Original Liner Notes From the 1961 Capitol Records Vinyl Release of
An Original Musical Review Created Specifically for Stereo
As you listen to this album you'll soon begin to understand why Stan Freberg flunked American history in high school. (Alhambra, California, 1944.) For here the satirical genius of the somewhat irreverent Mr. Freberg sheds a hilarious new light on the pages which chronicle the saga of this great nation.
Did you know (if we are to take Freberg's word for it) that the turkey was supposed to become our national bird, but was mistakenly substituted for roast eagle (with all the trimmings) at our first Thanksgiving dinner? Or can you imagine George Washington haggling over the price of a boat rental while his troops stand shivering along the icy banks of the Delaware? Well, it all happens right here as conceived in the whimsical mind of America's funniest historian.
But this Freberg's eye-view of early Americana is much more than just a mere "comedy recording." It is, in fact, a complete musical review, for in addition to its droll dialogue, the album contains a rousing score written by Stan and brilliantly arranged by Billy May, and an all-star cast slightly larger than the Omaha branch of the D.A.R. Along the way Stan also manages to get in some pretty socially significant digs. In one skit, for example, a pilgrim sings a tune entitled "Take an Indian to Lunch This Week," while still another finds Ben Franklin casting a suspicious glance at the Declaration of Independence and singing "A Man Can't Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days."
Stan has been doing historical satire for many years, and regular listeners to this 1957 Freberg CBS radio series will no doubt remember his riotous take-offs on such illustrious figures as Washington, Custer, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, and Barbara Frietchie. Now he has expanded this idea into a full-length "history spectacular," and this album (subtitled "The Early Years") is the first volume of a four-album series which could well be, according to Freberg, "The most significant contribution to American history since Grant took Custer."
Over the past decade, master satirist Stan Freberg has been making quite a bit of history on his own, not only as a star of radio and TV, but as the man who actually pioneered the now-booming field of comedy recording. For it was the tremendous success of such Frebergian funnies as St. George and the Dragonet, The Yellow Rose of Texas, and the controversial Yuletide classic Green Christmas which opened the floodgates for the current rash of hi-fi humor for the home. More recently he has extended his talents to the world of advertising, where he has been setting Madison Avenue on its grey flannel ear with his brilliant comedy commercials for both radio and T.V.
Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America
A Few Historical Afterthoughts From Stan Freberg
In the years that have elapsed since I first put this album to bed, as they say, I have been greeted by quite a few happy surprises. The first was the discovery that hundreds of schoolteachers across America had been using it as a teaching aid to help make American History more interesting to their students--a possibility that, frankly, had never crossed my mind when I recorded this album back in 1961.
Another was my gradual awareness of the true cult following which this work seemed to have spawned. (So far, no National Convention is planned like that of the "Trekies," but nothing would surprise me.)
Originally I conceived this project as the first of several recorded volumes. Space here does not permit a long and detailed unburdening of exactly why this plan was temporarily side-tracked. But I refer you to my book, It Only Hurts When I Laugh, published in 1989 by Times Books/Random House for a hopefully amusing, if frustrating account. Which leads me to the most recent surprise. When Capitol Records early in 1989 decided to reissue this album as a compact disc and audio tape, they informed me that I could get more material on a CD than had been possible on the original LP.
One morning in the middle of a phone conversation with Larry Hathaway, the Capitol executive in charge of their "Collectors Series" and a big fan of this album, he said casually: "By chance did you record any material from the Revolutionary Era which didn't make it onto the finished LP because of the 45-minute maximum time restriction?"
