I woke up this morning and switched the Internet on and the first news I came to, on Mark Evanier’s blog was that Stan Freberg had died at the age of 88. Rotten news like that should never come first thing in the morning.
Freberg had a long and varied career, much of which was invisible to me. He was a prolific voiceover artist for cartoons and puppet shows, going as far back as Time for Beeny, where he worked with the equally legendary voice magician, Daws Butler (Yogi Bear), on a children’s show so popular that Albert Einstein would avoid meetings to watch. When his final voiceover, for Garfield, is broadcast, that side of his career will have spanned an almost unbelievable 69 years.
He was also responsible for a revolution in advertising, bringing his antic sense of humour and acute observational skills to generations of television advertising in America.
And he was also a master of sound comedy, his natural medium being radio, where he was underused because his humour tended to the pointed instead of the bland.
But for me and those of my generation, Freberg is, was and always will be the master of the funny record, the tracks he recorded in the Fifties and Sixties for Capitol Records that parodied and poked fun and all kinds of musical genres (especially rock’n’roll, which he loathed).
I first discovered these records in the early Sixties, unknown. The BBC children’s Friday night programme Crackerjack (Crackerjack!) would every now and then throw one in, set to a stop-motion puppet film starring a rabbit named Arthur in Freberg’s role. Then later they were a staple on Ed Stewart’s Junior Choice, which is where I learned Freberg’s name.
You can’t be from my generation without the kind of innate, internal absorption of Freberg at his most kinetic. It only takes a single “Day-O!”, and we’re off into that little world where Freberg rips Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ into hilarious pieces by the simple expedient of importing a very laid-back bongo drummer with sensitive ears who objects to having the singer hollering next to him: “I come through the window.”
Or the over-enthusiastic snare drummer infuriating the Deep South singer on ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. Or the Garner-influenced pianist getting sick of playing this ‘cling cling cling jazz’ on ‘The Great Pretender’. Or Clyde Ankle’s vocal gyrations on ‘The Old Payola Roll Blues (Part 1).’
I’m going to go play some of these on YouTube. This is that old videoclip shown on Crackerjack (Crackerjack!), which you will see features Bugs Bunny (Arthur? Huh! The lies they used to tell us kids) and Speedy Gonzales. A genius is gone from us, my friends: let us celebrate him.