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2012-02-19 12:31:05

Party Records

First, a correction: in the intro to the bonus track for the 2-18-12 show, I say that the book Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1952. I mis-read my notes; the year was, of course, 1852.

I've been playing "party records" almost since the Dr. Demento Show began. These records of risqué songs and titillating comedy bits were virtually never played on radio when they were new. They were called "party records" because people generally heard them for the first time at each other's parties, not on radio. They were considered pornographic, or nearly so, in the 1930s and 40s. However, the broadminded free-form FM stations where my show began in the early 1970s had no problem with them, as long as they didn't use the forbidden "seven words," which most of them did not. Old party records like "Davy's Dinghy," "The Freckle Song" and especially "Shaving Cream" were among the most popular things I played for many years. They were relatively easy to find in the 1970s, and I collected hundreds of them.

I don't think I'd ever featured "party records" as a special topic before, however. I already knew a fair amount about them, but learned quite a bit more in the process of researching this segment, which wound up being structured a little more like one of my college lectures than like my usual shows. (No background music, for one thing).

The party record business began in 1933, at the very bottom of the Great Depression. Before that, the record business had been very strait-laced, with rare exceptions. The first party records were made for the only people that still had money, the "one percent" of their day, and featured entertainers from some of the posher nightclubs of Manhattan, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. Most of them were on small independent labels (which usually contracted with one of the major labels for pressing, and sometimes studio facilities). The openly gay entertainers Ray Bourbon and Bruz Fletcher were among the early stars of the party record genre. By the mid-1930s party records with an earthier flavor took their place alongside the café society entertainers, especially the products of the somewhat mysterious Los Angeles indie label Hot Shots from Hollywood (re-named Hollywood Hot Shots), and self-released records by the intrepid Brooklyn DIY artist Benny Bell.

In the 1940s the party record business simultaneously went in two different directions: more sophisticated releases packaged in attractive albums, which found their way into some of the more adventurous mainstream record stores (but still not onto radio playlists), and earthier products sold under the counter along with stag films and pornographic literature. The latter category included two hot sellers which were bootlegged time and again ("Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the still highly amusing "Crepitation (i.e. farting) Contest.") Hollywood Hot Shots releases from the 1930s were also widely bootlegged, the originals having been unavailable since that label abruptly shut down about 1937.

The under-the-counter side of the business faded away in the 1950s. Ruth Wallis remained popular, as did a few other stars from the 1940s and earlier. The big new star of party records was Redd Foxx. His early records were released on singles, like party records always had been, but his big sales were on LP's. They cost almost nothing to make and sold in the hundreds of thousands. By 1960 there were nine Redd Foxx LP's available. (Yes, the same Redd Foxx who starred in Sanford and Son.)

Redd Foxx's success led to huge careers for other black comedians like Moms Mabley, Pigmeat Markham, Rudy Ray Moore and especially Richard Pryor, who took things to a whole new level. By 1970 the old language taboos were fading, and records by Pryor (and George Carlin) could be sold in mainstream record stores almost everywhere. The party record business as a separate entity ceased to exist...but just as that was happening, dozens of old party platters were finding new life on the Dr. Demento Show...especially "Shaving Cream," which made the Billboard pop charts in 1975.

There are far more wonderful party records than I had time for on this show...I didn't get into the 1960s Southern-style records by Jeb and Cousin Easy, for instance. Do let me know what you'd like to hear next time.

Thanks to Edwin Harvey Jr. for suggesting this topic. Lots more info on party records of the 78 rpm era can be found on the David Diehl's "Blue Pages" website.

Previous Replies:
2012-02-25 10:28:42
From: Scott
Party Records
Doctor D-The party records show was fabulous-Would you consider Tom Lehrer to be a master of the genre as well?-"The Masochism Tango","I Got It From Agnes" & "Be Prepared" seem to suggest that.
2012-02-19 15:02:09
From: Edwin
Party Records
Listening to his show this week was like a history lesson taught by
Dr.Demento! Maybe he can do a part 2 of Party Records that were not played on the show in the future. Thanks again,Doc,for doing my suggested special topic this week! I always learn something from Dr. Demento!
2012-02-19 14:18:02
From: Kevin J
Party Records
Darn it Doctor, you did it again.
We tune in to be entertaioned by our favorite dememented music and we end up walking away learning something!
You are sneaky!
That was a great show, thanks for giving us more than just a show.

Kevin from Orland Park