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The first comedy album ever to top the Billboard charts
on 8 April 2003
When "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" appeared in 1960 it became the first comedy record ever to top the Billboard album charts. A quick follow-up recording, "The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!" was quickly produced and also hit the top of the charts, as well as winning a couple of Grammy awards. The result was that virtually overnight Newhart became, as this album title notes, "the most celebrated new comedian since Atilla the Hun." There are six routines on this album, most of which use Newhart's trademark technique of being part of a conversation. One of the things that surprised me is that only half the pieces have Newhart doing one side of a phone conversation, which for some reason I thought with his standard approach. The other thing that surprised me was that his audience for this live recording actually knew that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back on an envelope on the train from Washington. I do not think contemporary audience are, uh, that knowledgeable on such historical minutiae.
The funniest bit is the opening routine of "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue" ("Hi, Abe, sweetheart, how are you kid?") when the president's press agent tries to keep Honest Abe on script for his appearance at Gettysburg. But "Driving Instructor" also qualifies as top-flight classic Newhart. The only complaint would be that some of these routines, especially "Merchandising the Wright Brothers" and "Nobody Would Ever Play Baseball" could be longer; Newhart is only beginning to milk those ideas for everything they are worth. More importantly, this material has not really become dated over the past forty years; the exception would be "The Kruschev Leanding Rehersal" ("Take the putter from Ike"), but maybe a young audience can just substitute Gorbachev, Yeltsin or Putin for Kruschev and get the point anyway ("Take the chips from Dubyah"). From a historical perspective "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" has to still be considered one of the Top 10 comedy albums of all time. Or to quote Lincoln's press agent, "Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it."