Pssst:  Click on the triangles above to play (1) “I Walk the Line” and (2) “Houston Hash.”]

Bonus recipe for Hopping John:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas; 1/4 lb. (4 slices) smoked bacon; 1 medium onion (chopped); 3/4 cup chopped celery; 1 small bay leaf; 2-3 cups of water; 1/4 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 cup uncooked rice.

In saucepan, combine all ingredients except rice.  Simmer until peas are tender (1-2 hours).  Meanwhile, cook rice as package directs.  Combine cooked peas, cooked rice, and some of the liquid from peas.  Simmer several minutes to blend flavors.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Nashville Chowdown flexi-disc

Q: Who’s the Swingin’est Dolly?

Answer:  Swingy.

Swingy-69

I picked up a flexi-disc at the local thrift store, just like the ones kids used to cut out of the back of cereal boxes back when “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies was burning up the charts (click here for a discography of “cereal box records” by those tireless scholars at Bubblegum University).  Except this flexi-disc came pre-cut.  And it likely was among the first pop recordings to be included as part of the packaging of a baby doll – in this case, Mattel’s head-swiveling life of the party, Swingy  [TV ad].

Not a bad tune for bubblegum, I have to admit, and it features some nifty 12-string fingerpicking in the bridge.  But for some unfathomable reason, the song nearly clocks in at 5 minutes – twice the length it should have been.  Fortunately, I have mixed a 2:15 version of this recording that better suits the attention span of the desired demographic for this product:

Swingy – The Mattel All-Stars

[Note:  Click on the triangle above to play the “Swingy” flexi-disc recording.]

But wait – there’s more to the story.  “Swingy,” the song, as one astute YouTube observer points out, is a faithful remake of Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Mr. Sun Mr. Moon” (#18 pop hit in March 1969) on Columbia – albeit with a new lyrical concept.  No wonder the flexi-disc says “Columbia Special Products” on the label:  CBS Records creatively leveraging its musical assets to tap new markets – i.e., preschool rockers.