Bob Boilen and the curiously-spelled The Best of Marcel Marceao.
Bob Boilen and the curiously-spelled The Best of Marcel Marceao. Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
Eighty-nine years ago today, Marcel Marceau, the WWII French resistance fighter and the most famous mime in the world, was born.
One of my favorite albums of all time is The Best of Marcel Marceao (sic). The album cover features a drawing of the great mime on in action. The disc itself contains nineteen minutes of silence and a minute of applause on each side. Bravo! Brilliant! The album was released in 1970 by MGM Records as a joke record, of course. Michael Viner, who produced Richard Nixon's inaugural ball and also put together the Incredible Bongo Band and its albumBongo Rock(none of which were jokes), made the album for $50. I found it in the cutout bins a few years later for 50 cents. (I could never figure whether Marceau's name was misspelled for legal or accidental reasons.)
This got me thinking about how recording artists sometimes play jokes with their chosen format — with the medium itself. This brought Monty Python's three-sided album to mind. It's not a triangle — it's a two sided album with three grooves: one side plays like a normal side of an LP, but the other side contains two parallel grooves, and when you put the needle down you can never be sure which one you're going to get. I had the album for a month, and always thought it was odd how short one side was, before one day that side contained a completely new set of routines — my needle had randomly found its way down the other concentric set of grooves. Genius. Sheer genius.
There have to be other great examples. Not exactly musical jokes: we're looking for records/tapes/CDs/mp3s that play with the form itself. Can you think of any?