Here’s one for the Magic Eight ball: Of the 3,000 or so albums released in 1975, how many were flops? And out of those 2,850 flops how many of those crash-and-burns featured work that stands with the best of their creators’ careers? We could never know, really, but A Star Is Bought, Albert Brooks’ sophomore outing—which so captures the spirit of its zany time—is surely one of them. And Trunkworthy demands it not approach its 40th anniversary sitting in the can. There are many here among us who feel that life is but a bad joke without major humor product close at hand. Am I right?
Signs point to yes. Even if the charge is, “No one sits around and listens to a whole comedy album,” A Star Is Bought still wins. It can—and maybe should—be heard whole, because it’s that rarest of birds: a ‘concept album that actually works. (A Grammy nominee for Best Comedy Album in 1976, it predates his SNL shorts and his film career, and discloses the truly unique comedic mind whose internal workings would not be fully revealed until Real Life and Lost in America.)
Here’s Brooks’ genius concept, as he earnestly explains at the outset: Most albums fail because they aim for exposure on just one radio format. Albert is sure he’s found the key to success. He’s made an album guaranteed to appeal to every radio audience. Totally convinced of the idea’s brilliance, he boldly marches on to introduce and play us each cut. It’s like in his 1985 film Lost in America, when he blithely decides to cash in his family’s assets, buy a Winnebago, and ride out on a life-changing road trip. Just do it, and boy, does he.
Supremely confident, he cooks up a classical-music cut (writing and singing lecherous lyrics to Ravel’s “Bolero”), a talk-show cut (he handles calls from, among others, the convivial dad of a Brooks groupie), and even one for the then-budding Dr. Demento audience (a selection of on-air gaffes entitled “Pardon My Boner, Volume 8”). And how about “The Englishman-German-Jew Blues”? To entice FM-rock stations, Brooks is sure that an extended cut “where I jam with a heavy celebrity” will do the trick. Hence, bluesman Albert King wails of his travails as Brooks tries to revive his spirits with a series of bromides before settling into a long and winding ethnic joke. Like the best Brooks, it’s thoroughly cringe-worthy, and priceless.
Just as good as that is “Phone Call to Americans,” a flag-wrapped parody of those recitation records that bloomed for the Bicentennial. To martial accompaniment, Albert solemnly invites listeners to the nation’s anniversary celebration (“but before you RSVP, maybe you ought to know a little more about the birthday girl . . .”), then recites comparisons of our glorious past to our diminished present (“There used to be a time when Mother’s Day was a whole week in July. What happened, girls?”) before building to a star-spangled punchline.
But my favorite bit, which my wife can attest passes the repeat-play test (“Are you listening to that again?”), is “Party From Outer Space,” a surefire “in” for Top 40, a ’50s-type cut-in novelty modeled on “The Flying Saucer.” At a galactic bash, Brooks’ clueless correspondent interviews celebrities, including Lassie, who respond in record samples—authentic-sounding, utterly fake records cooked up by Brooks and Harry Shearer. When Brooks exclaims “Oh, look over there! It’s the great Al Jolson!,” he’s answered by Linda Ronstadt crooning “Don’t bother me now.”
Doesn’t it qualify as some sort of aesthetic tyranny that allows stuff this funny to remain unavailable? Trunkworthy demands liberation now.
Hear A Star Is Bought now on Grooveshark