Picks and Pans Review: Stan Freberg Presents: the United States of America, Vols. 1 & 2
When the first volume of this laugh-out-loud, satirical musical history was released in 1961, it was deemed a high-water mark in pop culture, blending bright comedy with a shrewd, if jaundiced, revision of American history. But most of all, it was funny—as in the sketch "Declaration of Independence," in which Ben Franklin hesitates to sign the document because he doesn't know what "purfuit of happineff" means. Or "The Thanksgiving Story (Under the Double Turkey)," which explains how roasted bald eagle could have become the main course at Thanksgiving.
The Weird Al of his day, Freberg originally wrote many of these songs and sketches for a Broadway musical. Instead he released his spoof as a record album. Half a lifetime later, Freberg has at last responded to the importunings of his cult following and turned out the sequel. Packaged here with the original, Volume 2 is equally hilarious, with a song about an early ad agency, "Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and Osbourne," and another in which Civil War martyr Barbara Frietchie says she would prefer that rebels not shoot at her "old, gray head."
The major Volume 1 cast members—Freberg himself, Peter Leeds and Jesse White (best known as the underemployed repairman in Maytag's TV commercials)—have returned for Volume 2. Freberg also adds his son Donavan (the wiseacre kid in Encyclopaedia Britannica's commercials, for which Stan does the voice-overs), TV veteran Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield the cartoon cat, Roseanne's John Goodman and Harry (This Is Spinal Tap) Shearer. Billy May again arranged and conducted the musical numbers, all of which Freberg wrote.
While Freberg says he flunked high school history, these albums, in their own insidiously subtle way, actually teach a little of that subject. But the best thing about them is that Freberg gets no further than 1918. That leaves him the better part of a riotous century still to play with. (Rhino)