Sunday, March 29, 2009
BOB ARBOGAST dies 50 Years after "CHAOS"
Born on April Fool's Day 1927, and just missing his 82nd birthday, half-shot novelty wonder Bob Arbogast died on March 21st.
Half-shot novelty wonder? Well, he wasn't a one-shot novelty wonder, because his lone achievement "Chaos" was co-authored by the late Stanley Ralph Ross. It wasn't much of a wonder at all, since it failed to make the Top 40, but it's still a favorite among fans of ill novelty singles.
Back in 1959, Arbogast & Ross tossed their noisy double-sided parody of radio station disc jockeys into a market saturated with variations on "break ins," the style popularized by Buchanan & Goodman in 1956 (and continued on and on by Dickie Goodman until his suicide).
Your download is both sides of "Chaos," the doings at K-OS Radio. Disc jockey "Speedy Clip" offers a variety of commercials interrupted by singing station identifications, and a series of droning deep-voiced parody versions of Ritchie Valens' "Donna."
Legend has it that "Chaos" failed to hit the charts because it was banned from the radio after it had sold over 10,000 copies "because radio stations suddenly realized it was a parody of radio stations." More likely, it disappeared because by definition, a "novelty" track isn't going to stay novel for very long. It may also have gotten limited airplay if station managers felt they would be offending fans of the recently mangled Ritchie Valens, whose wistful ballad "Donna" was still on the charts.
Some of the gags were pretty zany at the time. At one point "Speedy Clip" shouts, ""I see by the old clock on the wall there's a dead fly!" Later, the station's girl singers warble, "Just to prove it's real, here's the K-OS approval seal!" You guessed it: instant sound effect of a seal barking. To quote a B-side from fellow Liberty novelty act David Seville, "That's almost good." Especially at the time.
Fans who haunt comedy bins of moribund record stores might want to pick up the album "At Carnegie Hall," which Arbogast co-created with another partner, Dick Whittinghill, or perhaps the "My Son the Copycat" album that Arbogast co-wrote (with Stan Ross doing the fake Allan Sherman vocals). Mainly Bob Arbogast's credits involve bouncing around a variety of Los Angeles radio stations, writing comedy for various performers, and doing a lot of zany voiceovers for commercials and some cartoon shows (including 'Roger Ramjet' and 'Hot Wheels.')
Bob's wikipedia entry was obviously written by a relative or a fan of his, and bears some comical warnings from Wikipedia: "This article does not cite any references or sources" and "This article contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information." Among the yet to be verified information is that "Chaos" was banned anywhere, or that Bob was kicked off radio stations for being an iconoclast. Likewise, the note that Bob "originated" the concept of "The Question Man" in 1951, and is acknowledged for it in Steve Allen's book "The Question Man" is not accurate.
"The Question Man" bit was used in various ways by a lot of comics of the day, including Ernie Kovacs (and was turned into "Karnak" by Johnny Carson). Apparently when Steve began doing it on his show, Arbogast submitted material...and some kind of grouse about having originated the idea. What Steve actually says in "The Question Man," a book compiling some of the gags used on his show, is that "a funny man by the name of Bob Arbogast not only contributed a number of jokes but also provided us with the somewhat unnerving information that he had thought of the Question Man idea itself several years before we did." That's not exactly an admission of guilt. The idea of using a question as the punchline to a joke probably goes back to Shakespeare's day. As most of you know, Steve was an extremely nice guy who never fought about "credit" and "attribution."
The name "Arbogast" was momentarily popular circa 1959-1960, at least in a mentally ill way. It was the name of Martin Balsam's character in "Psycho," as well as the name on a crazy comedy team's novelty single. Exactly 50 years after it was first alarming people on the airwaves, here's "Chaos" back at you, as a salute to the weird duo that made it, Bob Arbogast and Stan Ross.
CHAOS by Arbogast and Ross
Posted by Ill Folks at 10:17 AM