The answer was yes. Somewhere deep in the vaults underneath the Capitol Tower in Hollywood were two sketches: "The Discovery Of Electricity" and "The Midnight Ride Of Paul Revere," and an expanded section of "Betsy Ross And The Flag," in which George Washington actually comes by to check out the fit of his new blazer--with his okaying of Ross's brand new American flag almost as an afterthought. The engineering department of Capitol finally found the expurgated tapes at the end of a reel, in the midst of several miles of the original recorded material. After some thirteen weeks in the studio back in 1961, the tape boxes made a stack over seventeen feet high or, if you prefer, taller than two and a half Los Angeles Lakers. The new-all-new dialogue has been inserted along with Billy May's original underscoring exactly as it was originally recorded. Except for one slight problem: We could locate no sound effects overlaid on these original three added selections. So along with the transferring of all this from analog tape into the crisp clear world of digital stereo, new digital sound effects had to be added. Many of these--the horses' hooves, saddle creaks, footsteps, window, and door effects were added live by myself in the studio along with the thunder, lightning, crickets, and other assorted effects. All the new digital engineering was done by Bob Norberg, and John Kraus, the engineer who recorded the original album, came by the studio as a consultant to help us figure out where all the pieces were. Although there may be those buffs who protest the adding of anything to the original album, I hope they may come to love this new, slightly expanded version along with the beautiful CD sound.
Original Liner Notes From the 1996 Rhino Records release of
First released in 1961, Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America is the greatest history album in comedy, or is it the greatest comedy album in history? Either way, or both, it's been an icon and a mantra (as in "rumble rumble rumble mutiny mutiny mutiny") for a couple of generations of comedians and historians alike...despite the fact that it ends with the Battle of Yorktown ("that highly military, script by Dore Schary, Revolutionary Waaaar!").
It was a crowning achievement for a man who's worn many crowns. In addition to having been America's top comedy/novelty recording artist of the 1950s, Stan Freberg is a TV pioneer (his 1949-54 puppet show with Daws Butler on Los Angeles' KTLA-TV, Time For Beany, is still widely revered), cartoon voice actor, on-screen film actor, singer, musician, author, and the ranking advertising genius of the century. He was the star and chief writer of the last of the great CBS radio comedy shows, and his daily radio commentaries are still heard coast-to-coast.
It was the records, mostly, that made Freberg famous. Before S.F.P.T.U.S.Of A., there was "St. George And The Dragonet" (#1 for four weeks in Billboard), "John And Marsha," "Sh-Boom," "Heartbreak Hotel" (à la Elvis), "The Yellow Rose Of Texas," "Banana Boat (Day-o)," his devastating Lawrence Welk spoof "Wun'erful, Wun'erful (Sides Uh-One & Uh-Two)," and his withering satire of the commercialization of Christmas, "Green Chri$tma$," to name just a few.
Like most humorous records before 1960, these were singles. As the new decade started, comedy albums suddenly began to sell very well.
Naturally, Stan's record label, Capitol, wanted a Freberg comedy album. Actually, Stan already had three albums out, but two were simply collections of previous singles, while the third was a set of highlights from his 1957 CBS radio show (that one won a Grammy®). He'd never gone into a recording studio for the purpose of making an album.
He needed a theme, something big to build an entire album around. As he had already done more than once in his career, he turned adversity into triumph. "Flunking U. S. History at Alhambra High School was a big help toward getting that album written," Stan recalled recently. "The reason I flunked it was that it was so incredibly boring. It put me right to sleep. Better than Valium. I thought, 'Why does American history have to be so incredibly boring?' I kept thinking about all those people, Betsy Ross, Thomas Jefferson...they were real people, not just a bunch of marble statues in a park. So [years later] I thought...that's a great idea for an album.
"I told Ken Nelson, my A&R producer at Capitol, what I wanted to do and ad-libbed the Columbus sketch to him, and he said, 'That's a very unusual record. Great! Let's do it!' It took us 13 weeks in the studio.
"I was amazed at the reception. It seems to have survived the passage of time," Stan says, putting it mildly.
It was, among other things, the comedy album that almost became a Broadway musical.
Freberg had envisioned that even before the album was released. When legendary producer David Merrick became interested, Stan went ahead and wrote the songs and dialogue to bring the story up through World War I. Stan wanted to record and release the new material on Capitol, but Merrick insisted he wait until after the musical had opened.
Many trials and tribulations later, the project collapsed, largely due to Merrick's insistence on meddling with the script (the whole story is told, with many others far less painful, in Freberg's autobiography It Only Hurts When I Laugh). By that time Freberg had moved on to a new phase of his career, leaving records behind to create some of the most innovative, hilarious, and successful advertising campaigns of all time.
