Close Harmony, Few Notes

THE HARVARD LAMPOON TABERNACLE CHOIR SINGS AT LENINGRAD STADIUM. Vanitas Records V-4401. $4.98.

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, voice. That is, he has no voice at all, just a rasping, unmusical tone that occasionally stays on pitch. Such a voice is perfect for rock, if it is doctored with numerous tubes. In its natural, undoctored self it is merely sad and less.

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 repetition would have helped immensely. Still, it is possible that the does capture the atmosphere of favorite cooperative store, and that is important. For if rock 'n roll has value, it is in its ability to the flavor of contemporary life.

"The Penguin" received much publicity as an alternative to the , but frankly, it falls flat on its . The dance is too complicated, and the music lacks the sensuality of Chubby Checker's Twist. And Cerf, although chubby, is no Checker.

"The major opus of the disc is the Cadaver Quartet," which is firmly in tradition of the metaphysical rock. basic problem is that of a teener couple separated by the untimely death of one of its members. In the "Cadaver Quartet" the girl dies of carbon monoxide fumes while making love in a parked car, and her boy friend is properly distraught. He first tells of his eternal devotion to her corpse. She answers from Above that he must concentrate on her soul because the dead body is sure to lose its appeal. Not quite convinced, the boy soon gets the "Rigor Mortis Blues." Finally, he appeals to God to let him join the girl in heaven. God, always receptive to realiable pleas from teenagers, nods OK.

As you can see, the musical possibilities here are fascinating. The 'Poon chose, regrettably, to use the tune of the "Great Pretender" to convey the , and it is not quite adequate, aside from not being original. The recited are appealing, but a little too high schoolish to be totally convincing. Cerf, in his appeal to God, uses librant, quivering voice which almost sounds professional, but during the section he displays his uneasiness with rock singing with a very self conscious emission of the all important word "Yeah" which is the backbone of modern rock songs. The Maniacs again show little originality, and cymbals will drive you crazy with their monotony.

"I'm Losing Irv to the Ready has the same problems. Despite probably the best beat on the record, the lyrics are unsingable, not too , and without precedence in past history.

The one jazz attempt, "A Christmas ," which tells of a young teenage girl who hates pheasants, turkeys can't use Santa's "goddamned presents," isn't bad, but the style is ill advised. The whole idea of this love starved bobbysoxer craving Santa's own personal affections would have been much better with a Dodie ("Daddy, Daddy, I Want a Phone in My Room") Stevens approach. Margaret Gram, who apparently is a good singer, unnecessarily prostitutes herself to the idea that the female voice in popular music must lack all richness or color.

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.