VARIOUS ARTISTS -- Dr. Demento 25th Anniversary Collection (Rhino)

In 1970, disc jockey and ex-roadie, Barry Hansen made his first appearance as Dr. Demento on Los Angeles' legendary free-form radio station, KPPC. Twenty-five successful years later, Rhino has issued a 36-track double-CD compilation commemorating the occasion. The 25th Anniversary Collection contains several rare and hard-to-find songs, many available on CD for the first time.

Disc one gets things off to a rocking start with "Weird Al" doing "Smells Like Nirvana". From there we jump back to 1956, and Stan Freberg's echo laden single, "Heartbreak Hotel". One of the things that really keeps things interesting on the collection (as if the material itself wasn't enough), is the way the songs jump through every era of music from the last 49 years. Where else will you find Benny Bell's classic single "Shaving Cream", along with tracks by The Happy Schnapps Combo, Spike Jones, and Green Jelly all in the same package?

Also found on disc one is "Fast Food", by ex-St. Louis disc jockeys, Ron Stevens and Joy Grdnic. Anyone who's ever gone through a restaurant's drive-thru can relate to this one. Of course, no collection like this can be complete without a track from Leonard Nimoy. However, rather than the obligatory "Proud Mary", this time we get the mundane "Highly Illogical". Spike Jones is represented by the ever-popular "Dance of the Hours", and nearing the end of disc one, we get Tiny Tim's famous rendition of "Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips With Me".

Moving onto disc two, the selection is a little disappointing. While it definitely has its moments, like Bobby Pickett & Peter Ferrara's hilarious "Star Drek", or 1972's classic drinking song, "In Heaven There is No Beer" by Clean Living, we're left to sit through Larry Verne's whining on "Mr. Custer", and 1954's "Song of the Sewer" by Art Carney. There are also some glaring omissions here, such as Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!", Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh", or Barnes & Barnes' "Fish Heads" -- the latter being the most requested song ever on the show. Plus (and maybe this is a blessing in disguise), there are no William Shatner songs.

As is the case with most Rhino releases, the packaging on The 25th Anniversary Collection is excellent. It contains a 28-page booklet with photos of several of the artists on the CDs, along with an extensive essay written by Hansen, and full label credits for each track. While this is not the definitive Dr. Demento collection (that would be Rhino's 6LP "The Greatest Novelty Records of All Time), it is certainly a great place to start.

© 1995 Steve Marshall