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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Fair
Music

VINYL CAVE

Vinyl Cave: Mad 'Twists' Rock 'n' Roll from Mad Magazine


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Venerable humor magazine Mad has endured for more than half a century with their unique mix of pop culture, counter-culture and political satire, recently celebrating their 500th issue. Over the years, there's also been seemingly more than 500 repackagings of all that material -- along with many often-unexpected ways of promoting the brand. There's been a board game, and the long-running series of ads for posters of mascot Alfred E. Neuman -- suitable for framing or wrapping fish. And in the late '50s, the mostly instrumental Musically Mad LP appeared on RCA, with a nifty cover painting of Alfred E.

A second LP surfaced on Big Top in 1962, more directly satirizing a subject dear to the adolescent and teen audience that loved Mad: rock 'n' roll. Mad 'Twists' Rock 'n' Roll has never been released on CD, and when the LP does turn up it's nearly always been played to death. When a copy in good condition turned up recently I couldn't resist satisfying my longtime curiosity, and re-affirming my Mad fandom.

The album appears to be created outside the "Usual Gang of Idiots," with the songs credited to Norm Blagman and Stan Bobrick. The Internet turns up their names as co-writers together and with others on a few other early to mid '60s singles by artists such as Timi Yuro and Elvis Presley, and, coincidentally, Elvis sound-a-like Ral Donner. Bobrick went on to be a playwright; Blagman's name can be found on Mad-associated recordings into the disco era.

History on the performers is even more obscured by the mists of time; female vocals are by Jeanne Hayes, male solos by Mike Russo and vocal group tracks by The Dellwoods. I can find references to an LP by a Mike Russo from the late '60s, but it's on folk label Arhoolie, and unlikely to be the same person. Doo-wop discography sites list The Dellwoods as also recording as The Dynamics.

But what of the music? It's surprisingly straightforward teen-era rock 'n' roll, and by not being excessively over-orchestrated actually has weathered better than many of the Frankies, Jimmys and Peggys it is parodying.

I don't recognize anything here as a straight re-do using another song's music or melody, and lyrically the songs do a decent job of matching Mad's off-kilter look at society. Topics range from zeitgeist-capturing teenage Russian spies to throwing basketball games, and to more calculated-to-offend-parent themes like phone numbers on bathroom walls. Separated from the source, a few of these songs would be hard to differentiate as parody when compared to other records from the era. "Blind Date" wouldn't be out of place slightly trashed up on a Kingsmen album, and the car race/crash opus "My Johnny's Hub Cap" isn't any sillier than much of the teen death ouevre.

One more album on Big Top followed (Fink Along with Mad), along with a few more new songs over the next couple decades on flexidiscs inserted in the magazine. Some songs from the Big Top albums were also recycled on flexidiscs with Mad Super Specials, and one can still occasionally find issues with the discs still included.

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