Stan Freberg (Modestly) Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1
The first record I ever fell in love with wasn’t a music record, rather it was a comedy album. I would have been about eight or nine when I discovered how to play records and then the album that got me Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years (1961).
I used to sit in our sitting room at our house in Timaru and listen to the album over and over again, it got to the piint where I’d be reciting the dialogue back as well as singing along to the many songs contiaind within, I’ve even both parts in the two part harmonies…. I guess I was a strange boy…
in 1961, he began a masterwork that is still in progress: ”Stan Freberg (Modestly) Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1,” a 50-minute Broadway musical for the ear with songs and sketches by Mr. Freberg, orchestrations by Billy May and the voices of the Freberg stock company, including Jesse White (the original Maytag repairman) and June Foray (Rocky the Flying Squirrel and countless other cartoon characters).
In this Capitol Records LP, which my college roommate played so often it practically melted, George Washington argues with Betsy Ross like a Madison Avenue art director, Christopher Columbus lands at Miami Beach bent on opening an Italian restaurant, Benjamin Franklin is worried about signing a seditious petition called the Declaration of Independence, and the first Thanksgiving is the result of a vote-hungry Pilgrim politician’s hypocritical pledge to ”Take an Indian to Lunch This Week.”
Take an Indian to lunch this week
Show him we’re a regular bunch this week
Show him we’re as liberal as can be
Let him know he’s almost as good as we
Make a feathered friend feel fed this week
Overlook the fact he’s red, this week
Let him share our Quaker Oats
‘Cause he’s useful when he votes
Take an Indian to lunch
The album’s legion of fans have included the onetime chief of the Navajo nation and the likes of Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, who passed time during breaks in the filming of ”Jaws” by singing its songs. History teachers have used it for years to make the Founding Fathers come alive. Asked once where the Beatles got their sense of humor, Paul McCartney told Playboy magazine that it probably came from listening to Mr. Freberg and Lenny Bruce.
Sunday mornings were my Stan Freberg days, I was and still am a early riser so listening to the album was a decent way to spend the time waiting for something, anything, to happn. I still regularly spend sunday mornings listening to comedy coffee in hand, Stan still gets a look in alongside my all time fave show, The Goons.
Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years (1961) combined dialogue and song in a musical theater format. The original album musical, released on Capitol, parodies the history of the United States from 1492 until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
Freberg parodied both large and small aspects of history. For instance, in the Colonial era, it was common to use the long s, which resembles a lowercase f, in the middle of words; thus, as Ben Franklin is reading the Declaration of Independence, he questions the passage, “Life, liberty, and the purfuit of happineff?!?” He also takes the time to skewer McCarthyism, as his Franklin talks about “signing a few harmless documents, forgetting all about it, and years later finding oneself in front of a committee.” Freberg blatantly skewered McCarthyism with Point of Order, taken from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s frequent objection, which executives truly feared to air. Freberg describes being called in for a chat about this and being asked whether he ever belonged to any “disloyal” group. “Well,” he replied, “I have been for many years a member of…”—the executive went pale—”…the Mickey Mouse Fan Club.” “Dammit, Freberg,” the executive angrily retorted, “this isn’t a game.” The parody was eventually aired, and Freberg never found himself “in front of a committee.” McCarthyism is also obliquely mocked in Little Blue Riding Hood, his Joe Friday parody: “Only the color has been changed to prevent an investigation.”
The album also featured the following exchange, where Freberg’s Christopher Columbus is “discovered on beach here” by a Native American played by Marvin Miller. Skeptical of the Natives’ diet of corn and “other organically grown vegetables,” Columbus wants to open “America’s first Italian restaurant” and needs to cash a check to get started:
Native: “You out of luck today. Banks closed.”
Columbus: “Oh? Why?”
Native: “Columbus Day!”
Columbus: “Oh, yeah.” [pregnant pause] “We going out on that joke?”
Native: “No, we do reprise of song. That help, but…”
Columbus and Native together: “Not much, no!”
Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America, Volume Two was planned for release during America’s Bicentennial in 1976, but did not emerge until 1996.
I’ve still got the vinyl copy, thanks Edward, but no longer play it – for I have a digital version 🙂