This is the newest and second release of rare Spike Jones TV material from the Spike Jones estate and produced by his son Spike Jones Jr.As welcome as it is,it presents a curious puzzle and feeling of unease with this reviewer.The Spike Jones material is a solid five stars all the way,no question,but the packaging this time around and the way it has been marketed in general leaves me cold.Let's look at the material first and then we'll discuss it's drawbacks after.
First off you are getting three wonderful discs here.Disc one gives us two entries:"The Best of Spike Jones" volumes one and two,released on VHS in 1985 and 1987.Both are culled from a myriad of his shows in the 50s,some you will have already seen on the first release of Spike Jones material over a year ago,the excellent "Spike Jones-the Legend".Spike Jones Jr.put the culled clips together to simulate what one of Spike Sr.'s shows would have looked like,and done a nice job I might add.
Volume One,like two and three to follow all open with the same sketch of music down through the ages:Cave men,to Mozart,to WC Handy,To Benny Goodman and back to the cave men.The first number is Farandole while the second takes on William Tell's Overture with Doodles Weaver at the helm.Here as in other volumes Jad Paul and Freddy Morgan doing a scorching job on the banjo's(you will also see Freddy play with his brother Dick ).Later we find Spike and boys depreciating "I'm in the Mood For Love" with it being capped off by a memorable performance from Billy Barty as Liberace and Earl Bennett as his brother George.Still farther on there is a great moment when we find George Rock on trumpet and Spike on the drums(a rare occurrence)playing Minka;a throw back to "the Other Orchestra" days.There is the famous"It's tough to be a girl musician,especially when you happen to be a man"sketch and all ends with the "RCA Favourites" moment featuring the songs"Captain of the Spaceship","Chloe","Holiday For Strings","You always Hurt the one You Love", and "Cocktails for Two".The end credits(also as in the other volumes)find the band and gang heading out the studio doors and waving with Spike telling us "Don't forget to write".
Volume Two on Disc one starts off with the"In a Persian Market"Medley followed by the Pete James sketch of him socking-himself-with-his-digits routine.Spike and the boys slaughter Orchi-Cornya with Freddy Morgan as a banjo strumming Stalin!Watch here,as throughout these discs,for those quick moments of a wild-eyed Spike and the throwing down,bouncing and catching(almost always) of his drumsticks.Cool...love it! Eddie Arnold makes an appearance and there is a prison sketch with Joe Besser,well known as a later Stooge of the Three Stooges.Near the end Mimi Benzell attempts to make it through "Indian Love Call" with Spike-she doesn't know him vewwy well,do she? Then the end credits.
Disc two features "The Best of Spike Jones-Volume Three",released in 1988 on VHS and another newer compilation a Spike Jones musical "Wreck We-Um".Highlights in Volume Three include the banjo talents of Freddy and Dick Morgan and Jad Paul.Billy Barty does an hilarious turn singing"That Old Black Magic" and doing great impressions of Cagney,Durante and singer Johnny Ray.He shows up again later dancing with the Barton Twins-you have to see it to appreciate it!Super talented eccentric violinist Wilbur Hall makes an appearance wearing his long toed shoes(reminiscent of English Music Hall performer Little Tich) and actress Zasu Pitts makes an appearance with Spike singing "Love In Bloom",City Slicker style.It is a good thing Spike is there to help because she seems lost a good deal of the time.Howdy Doody,Buffalo Bob Smith and Clarabell the Clown drop by and "jam" with Spike on "Bye,Bye Blackbird":Clarabell plays the trombone and Buffalo Bob plays the accordion!."Wreck We-UM" opens with the Sabre Dance then Billy Barty does another hilarious turn as Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy";costume and all.He makes his entrance out of Moussy Garner's bass!There is the well known several headed-long clarinet gag,blown by Spike.The best clip is from the show with Perez Prado,a then popular purveyor of the Latin sound which was quite "in" then.Here Spike and Perez have a battle of the bands to the song "Endless Love" and it is simply hilarious.With some wonderful and bizarre sight gags thrown in along the way the show ends.
