Leave it to our “ol’ pal Bozo the Clown” to do an album with a New Year’s theme as well as Christmas. And like Oprah, Bozo endeavors to “teach us how to ‘be’.”
BOZO’S CHRISTMAS SING-ALONG PARTY
Little World Records LW-912 (Mono / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP with Book / 1966)
Reissue: Peter Pan Records #8123 (Stereo / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1973)
Little World was one of many low-budget children’s labels of the baby boom era. All The Little World discs seemed to have the same basic musical combo (featuring an organ) and the same overall sound. Bozo and Romper Room were their heavy hitter licensees, but they also released a strange group of albums starring Ideal Toys’ Barbie-like Tammy doll and her friends, complete with awkward plastic poses on the covers.
Producers: Jody Cameron, Larry Harmon. Cover Art (Peter Pan Reissue): George Peed. Running Time: 23 minutes.
Songs: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” “Silent Night.”
Spoken Word: “The Night Before Christmas,” “The New Year’s Mentioning Intentionings”.
Voices: Larry Harmon (Bozo, Santa Claus, Butchy, Big Shorty, Short Biggy, Professor Tweetypooper, Elvis, Wacko, Slippery Bly International Spy); Chris Allen (Belinda); Vocal Ensemble.
In the ‘60s, Bozo was king o’ the clowns (Emmett Kelly, Jr. notwithstanding). Actor/entrepreneur Larry Harmon negotiated the rights from Capitol Records to create what advertisers call a “toolbox” or “media kit,” offering local stations the materials and guidelines to bring Bozo to daytime TV as the live-action “Bozo’s Big Top” variety show, including Bozo cartoons, character outlines, games to play and like that. Stations didn’t have to start their local shows from scratch and Harmon could claim to have provided decent-quality kidvid all over the country.
Harmon also made a fortune as these local versions continued for decades and a Boston version was packaged for syndication The Chicago version, starring Bob Bell as Bozo, became such an institution, babies needed to be signed for Bozo tickets so they could see the show in person years later. Chicagoans took Bozo so much to their civic hearts, many thought he originated there. Bell also made many appearances as Bozo outside of his own show—even on Late Night with David Letterman in a very funny bit (“Lozenge?” “Please.” Hey, Bozo! Were STANDING in it!”)
Harmon’s cartoons helped usher in the beginnings of Filmation cartoon product. Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland met at Harmon’s company and learned a few things before striking out on their own and forming Filmation with Norm Prescott. Animated Bozo has the same lean figure and large head of many Filmation characters. Part of the cartoons’ appeal is that they feature some fine voice work by such giants as Paul Frees.But no such luck on the Harmon Bozo records. On the Little World discs, just like Golden records, Harmon does all the voices except Belinda. He’s perfectly capable of handling some characters, but not virtually the whole cast. True, other voice actors of the day based their performances on a few loose impressions as Harmon does with his take on Peter Lorre, Edward G. Robinson and radio’s “Mr. Kitzle,” Artie Auerbach, but handling such a wide range is something that takes a more adroit voice artist.
Bozo bubbles through organ-tooting version of a few public-domain Christmas songs, narrates “The Night Before Christmas” and by side two, welcomes in the New Year with a bromide-brimming set of “Mentioning Intentionings.” The album closes with a few bars of “Bozo’s Song” (by Alan Livingston and Billy May from the original Capitol records), played on bells.
This album was reissued on Peter Pan Records (with a stereo effect created by moving the mono tracks back and forth), but I cannot yet determine whether there was a connection between Peter Pan and Little World. The latter lists its address as 250 West 57th Street in New York, which was the location of CBS Records’s. Either this was a New York satellite office for Peter Pan or Little World just eventually sold their library. At any rate, you can hear some of the same Christmas songs on Peter Pan’s 1978 LP, “Exciting Christmas Stories with Scooby-Doo.”
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The New Year’s Mentioning Intentionings”
As alluded to in the intro, Jada Pinkett-Smith once said to Oprah, “You taught us how to ‘be’.” Perhaps that was Bozo’s golden goal back in 1965. Harmon joins himself as Butchy with Chris (“Hoppity Hooper”) Allen as Belinda. Looking back at the turbulent ‘60s, if ONLY everyone would have sat down and listened to Bozo’s whiz-bang wisdom and remembered what he always told us—just keep laughin’—perhaps there might have been a more Bozo-riffic world.
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR’S PARTY
Irwin the Disco Duck
Peter Pan Records #8203 (Stereo / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1977)
Executive Producer: Martin Kasen. Producer: Ralph Stein. Associate Producer: Donald Kasen. Cover Art: George Peed. Running Time: 33 minutes.
Songs: “Disco Duck II,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Up On the House Top,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” Christmas Medley (“Joy to the World,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Deck the Halls, “ “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Jingle Bells”), New Year’s Medley (“Auld Lang Syne,” “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” “Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider,” “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here,” “Bill Bailey.”
Voices: Don Messick (Irwin); The Wibble Wabble Singers.
No one’s denying that Irwin the Disco Duck was a “tribute” to Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” novelty hit. Peter Pan Records, though, turned their “Irwin” into a cottage industry for the family-run label. There was Irwin merchandise and over half a dozen Irwin albums (the first LP went gold). Irwin outlasted the disco era and was renamed Irwin the Dynamic Duck so he could do Star Wars-themed platters.
What’s cool about this record—and the reason it’s included here—is because the great Don Messick performs Irwin’s vocal duties, which amount to playing a party DJ. Messick had worked with children’s and budget record producer Ralph Stein in the late ‘60s, when they collaborated on an odd Golden album called “Jim’s Fairy Tales.” Stein produced many of the Irwin albums, so it’s likely that he cast Messick as Irwin. Irwin’s voice was also sometimes played by the fine New York actor, Bob Kalaban.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“New Year’s Medley”
This will give you an idea of how all of the Irwin albums sounded; they’re very much like ‘70s time capsules. The music production is quite good for a budget album. Maybe this holiday season, we’ll let Irwin the Disco Duck countdown to the New Year with us, before Ryan Seacrest does.
Happy New Year, everyone – see you in 2015.