Category: comedy

On this day in music history: July 12, 1963 – “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp)” by Allan Sherman is released. Written by Allan Sherman, Lou Busch and Amilcare Ponchielli, it is the biggest hit for the comedian, writer, producer and actor from Chicago, IL. Born Alan Copelon into a Jewish family, humor becomes a refuge for him in childhood, to cope with an unhappy home life. With his parents divorcing while he’s still in grade school, Alan adopts his mother’s maiden name “Sherman”. Entering the entertainment business in the early 50’s and known as Allan Sherman, he records a parody of the song “A Bushel And A Peck” (from the musical “Guys And Dolls”) as  "A Satchel and a Seck". Though the record is not successful, the comedian finds greater success a decade later in the realm of song parody. In the meantime, Sherman becomes a television producer. Producer Mark Goodson (“The Price Is Right”, “Match Game”, “To Tell The Truth”, “What’s My Line?”), takes Sherman’s idea for a game show titled “I Know A Secret”, develops it into the highly successful and long running “I’ve Got A Secret”. Also working as a writer on the show, Sherman remains with the program until 1958, when he is fired. The comedian works on The Steve Allen Show until 1961, until he is also fired from that job. Suddenly on the unemployment line, Sherman’s next opportunity comes from an unlikely source. Next door neighbors with comic legend Harpo Marx, he invites Allan to perform his song parodies at parties, attended by Marx’s celebrity friends. At one party, comedian George Burns hears Sherman, who immediately recommends to an executive friend at Warner Bros. Records, sign the young comedian. Infused with his own unique sense of humor, often poking fun at his Jewish religious background, Allan Sherman’s first two albums, “My Son, The Folk Singer” and “My Son, The Celebrity” (released in mid 1962 and early 1963), both hit number one on the Billboard Pop album charts, selling over a million copies each. He finds his greatest success in the Summer of 1963, with his third album “My Son, The Nut”. Sherman would almost exclusively parody songs that were in the public domain, since songwriters like Rodgers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin would not grant permission for their songs to be used for that purpose. The comedian writes a hilarous ode to Summer with “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp)”. Written and sung from the perspective of a young boy sent off to summer camp by his parents, he spins an outrageous tale of woe. He begs his parents to let him come home, after detailing incidents of heavy rain, food poisoning and missing fellow campers in his letter. The pay off comes at the end when conditions at the camp suddenly improve, the boy tells his parents to “kindly disregard this letter”. Performed in front of a live audience, and sung to Italian classical composer Ponchielli’s “Dance Of The Hours”, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Billboard Hot 100 at #45 on August 3, 1963, it catapults up the chart, peaking three weeks later at #2 on August 24, 1963 (behind Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Pt. 2” and The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”). The album “My Son, The Nut” spends eight weeks at the top of the Billboard Pop album chart. In spite of his enormous success as a parody artist, Allan Sherman’s run at the top is short lived. Releasing five more albums between 1964 and 1967, none match the sales of the first three, and the comedian is dropped by Warner Bros. Though in the interim, Sherman discovers comedian Bill Cosby, producing his first two albums, and frequently appearing on television. Sadly, his career goes into a decline by the late 60’s, as Sherman is hampered by divorce, health and financial problems. His final work is as the voice of Dr. Seuss character The Cat In The Hat in two animated specials. Allan Sherman dies of a heart attack on November 20, 1973, at the age of 48. In later years, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh!” is adapted into a musical revue, with the song also being used in television commercials, for Downy fabric softener and K9 Advantix. The late comedian is also fondly remembered in episodes of “The Simpsons”, with one featuring parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic.

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On this day in music history: July 4, 1966 – “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!!” by Napoleon XIV is released. Written by N. Bonaparte, it is the lone hit for the songwriter and producer born Jerry Samuels. The novelty track featuring only the accompaniment of a snare drum, hand claps, a tambourine and sirens is recorded by Samuels, a New York based songwriter, producer, recording engineer. Released as a single by Warner Bros Records, the song has the unique distinction of being one the fastest rising and falling singles in the history of the Billboard pop singles chart. Entering the Hot 100 at #50 on July 23, 1966, and quickly rockets to its peak position of #3 only three weeks later. However, radio stations begin dropping it from their playlists en masse when they receive complaints from listeners that is insensitive to the mentally ill. The single falls to #5, then to #37 and off the chart completely the following week, spending a total of only six weeks on the chart. The B-side of the original 45 titled “!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT” features the song played in reverse.

