STEVE MARTINÂ “Grandmother’s Song”Â b/wÂ “Let’s Get Small” (Warner Bros. Records WBS 8503, 1977)
Novelty songs and comedy records wereÂ of no short supplyÂ in my house as a kid growing up.Â In my Dad’s collection alone, amongst the guitar virtuosos and big western-swing bands, there were scads of 78 RPM platters by the likes of Spike Jones and Kay Kyser’s Kampus Kowboys.Â My older brother had the motherlode, of course: Â pristine full-length stereophonic LPs of Lenny Bruce, The Smothers Brothers, Woody Allen and Bob Newhart (whose Button-Down Mind we practically memorized;Â I can still do the wholeÂ “hair-piece” bit),Â as well as the adult (read: drug-fueled) comedy of Richard Pryor, George Carlin,Â Cheech & ChongÂ and the incomparable Redd Foxx, who’s still cussing a “blue” streak somewhere, I’m sure.
My personal favorite wasÂ the yellow gatefoldÂ double-albumÂ from Kermit Schaefer’sÂ Pardon My
Blooper! series.Â Â What’s more funny to a pre-teen boy than professional broadcastersÂ royallyÂ blowing itÂ on-air?Â Nothing, that’s what.Â (And obviouslyÂ little has changed, as trillions ofÂ YouTubers will testify.)Â Hell, I can still crack myself up at any time simply by saying, “Wonder For The Best Bread And Rolls” real fast.Â Now that’s entertainment!
Millions of late-night television viewers fell madly in love withÂ Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin in the mid-’70’s, and I was no exception.Â In the years pre-VCR, I would place a cassette recorder in front ofÂ the single monaural speaker on myÂ little black & whiteÂ portable and capture the audio portion of their genius performancesÂ on The Tonight Show, NBC’s Saturday Night, FridaysÂ and The Midnight Special for review the next day.Â And the next.Â Â And for permanent memorization thereafter.Â Kaufman’s bits, being less jokey and more visual, ultimately didn’t translate well to audio.Â Martin, however, had by this point crafted the surreal audio joke into an art form.Â So if Steve Martin was on Saturday Night Live, I was out in the garage after church Sunday morning, with my brother’s banjo slung around my neck and a prop arrowÂ stuckÂ through my head, doing all the bits.Â Most notably this one, where a lovely little “life lesson” ditty quickly descends into a clusterfuck of bestial proportions.
Learn to play this song, and play it for your kids, nephews, cousins or whatever children you have in your family, and they will adore you forever.Â Kids absolutely LOVE this song, especially when they get to sing, “Put a live chicken in your underwear.”Â Kids will call it “The Chicken Underwear Song.”Â “Play ‘Chicken Underwear’!Â Play ‘Chicken Underwear’!” they will scream, and you must oblige, as they have now been exposed to the great surreal masterpieceÂ that is Steve Martin’s “Grandmother’s Song,” and their lives will never be the same.Â They will never be sad again, as they can always sing these words and laugh hysterically anytime life gets them down.Â I know that’s what I do.
Side B of this short-but-sweet single provides the title cut from Martin’s 1977 debut LP,Â Let’s Get Small, from which both these tracks are taken.Â Clocking in at a scant 1:24, “…Small”Â stands asÂ Martin’s classic piss-take on America’s ever-popular drug humor;Â Â simply by changing the word “high” to “small,” Martin becomes a comedian playing a comedian doing a bit about drugs.Â Not until Mitch Hedberg slipped in then slipped awayÂ did we get a wider bird’s-eye view of the comic brain on drugs.Â Since I don’t have a clip of this bit handy, I’ll leave you withÂ this somewhat related, yet significantly more chaotic sketch from the same year, pairing Martin with a different kind of wild-and-crazy guy, The Who’s Keith Moon.
Steve Martin’s career, which extended beyond standup and into acting, writing and music, is chronicled thoroughly in his best-selling 2007 autobiography, Born Standing Up.
NEXT WEEK: Four attractive young men from Athens, GA release a single.Â And the rest is history.