I RECENTLY became the owner of a new disc, conceived in the Lampoon Castle, announcing itself to be the "Complete Concert" of the Lampoon Tabernacle Choir at Leningrad Stadium. Appalled by the lack of stimulating sounds on the various Boston rock 'n roll outlets, I turned to the 'Poon groves with some eagerness. But my expectations were disappointed. The 'Poon record fails on just two accounts, but they are, sad to say, vital ones: the record isn't funny, and it isn't good rock 'n roll.
Admittedly, rock 'n roll satire is a pretty tough business. If you get too juvenile people won't realize that you are trying to be satiric. If the music shows too much imagnation, you fail to capture the essence of rock, which is an uncanny tedium of the same basic sounds welded together by brute rhythm. But satire is possible, if you take into account the basic schools of rock 'n roll thought and try to plan your work within one of the several important traditions in the form.
To some extent Chis Cerf and the groovers at the Castle have done this, and where they most closely identify with the rich rock 'n roll heritage, they have been most successful. But the failures stem from more than irrelevance. The lyrics suffer from complexity and a lack of really funny lines. They try too hard to be cute and end up pompous. The average rock 'n roll hit does not usually have more than one or two verses of any consequence, and often there are little more than a dozen major words in the whole song. (A recent, but almost classic example of word paucity is the "Duke of Earl.")
Another problem is the lack of imagination in the actual music. The 'Poon's tunes are extremely limited, and the arrangements embarrassingly simple. Many suffer from lack of a clearly defined beat, a must for all rock songs. Others show the inability of the composers to use effectively even the small repertoire of chords permitted to rock composers. But most important, the tunes are generally dead, and Gordie Main's rather tame Maniacs little to revive them. Perhaps the trouble is that few electronic distortions were employed.
The lack of electronic amplification and echo is most distressingly obvious in the case of the soloist, Mr. Cerf. Cerf displays a rather good, raw,
THE record opens with a ditty about "John Foster Dulles" which is almost enough to discourage listening to the rest. The song has no historic precedents, and the subject matter of Mr. Dulles was more fruitfully exploited by the Kingston Trio several years ago. "Fallout Filly," which leads off side two, is nearly as poor.
Far more successful is the "Great Name Dropper." This is almost good. Like many recent hits, the words are simple. The chorus consists of a series of "Da da da da da da" etc., sung energetically and quite convincingly. The verses, made up solely of assorted names, are less exciting, but the whole effect is favorable. "Shades" Felson's sax is properly guttural, and is reminiscent of a quacking duck. Delightful.
"The Harvard Coop" has possibilities, but they are not explored. The words don't make much sense, but rock 'n roll that is often a virtue. Throughout the song we hear of the wonders of sets of "monopoly, opolyopoly" and "refund checks a-heck heck." An echo chamber, a good drummer, a bridge tune, and slightly less
"The Penguin" received much
"The major opus of the disc is the Cadaver Quartet," which is firmly in tradition of the metaphysical rock.
As you can see, the musical possibilities here are fascinating. The 'Poon
"I'm Losing Irv to the Ready
The one jazz attempt, "A Christmas
One song, however, succeeds. It succeeds so well, though, that it might pass for a legitimate pop song. "What Is Love" has a poignant melody, a properly restrained instrumental background, and really hilarious singing and recitation by Cerf and Mike Frith. The number truly embodies the spirit of the slow rock 'n roll that addresses itself with ultra sincerity to the deep and perplexing problems of our times. Cerf and Frith find an answer to their question What is Love?--"It's the smile upon the face of a rhinoceros in heat."
In short, the 'Poonies miss many opportunities for good parody by acting too much like 'Poonies. Where they are effective, the result is not so much satire as sub-par rock 'n roll. In a highly competitive, quality business like rock music, nothing but the best is satisfying.