Thursday, December 3, 2020

Dr. Demento "First Century Dementia

 (Liberation Hall) As this shitty year closes out I finally have a clear cut favorite record of the year. That the music is mostly a Century or more old proves how far we need to get away from 2020 to get to something good. Though it would be more properly titled "First Quarter Century Dementia" (as all the recordings are 1895-1923), this collection is one of the Doctor's best compilations, as any joke that is still funny after a hundred years definitely holds up. First up, I don't know what happened over the last few years with digital restoration, but I can't believe  how clean are rich these sound. Second up, I normally would be  critical of the same artists repeating over and over on a comp, but this time I think it gives context. Billy Murray, according to the Good Doctor, released thousands of records, so why not give him multiple slots on this, especially if it means we hear him do historical goofs on prohibition ("Alcoholic Blues") and the then-sturdiness of American cars ("The Little Ford Rambled Right Along") and animal eating, which was apparently a fad in 1914 ( "Fido Is A Hot Do Now"). And you can certainly have multiple cuts by Billy Jones if they are include such all-time greats as"Yes We Have No Bananas" and "Barney Google."  It's amazing how many of these records predict comedy/novelty records that were decades away. Telephones were pretty damn new in 1913 but Joe Hayman already understood that a one-sided telephone conversation was comedy gold (even if Bob Newhart would be the one grabbing the gold a half century later). Jones finds a treasure with his Steve Martin-predicting "Old King Tut." And Cal Stewart's "Uncle Josh Buys An Automobile" is the same kind of hick comedy Andy Griffith built his recording career upon. There are some familiar favorites here (Bert Williams' "Nobody," DeWolf Hopper's "Casey At The Bat," "The Okeh Laughing Record") but also some new to me, including a weird 19th Century recreation of a Shakespearean actor having a mental episode, and Ed Gallagher and Al Shean doing a Ziegfield Follies hit that is amazing simply because they sing their own names in a very funny manner. Dr. Demento's liner notes are great, reproductions of the 78 labels are lovely, and this record is a gem. 

One addendum I love Dr. Demento, and I  delight in the use of the terms Demento, Dementoids, and Dementites. However, I don't love it as much when he throws around the term "Dementia" in this age of Alzheimers awareness. I am on a mailing list and when I see that in the subject line I always get a little sad before I realize what it is.

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