Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary Collection - Dementia 2000!
Rhino Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/16/2000
It's kind of hard to believe, but Barry Hansen - best known to the world as Dr. Demento - has been spreading his own form of musical anarchy now for 30 years. He's helped introduce such artists as "Weird Al" Yankovic and re-introduce others like Tom Lehrer to the world - and has mercilessly put us through having to hear people like William Shatner sing. (Side note: I want to meet the sonofabitch who thought up those "Priceline" ads where Shatner's fronting a band again - and kick that guy right in the groin.)
Now, Hansen and long-time partners Rhino Records have released Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary Collection - Dementia 2000!, a two-disc set that covers the best (as well as the worst) of novelty tunes for his rabid fans. It's got great moments, painful moments, hilarious moments, and moments where you may feel death is a better option than listening to a certain song again. Then again, that's all part of the area of music known as "novelty," a term that Hansen would probably dispute.
Yankovic, who owes his career to Hansen's initial support, repays the favor with three inclusions on this set, all of them highlights. From his original Star Wars parody "Yoda" to his tribute to "The Biggest Ball Of Twine In Minnesota" to his bare-bones rip on Queen with "Another One Rides The Bus," Yankovic shows why he could well be the master humor musician of all time.
Moments like this often make Dementia 2000! an absolute riot. The late Mel Blanc's "Daffy Duck's Rhapsody" is a stitch, and shows that the Looney Tunes characters could easily come to life outside of the cartoon setting. (Why this track hadn't seen the light of day for so long, I don't know.) "Deteriorata" might not ring a lot of bells, but National Lampoon's straight-laced parody of the inspirational poem "Desiderata" (put to music by Les Crane in the '70s) stays so close to the original that it's unbelievable. (Side note: my dad had me search for nearly three years for that song, and I finally found the Desiderata album for him back around 1993. Now, every time I go to the used record store, I see a copy in some el cheapo bin.)
From Lehrer ("The Elements") to the long-gone, lamented Frantics ("Last Will And Temperament," "You Were Speeding") to Phil Harris ("The Thing"), anyone who grew up with some of these songs and sketches will fall in love with them all over again. Worthy of note also are Corky & The Juice Pigs ("Eskimo"), Loudon Wainwright III ("Dead Skunk") and The Arrogant Worms ("Carrot Juice Is Murder"). But if you have to listen to just one song, choose Big Daddy's "Hamster Love" - a song so funny that I almost wet my pants. (I'm embarrassed to admit that the sound of hamster parts "cooking" - well, it made me hungry.)
But there are some tracks on Dementia 2000! that deserve to be thrown back. Chuck Berry deserves a better fate then to have a lame double-entendre song like "My Ding-A-Ling" remembered (not to mention his only chart-topper). I had forgotten how bad a song Jimmy Cross's "I Want My Baby Back" really was... and if I ever - and I mean ever - have to listen to Mrs. Miller's version of "Downtown" again, I'm going to have to kill someone.
There were a few surprises that lay in the jewel case, however. As much as people want to shag Leonard Nimoy for trying to sing (hey, anything to make us forget about Shatner), "The Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins" really isn't that bad - and I hate to say it, but the chorus has been embedded in my head for days now. On the other side, the original version of Bonzo Dog Band's "I'm The Urban Spaceman" was a bit of a letdown - but I'll always prefer Neil Innes's performance in Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl. Travesty, Ltd.'s "Rock And Roll Doctor" is a stitch - and the sad thing is, I knew people in college who probably would have listened to a show like the one they make fun of.
Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary Collection - Dementia 2000! is still very much worth the money and time, but just like the good doctor's radio show, there are moments that you wish you could escape from. (On the radio, you turn it off; on the CD,just press the advance track button.) Whatever your view of these 42 songs, we should be thankful that someone cares about the misfit children of the music industry to keep them in our daily thoughts.