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Pat Morita and Susan Blanchard in the short-lived show Mr. T and Tina (1976)  

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in the 1950s 

Tim Curry on set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Photos by John Jay

On this day in music history: April 28, 1958 – “Witch Doctor” by David Seville hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 2 weeks. Written and produced by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (aka David Seville), it is the first chart topping single for the creator of Alvin & The Chipmunks. Seville achieves the trademark sped up “chipmunk” like vocal sound by recording voices with the tape machine running at half-speed while recording, then playing it back at normal speed. Prior to his own success as a recording artist, his biggest success as a songwriter comes when he pens Rosemary Clooney’s hit “Come On-A My House” in 1951. Released as a single in early April of 1958, the novelty song is an immediate hit. Entering the Billboard Best Sellers chart at #36 on April 14, 1958, it leaps to the top of the chart two weeks later. “Witch Doctor” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: April 26, 1983 – “Weird Al Yankovic”, the debut album by “Weird Al” Yankovic is released. Produced by “Weird Al” Yankovic and Rick Derringer, it is recorded at The Men’s Room at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA , KMET-FM in Los Angeles, and Cherokee Studios in Hollywood, CA from Mid 1979, 1980 – 81, and Early 1982. After releasing several stand alone singles both independently and for record labels such as Capitol and TK Records, “Weird Al” Yankovic is signed to the Scotti Brothers label Rock ‘N Roll Records (then distributed by CBS Records’ Epic subsidiary) in 1982. The first album by the comedy parody artist includes his first two singles “My Bologna” (re-recorded version appears on the album) and “Another One Rides The Bus” as well as parodies of songs by Toni Basil, Joan Jett and Tom Petty. “Weird Al Yankovic” peaks at number one hundred thirty nine on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: April 24, 1976 – In a spoof of the numerous financial offers that The Beatles have received to reunite, Saturday Night Live creator and producer Lorne Michaels offers the band a check for $3,000 to play on the show. Ironically on that very evening, Paul McCartney is visiting John Lennon at his apartment at The Dakota in New York City and are watching the live broadcast. The two nearly decide to jump into a taxi and go over to the studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to take up Michaels on his offer. But they decide they’re too tired and stay in instead. On November 20, 1976, George Harrison appears on SNL as a musical guest that week (with host Paul Simon). In a taped segment with Lorne Michaels, Harrison will try to collect the $3,000 check on behalf of the group. When Michaels offers only George’s share of the money ($750), Harrison calls the producer “chintzy” before Michaels offers him another $250 to say the show’s opening tag line “Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!”.

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Actor, writer and producer Bob Einstein (born Stewart Robert Einstein in Los Angeles, CA) – November 20, 1942 – January 2, 2019, RIP

On this day in music history: December 22, 1958 – “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” by The Chipmunks & David Seville hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks. Following the chart topping success of the single “Witch Doctor” in April of 1958, David Seville (birth name: Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.), follows it up with his most popular and enduring creation. Seville’s youngest son Adam provides the inspiration, for what becomes “The Chipmunk Song”. The idea for the song comes about, when the young boy asks his father in September “if it’s Christmas yet?”. Seville takes the idea and runs with it. He creates the characters Alvin, Simon, & Theodore, three cartoon chipmunks who are named after Liberty Records executives Al Bennett and Si Waronker, and recording engineer Ted Keep. Employing the same tape vari-speed technique used on “Witch Doctor”, the vocals on the song are sung by Seville by recording his voice with the tape running at 1/3 normal speed, producing the high pitched “chipmunk like” vocals upon playback. Released right before Thanksgiving in November of 1958, the single is an instant and massive success. Entering the Hot 100 at #62 on December 1, 1958, it pole vaults to the top of the chart three weeks later. At the time of its release, “The Chipmunk Song” becomes one of the fastest selling singles of all time, when it sells over 4.5 million copies in seven weeks. At the first Grammy Awards in 1959, it wins three awards including Best Comedy Recording, Best Engineered Recording and Best Children’s Recording. The record re-charts on the Hot 100 three more times between 1959 and 1962, peaking at #41, #45 and #39 respectively. The huge success of the single spins off several hit albums including “Christmas With The Chipmunks”, released by Liberty Records in 1962. Out of print since the early 80’s, it is reissued on vinyl in 2014 replicating the original foil LP sleeve and Liberty LP labels with The Chipmunks’ faces printed on them. A limited edition release on split red and green vinyl, is issued as an exclusive through Newbury Comics in 2016. When interest is revived in Alvin and the Chipmunks in December 2007 with the release of the film “Alvin And The Chipmunks”, the original recording of “The Chipmunk Song” re-enters the Hot 100, peaking at #66. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.