Steven Heller | Essays

Mad Music

In 1962, I spent hours listening to Mad magazine’s first LP (Big Top Records), Mad “Twists” Rock ‘N’ Roll. Playing it over and over, I learned every inane lyric by heart. When My Pimples Turned to Dimples (That Say I Love You)Please Betty Jane (Shave Your Legs) and the existential (She’s Got A) Nose Job, with the refrain “now she’s the prettiest gal in town,” were imbedded in that part of my cortex that surprisingly even today is sent a twitter when I am idly waiting for take-out food or a prescription to be filled. (And if asked nicely I will gladly belt out each tune in two-part harmony.) So worn out was the vinyl of my first copy of Twists (it was the era of the twist), I bought two additional copies, which probably sent the record straight to #102 on the Billboard Charts (without the proverbial bullet).

The album was the first time a magazine crossed platforms (now a common occurrence), transmuting from art to music, and spawning such cultural treasures over a decade later as The National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner album and scores of other such multi-media productions. It made a lot of sense too: Mad's sarcastic humor was as much about verbal as visual wit — and in the pre-Beatles sixties, rock n’ roll’s numerous clichés were ripe for parody. Making fun of the ever-popular “my baby died in a car crash” genre with (All I Have Left Is) My Johnny’s Hub Cap, and the “my baby was caught doing it with someone else” genre with Somebody Else’s Dandruff (On My Lover-Baby’s Shirt) or I Found Her Telephone Number Written On The Boys Bathroom Wall may sound puerile today but who knew from puerility back then. Humor was not over analyzed, it just occurred like a bodily function. Mad was the first slap at pop-commercial culture, which has been perfected in the 21st Century by the likes of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. 

Mad "Twists" Rock 'n' Roll was written and produced by Norm Blagman and Stan Bobrick (whose names sounded like Mad characters). The songs were sung in true doo-wop syncopation by Jeanne Hayes, Mike Russo and The Dellwoods (Saul Zeskand, bass, Mike Ellis, first tenor, Andy Ventura, second tenor, C. Victor Buccellato, lead singer, and Amadeo Tese, baritone). I so wanted to be a Dellwood that I made my mom buy Dellwood Milk. The cover of the LP featured that classic moron, Alfred E. Newman, painted by Norman Mingo (a logo more recognizable at one time than the Swoosh). Owning the record made me feel like I was part of a club, which latter evolved into the sardonic, ironic sixties youth culture.
So why am I writing about this album when its not even an major anniversary (47 years old this year). I could reflect on the fact that LPs and CDs will soon be totally obsolete, but that’s not the reason. More to the point, I recently came across the cover for this album and it sparked the notion that every generation has some definitive object that triggers memories — some of these are visual, others visual and oral. For me songs like (Even if I Live to be 22) I’ll Always Remember Being Young and Let’s Do the Pretzel (And End Up Like One) bring me back to a time before art, design, and humor had to be sophisticated to be good.

This essay was originally published on June 8, 2009. 

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Music

Comments [6]

Wow...I remember having this album (long time since I have used that term with regards to music!) too. I still have a lot of records in a trunk somewhere. I will look for it. Thanks for the reminder!
Fort Worth Guy

As someone who inherited my father's MAD Magazine collection, it's interesting to think about how these "objects that trigger memories" do it so well… like you said, because they were so good. MAD has always been an example of consistently great work. (At least to those who appreciate it's humor.) Who can forget great sections like Moron Mail, or special editions like A Mad Look at Magic Tricks? Thanks for sharing… maybe MAD needs to digitize some of these great hits for us to enjoy as the mediums begin to give way to newer ones… ;)
Alberto Rigau

Wow ... I remember, it's a while ago.

I had the same album. It had the same effect on me as well. Let's do the PRETZ-el!

I loved the cartoons on the back cover too. Perhaps a scan of the back?
Eric Diamond

I had several of the bonus records and dozens or more issues of MAD but even as I hounded garage sales and records shows for many years, I had never comes across the MAD LPs, really. Hey, I found a rare Abbie Hoffman LP for a quarter once and things like that, but oddly, no MAD. Now I know how addictively fun the recordings are.

I was the youngest brother of 3 and the oldest bought both Mad Twist Rock-n-Roll and Fink Along with Mad. As we all got older and high school became college and/or military, all LP albums stayed with one brother or another eventually to all be lost brother #2 left thwem behind in storage by mistake when he moved.

Fast forward another bunch of years, and I have my iTunes/iPad, money, and time to search eBay. I bought the albums. I bought the equipment to record albums to harddrive, and I converted sones to iTunes format and I now have these 2 albums on my iPad.

Listening to it now. I found this site as I wax doing another search trying to find out what happened to Hayes and Russo.

Loved the MAD paperback book that had "National Gorilla Suit Day'.

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