Disc Three is the treasure of the entire release and finds the only two and ultra rare TV pilots ever produced by Spike for television;both directed by veteran Eddie Cline,with credits going back to Sennett and Buster Keaton.They were filmed during the summer of 1950 and hawked around Hollywood for a couple of years,with no takers.Both pilots feature the same opening(with slight variations)with a small tv screen,as the titles roll on and George Rock telling us"For the love of Mike,don't miss Spike".Also you will see a couple of cards with the words"commercial" which appear during the course of the show as a cue to the potential buyer/sponsor where his product advert would be placed.The first pilot is called"The Foreign Legion" and it opens with Spike and the band and the Barton Twins singing their version of "O Sole Mio".After this comes Spikes' oft played Foreign Legion routine both on radio and in live shows,with a bit of beefing up for TV.Dick Morgan has a running gag in which he appears every so often eating and throwing away his deviled egg sandwiches.The sketch hasn't aged so well and doesn't quite hold up all the way through in the funny department,but it is still great to see and have.One precious moment comes when Spike and Freddy Morgan talk closely together but Freddy breaks up,breaking up Spike and they have to start the bit again.The show ends with a message from Spike to the younger viewers and a "don't forget to write" and sign off.The next pilot is called"Wild Bill Hiccup".It starts with the quite appropriate "Pass the Biscuits Mirandy" song.Then it's into another oft played live and on radio sketch and beefed up for TV;"Wild Bill Hiccup".It's a two beat rhythm throughout and every one is doing a two step and rhyming their lines.On radio it is hilarious but again for TV it doesn't always entirely work but there are many nice moments.Spike is continually riding a hobby horse and his outfit?...you just have to see it!Joe Siracussa does his two head bit,Freddy Morgan does a Chinese laundry man with a mule routine,lovely and velvet toned Helen Grayco sings "One more for the Road" and then the whole gang ends it off with an old fashioned hoe down featuring Frankie Little and Junior Martin.At the end Spike has another "talk" with the youngsters and ends off with "don't forget to write".
These shows are pure Spike Jones and with everything Spike it is always gags,gags and more gags,both sight and sound.There's nothing like it anymore and Spike was about the best proponent of this type of musical humour.There were others throughout the years but none have had more of a lasting impact than Mr.Jones.That is why it is so gratifying to see these releases from his son of his fathers' material.
By the way the set has been transferred nicely to DVD so there are no problems with video or sound.The entire set itself while contained in a wider than normal slip case is itself covered again in a matching cardboard outer cover.
Now let us get quickly to what has bothered me about this newest release.First of all the packaging is the most obvious drawback here.This is a disappointingly cheap affair,unlike that of the first release.That one you will recall had all the discs in their own separate compartments,nice and tight and on a plastic "platform".
This release has two of the three discs feathered.That is the first two sit one overlapping the other;the one on a full spindle while the other has a half one to hold it on.Not only does it make getting the discs out quite hard but it increases the chances of scratching them.And if one wants to watch the second disc,what does one do with the first one?You have to put it down somewhere in order to get the second out,right?You need to have(preferably)an empty slip case on hand to put it in.Now isn't this more trouble than a consumer should ever have in order to enjoy this product?You're darn tootin' it is!There is no "platform" here so the first two discs sit pinned directly to the bottom of one side of the inner case and the third has its' own spot on the inner cover of the other side.I would gladly have paid a little extra to get what I had in the first release;without question.
The second problem here is a more minor critique but I think one that should be mentioned.It is that this release,to me,should have been the FIRST release.Since this contains "best of" compilations/material,wouldn't it have been better from a marketing standpoint to release these first? There is an old saying"start as you mean to go".When Mr.Spike Jones Jr.released "The Legend" he released complete individual shows with their respective release dates;wonderful,high class all the way and just what a Spiker like me wants.So one would expect a continuation of same,right?To me it would have made more sense to release the compilations and whet the appetite of the fans for the shows from which they came,THEN release the complete TV shows.Finally,as I just briefly mentioned,there are NO given release dates for ANY of the material in this new release in the liner notes.VERY disappointing.
In conclusion this material is historically significant and a must have for any Spiker out there.Jones was a complete and utter original and was the most popular and enduring musician/comedian/entertainer of his ilk.His material alone gets a five star rating all the way.However the marketing strategy and especially the cheaper packaging of this release has caused some serious concerns here and marks must be deducted.I can only hope that in future releases(and we all hope there ARE future releases),that Mr.Jones Jr.goes back to the format and higher quality of the first release.That is exact release dates,better liner notes and most especially complete Spike Jones shows from which the clips of this release were culled from.
Thank you music lovers and thank you Spike Jones Jr!