***** How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All? / Col. CS-9884 (1969)
***** Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers / Col. C-30102 (1970)
Peter Bergman, Philip Proctor, David Ossman and Philip Austin first appeared in 1967 as a mutant hybrid of James Joyce, Monty Hall, Douglas MacArthur, and Flash Gordon. They were the first, and remain the only, comedy group whose primary medium was the stereo phonograph record itself; thus, their best albums stand up to literally hundreds of listenings. Multitracked, multileveled, multidimensional—one never gets to the bottom of them. Consistent themes recur from LP to LP: that changing TV channels is the fundamental aesthetic and political experience of modern times; that aliens long ago took over California; that the U.S.A. lost World War II (we were fighting fascism, remember).
Electrician, their first outing, is only fair, but contains the incredible “Beat the Reaper,” the first of several game-show parodies (“Hawaiian Sellout,” “Give It Back”). Two Places features an excellent if limited Sam Spade satire, backed with the first full flowering of Firesign genius, a time trip involving a used-car salesman, W.C. Fields, and the aforementioned author of Ulysses, who is liberally quoted. Dwarf, a complete work, scrambles a fascist future, high-school madness, old movies, the Korean War, ethnic humor and uncontrolled paranoia to emerge as the ultimate answer record to Catcher in the Rye; it is also the greatest comedy album ever made.*** I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus / Col. C 30737 (1971)
An ambitious, overly rational work about a future run by machines and populated by clones. Spooky, but a little too obvious. And, as the Firesigns would later claim, not insane, and that hurts.
** Dear Friends / Col. PG 31099 (1972)
Transcriptions from the Firesign radio show. Sometimes funny, but very conventional.
* Not Insane or Anything You Want To / Col. KC 31585 (1972)
Further decline: witless, noisy, unfocused.
** The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra / Col. KC 32730 (1974)
A half-assed comeback containing only one good joke in the course of a meandering, pointless Sherlock Holmes parody.***** Everything You Know Is Wrong / Col. KC 33141 (1974)
The real comeback, in which daredevil Rebus Cannebus attempts to put out the sun in the center of the earth; slaves seize power; Erich von Daniken gets his; aliens get us; Nazis emerge from the South American jungles to eat moss; and the lights go out all over the world.
**** In the Next World, You’re on Your Own / Col. PC-33475 (1975)
Based loosely on the popularity of Billy Jack Dog Food (“The kind Billy Jack eats”) and Marlon Brando’s refusal to accept an Academy Award; terrestrial destruction continues as media pigs eat flaming death; cop shows take over TV; aliens retreat into the central cortex; and the hero knocks over a floor display of P. J. Probé wine. A triumph.
***** Forward into the Past / Col. PG-34391 (1976)
Two LPs of Firesign’s best over the years, brilliantly selected and programmed. Horrifying, death-dealing, life-enhancing.
** Just Folks… A Firesign Chat / Butterfly FLY-001 (1977)
In the ups and downs of Firesigniana, another down: mostly pallid, single-tracked parodies of Jimmy Carterland, though there is that commercial for “Confidenz in the System,” a new wonder drug, and a few random lines are inexplicably hilarious. A stall, perhaps—the future calls.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson (1979)
This is great. Any chance we might see a post with his foreword to Marching to Shibboleth: The Big Big Book of Plays by the Firesign Theatre?
When they get talked about at all anymore, I only see references to wordplay and great sound. Their best albums had excellent plots. Let me get all pretentious here and call them major achievements of modernism and a genre unto themselves.
The 5 star choices in this review, which helped lead me to used copies of these albums back when I was a teenager, are right on; my only quibbles are that side 1 of “Electrician” is great (a quick funny history of America, culminating with if groovy took over and got old.) —
and I think most fans rate 1971’s “Bozos” among the great ones. It’s a major work of prophetic science fiction, it turns out, and the key is theme park interactivity. Even has a happy ending, with what is likely the first dramatic enactment of computer hacking.