In 1961, radio comedian/advertising wunderkind Stan Freberg released what would become one of the most enduring comedy classic LPs of all time, Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America. Populated with characters voiced by Freberg, Jesse White (the original Maytag Repairman) and June Foray (Rocky, Natasha, Witch Hazel, and Granny from the classic Jay Ward and Warner ‘toons), the album was a send-up of American history, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Add musical arrangements by Billy May (not the TV pitchman, but the guy responsible for things like the Green Hornet TV show theme), the record endures to this day as the gold standard of comedy albums.
This particular cut involves a scenario that re-imagines what events might have taken place as the backstory for the famous Spirit of 1776 painting. In life, nothing is every quite as it seems, and so it might not be too far fetched to think that one or more of the patriots in the picture might have been a little taken aback at being close to the front lines armed only with a fife or a drum. Freberg takes that idea to it’s logical extreme, with some hilarious results.
If you’ve not heard the entire album, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. It starts with Columbus and wends it’s way through American history through Washington’s victory at Yorktown. Some of the jokes will likely take some explaining to younger listeners (who might not know who Norman Rockwell or Dore Schary were). Never you mind. It’s worth the trip. From comments on urban sprawl (Put On Your Top Had, White Feather and Tails) and race relations (Take an Indian to Lunch) to union politics (Boston Tea Party) and artistic license (Betsy Ross & the Flag), the album is a gem floating in an audio sea of mediocrity. It was so popular throughout the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that a favorite parlour game of the thespian set was to try and cast the roles for a stage or screen version. In point of fact, Freberg admits he came close to a nervous breakdown, trying to take the work to Broadway with the legendary megalomaniacal producer David Merrick. Still, the recording seems to attract a new legion of fans with every generation. Paul McCartney, Weird Al Yankovic, Steven Spielberg and a host of others cite Freberg as their inspiration. Personally, Freberg’s advertising work was an inspiration to me, and was responsible for my interest in a career in advertising.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy this cut off of what many agree is the funniest comedy album of all time, as well as the most fun you’ll ever have thinking about American History. Enjoy.