Meanwhile, the original album became a prized collector's item. Even after it went out of print, history teachers across America brought their treasured copies into class to make the subject come alive, the way it had never done for Stan back at Alhambra High. Capitol reissued it on CD in 1989, restoring a few minutes of material that had been recorded in 1961 but left off the LP due to vinyl's timing restrictions. (Those portions are retained on the CD you are now holding or, better yet, hearing.)
Stan had briefly considered making an album of the unrecorded U. S. Of A. material for the 1976 Bicentennial, but couldn't spare the time then from his ad business. Eventually, though, the Freberg fans got to him. "I got tired of people coming up to me saying, 'What happened to Volume Two?' I can tell--they have a certain look in their eye, I can tell they're going to ask That Question.
"About five years ago [Rhino president] Richard Foos started asking me if I'd like to record for Rhino, and I suggested Volume Two.
"I used some of the material from the David Merrick era, added to it, and updated it. This new album is exactly the way I heard it in my head."
The United States Of America, Vol. 2: The Middle Years
That's right. You read the title correctly. To those just coming upon the continuing Freberg/U.S.A. saga for the first time, who are unfamiliar with the original album, released on Capitol in 1961, let me say, I know you will find this more entertaining than the history books you read in U.S. History class in high school and/or college. For one thing, your history class probably didn't have satire and music.
And now to the rest of you. From the legion of Freberg/U.S.A. album buffs, I detect an occasional, "But Mr. Freberg! Vol. 1 came out in 1961, and you promised the second volume would be out shortly after that! Mr. Freberg...it's been 35 years!" To those people I say, "Stop whining! In the first place, you can't rush into these things. In the second place, where's your patience?
To answer the nagging questions of this second group, the rest of these liner notes will take the form of an interview with a typical, hard-core Freberg buff, the kind I encounter in malls and airports all over the world. They are like Trekkies. But they are actually Frebies.
FREBIE: Patience? You don't think 35 years is a long time to wait?
FREBERG: Nah. A little over a quarter of a century, that's all.
FREBIE: World War II only lasted four years. But 35 years between volumes of The United States Of...
FREBERG: It won't be as long between Vols. 2 and 3.
FREBIE: You mean...there's a third volume?
FREBERG: You heard it here. Trust me. In the first place, I'm getting too tired to wait another 35 years.
FREBIE: When will it be out?
FREBERG: Don't press! You haven't even played Vol. 2 yet.
FREBIE: Okay, okay. Will I like it?
FREBERG: I hope so. I enjoyed writing and recording it for Rhino.
FREBIE: It's just that I waited so long! By the way...why did it take so long?
FREBERG: I can't answer that. It's a matter of national security.
FREBIE: No kidding! By the way, did you write all the songs on this volume, like you did on Vol. 1?
FREBERG: As I did on Vol. 1. Yes.
FREBIE: And did Billy May do all the musical arrangements and conduct the orchestra?
FREBERG: Yes. Some of the original orchestra members died in the meantime. Willie Schwartz a great sax player. Irv Cottler the drummer...Jud Conlon, the original vocal arranger.
FREBIE: What did they die of?
FREBERG: Boredom, probably, waiting to record this album. There's only so long musicians can hang around a studio playing gin rummy.
FREBIE: But Billy May pulled together a great orchestra, just the same?
FREBERG: A great orchestra. In it are such outstanding musicians as the legendary trumpet player Uan Racey (who did work on the first U.S.A. album) and the percussionist Jerry Williams, who is John Williams' brother. And the Jimmy Bryant Singers are terrific. Some of the actors who worked on Vol. 1 are also here on Vol. 2: June Foray, Peter Leeds, Jesse White, my great stock company of Freberg players. Lorenzo Music joined the cast as James Madison and Robert E. Lee, to name a couple of roles. He is famous, of course, for being the voice of Garfield the cat and as Carlton the doorman on the TV series Rhoda. And the great comedian and actor Harry Shearer is also in the cast. Harry is notorious as a member of the legendary mock rock group Spinal Tap and does about every other voice on The Simpsons. Harry appears as Stephen Foster's publisher and a foreman with Henry Ford. They are joined by that formidable and versatile actor and singer David Ogden Stiers, who is not only famous for being in the cast of TV's M*A*S*H but for doing everything from the prosecutor on Perry Mason to Woody Allen movies to the villain in Disney's Pocahontas. David appears as Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln's analyst, the general in Edison, and Ulysses S. Grant. All my actors are wonderful. I'm also honored that the great Tyne Daly is on it with me, acting as well as singing.
