Ho Ho Ho.
Those words, that primal reaction, that genial ambiance is the aim of any comedy record. Any one who tells you anything different is probably not very funny.
It's also true that few objets d'art date faster than comedy records. Once you've heard the joke, the bit, the sketch, it's never going to sneak up on you again with quite the same element of surprise. A good joke is not like a melody, clinging obstinately to one's memory.
Witness a handful of new comedy records: Some are concerts caught on tape; others are collections of musical novelties; the best were recorded on the outskirts of Washington by a zany crew of filmmakers. Little that's offered will make a lasting imprint on the listener's mind.
Dr. Demento, a.k.a. Barry Hansen, wild-mannered record collector and musicologist, lives by the credo "Demented music will set you free."
As host of a nationally syndicated radio show (heard locally Sundays at 10 p.m. on WJOK-AM, 1150), Hansen has championed the funny, the outre', the weird and, well, the demented. He brings his act to the Wax Museum tonight, spinning strange discs and videos, many of them undoubtedly drawn from his latest anthology, "Demento's Mementos" (Eccentric Records PVC 8912).
Novelty songs are an ancient and disreputable tradition in American music, and Demento has become a virtual magnet for them. He is inundated with self-produced tapes, many of which find their way onto the air and eventually onto his albums. Take John W. Christensen's percussively a cappella and perfectly titled "I Get Weird" or Carlos Borzenie's droll "My Wife Left Town With a Banana." Please!
The cleverest song may be Doug Robinson's "Mediocre Mama," a Kenny Rogers-style paean to eternal plainness ("You don't do nothing special but you don't do it well . . . you've got no taste, but I've seen worse.") On the other hand, Uncle Vic's "Space Invaders" suggests that the bigger the fad, the more quickly the novelty-song reaction to it fades away.
Country music has always been a haven for novelty songs, and sure enough, there are several neo-country efforts ("The Rodeo Song," Purvis Pickett and the Punk-a-billies' "Bodine Brown"), while the musical influence of Frank Zappa is evident on The Other Half's thoroughly stupid "Smut." "I Wanna Kiss Her But (She Won't Let Me)" recalls Ed Sanders and his rancid "Truckstop" days, while "Swedish Western" provokes memories of Yogi Yorgesson. There are also a few golden moldies, including an innocently charming "Alphabet Song" from the Three Stooges.
Opening for Demento tonight is Weird Al Yankovic, a first-rate parodist who falls into the mundane when not working with the familiar. Yankovic hit the scene four years ago with a deadly parody--complete with stammered lyrics and jerky energies--of The Knack's "My Sharona," which he called "My Bologna" (no, he didn't call his group The Snack, but he could have). Weird Al has struck again, riding today's airwaves with "Ricky," a delightful play on Toni Basil's "Mickey," invoking the Ricardo clan. Yankovic, who propels his band with racy accordion power chords, is aided immeasurably on the song by Dorothy Remsem's raspy Lucy-whine.
Elsewhere on "Weird Al Yankovic" (Rock and Roll Records BFZ38679), he has fun taking on Joan Jett ("I Love Rocky Road"), Tom Petty ("Stop Draggin' My Car Around") and Queen ("Another One Rides the Bus"). But Yankovic's originals are only tepidly funny and lack the substance of the parodies.
"Teen Comedy Party" (Used Records 23) is the product of Travesty Ltd., better known as film's Langley Punks (they, too, will perform at the Wax Museum tonight). Splendidly produced at Musifex Studios in Arlington, the album weds Firesign Theatre, Vaughn Meader and the National Lampoon, in two dozen frequently hilarious sketches, mostly from the fervid imagination of Dave Nuttycombe, a living Furry Freak Brothers.
Some of the better bits: a deadly accurate "Rock Archives" visit resolving whatever happened to Alvin and the Chipmunks ("We had different ideas about where to take the act"); the Rod Serling turnaround of "Strange, But False"; an ad for the self-explanatory "Famous Truckdriver's School of Songwriting" ("not affiliated with the Famous Songwriter's School of Truckdriving"); "It's Not Alive," a promo for "the least frightening film you may never hope to see . . . Anything can stop it . . . See it alone, it's okay"); the insiduous "Rock and Roll Doctor" dispensing advice Ken Beatrice-style to hopelessly drugged-out callers who always forget to turn down their radios (this one appears on the Demento collection, as well).
The eight men of Travesty lampoon insipid commercials, station breaks and FM radio announcers, self-help courses ("How to Play the Bongos" and "How To Make It With Beautiful Babes"), overbearing teachers and much, much more. The album also marks the last recording work done by the Starland Vocal Band, including the wacky "Harmonies From Hell." There's even a subliminal message advertised on the cover, the first record to conform to "demonic disclaimer" legislation that Congress never got around to passing.