FREBERG: Yes, she won a Tony Award on broadway for Gypsy. She came up behind me a couple years ago at the Emmy Awards and whispered, "Rumble rumble rumble! Mutiny mutiny mutiny!" in my ear, thus assuring herself a place in this cast. She's great as Mary Lincoln and Barbara Frietchie in the Civil War era, where she sings "Shoot If You Must!" Marvelous!
FREBIE: Do I understand John Goodman is on Vol. 2 as well?
FREBERG: Absolutely. John joins me as we play two Tin Pan Alley songwriters, Eddie and Irving, singing their medley of World War I songs. A fantastic performer! It was thrilling singing with John. And let's not forget the wonderful comic actor Sherman Hemsley of The Jeffersons fame, who plays Dred Scott, Abraham Lincoln's butler, in "Abe Lincoln At Home In The White House" section. It's a great cast.
FREBIE: I hear your son Donavan Freberg is on the album as well. Was he on Vol. 1?
FREBERG: He wasn't even born yet when we did Vol. 1. He's been acting since he was eight, when he did the voices of both Linus and Charlie Brown. He also starred as Tom Little in the animated show The Littles on ABC-TV and has built his own cult following as the blond teenager in the Encyclopaedia Britannica TV spots. Donavan plays two characters in "Madison, Jefferson, Franklin & Osbourne: The First Advertising Agency" and is Edison's assistant, "Myron." He is also "Dave" in "Rumplemeyer's Horseshoes," as well as Sam Morse's associate urging him to write the first telegraph message.
FREBIE: And do I also see your daughter's name, Donna Ebsen?
FREBERG: Yes, she appears as the stewardess with the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. The first time she worked with me on a record was on the Freberg Underground album. She played the little girl in "Anybody Here Remember Radio?" She was nine years old.
FREBIE: I see your wife, Donna, is the producer. Was she the producer on the original Vol. 1: The Early Years?
FREBERG: Yes, she was, doing what she'd done in live network TV, as an associate producer. We'd just gotten married, and even then she was yelling about production costs, but I love her. She produces all my stuff.
FREBIE: Couldn't she have gotten you to record this sooner?
FREBERG: Yeah, she tried. But my career sort of did a zigzag into advertising and creating commercials, and the next thing I knew 35 years had...I don't want to talk about this any more. Just play the CD.
FREBIE: Does it have a new overture?
FREBERG: Of course. New album, new songs, new overture. Billy May outdid himself.
FREBIE: It starts where the first album left off, at the end of the Revolutionary War?
FREBERG: With the great American invention: advertising. Then it goes through the Civil War , up through the great inventions. Morse, Bell, Edison, Ford, the Wright brothers, and World War I. Just play the CD.
FREBIE: Wow. Hand it over!
-- Stan Freberg
So you thought you knew everything about Abraham Lincoln's wanting to be a stand-up comic, did you?
But Stan Freberg knows!
Who laced General Grant's whiskey with 99-proof alcohol?
Who was the first to realize "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung as a "jingle" in its original version?
Who would have Alexander Graham Bell tangle with a telephone operator on his very first phone call?
Who would show Thomas Edison inventing a lightbulb that would burn forever, until a big business tycoon shows him a thing or two about planned obsolescence?
Need you ask?
It's taken more than 30 years for Freberg to finally finish dramatizing Vol. 2--The Middle Years of the true history of the United States of America as a nonperfect union dedicated to nebulous propositions, most of them outrageously enacted in this CD (civil disobedience) recording. America, thank God, will never be the same!
Chuck Jones once said a comedian shouldn't act funny, he should be funny.
Stan Freberg is just that. Funny. Truly funny. Beyond belief.