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February 13, 2013 9:31 AM   Subscribe

The Okeh Laughing Record, a novelty recording, was first released in 1923 and rose to #8 on the Billboard charts, becoming the highest ranking anonymous* recording ever. It's history and provenance is completely unknown**. It has since appeared as the soundtrack to cartoons, on Dr. Demento and on Jean Shepard's radio show.

*At least one YouTube poster claims that one of the voices is German comedian Karl Valentin who, strangely enough, generally played the straight man in his routines.

**It may have been inspired by a Rudy Vallee outtake of (Drunkard's Song) There is a Taven in the Town where the singer cracks up in the middle of the song.
posted by 1f2frfbf (24 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great to see this on Metafilter! Used to hear it on Dr. D. all the time.
posted by Melismata at 9:36 AM on February 13, 2013


The disc entered the Billboard charts in early May, 1923, reaching #8.

But, Billboard didn't publish its first music chart (Hit Parade) until 1936.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:39 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. You're right. Crap, I knew it was too good of a fact to be completely true... mea culpa.

I'm going to assume the intent was "#8 on the sales charts" and still claim the fact as trueish.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:44 AM on February 13, 2013


Not your fault. The "anonymous" link makes the claim I quoted. Like a lot of things of this sort, the record's history been wrapped in a delicious coating of hyperbole and apocrypha. It doesn't take away from the uniqueness of the recording, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:59 AM on February 13, 2013


Years ago I was in a Call of Cthulhu roleplaying group, and we had a CD collection of hits from the twenties that we used for atmosphere. This track... this fucking track... was included, and I found it extremely unnerving, both then and now.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:32 AM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree - I find it completely creepy and spooky.
posted by Mid at 10:40 AM on February 13, 2013


Yeah this is creepy as hell.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:44 AM on February 13, 2013


I saw the above Tex Avery cartoon a lot as a kid (one of the only ones he did for Lantz, I think), then forgot about it. When I heard the original Okeh record many years later I had a hell of a time figuring out why it was so familiar.

If you like this, you may enjoy this Jim Backus gem.
posted by usonian at 11:34 AM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not quite as good as this laughing record.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:48 AM on February 13, 2013


I thought Billboard began charting record sales specifically only in the 1930s
posted by spitbull at 12:38 PM on February 13, 2013


Or what Thorzad said.
posted by spitbull at 12:39 PM on February 13, 2013


As far as I know there were no "sales charts" in the modern sense in the early 1920s. The ranking may well be folklore.
posted by spitbull at 12:40 PM on February 13, 2013


Trying to remember the last "novelty record" that became a hit....it seems like their time has passed. I'm not coming up with anything later than the 70's, like "The Streak" or "Convoy"
posted by thelonius at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2013


Does "My Humps" not count?
posted by saturday_morning at 12:56 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or the entire discography of Weird Al?
posted by solarion at 1:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


After some digging, it appears that Billboard published from 1913 an irregular top ten list of sheet music and "top songs in vaudeville theaters", later spawning the charts familiar today with the advent of radio in the 1930s. Also, Variety published a top ten list of phonograph recordings in the 1920s. That may be the source of the claim.
posted by dhartung at 2:12 PM on February 13, 2013


As far as I know there were no "sales charts" in the modern sense in the early 1920s. The ranking may well be folklore.

Possibly but I've seen sales numbers quoted in otherwise respectable volumes on early blues artists. I assume these were internal label numbers, but someone was watching. I also remember an interview with BB King where he refers to early juke box stats being kept. Either way it's an interesting digression (and one that I've spent the afternoon happily following). So: maybe there were sales charts, but I haven't fond one, yet, but I'm looking. My internal historian is very happily occupied.

On preview: dhartung has a very interesting lead. Off I go!

Trying to remember the last "novelty record" that became a hit...

Pac man fever? I remember a slew of novelty records around the time of the first gulf war. They existed well into the nineties, maybe their downfall follows that of terrestrial radio?
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2013


Okay, digging around that catalogue, this one is seriously weird too - Okeh Syncopators - Jokes 1924 "Glory, glory, hallelujah [demonic laugh]."
posted by unliteral at 2:34 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen sales numbers quoted too. Scholars have worked hard to estimate Bessie Smith's and Jimmie Rodgers' record sales. But the estimates they come up with are typically contentious, over time typically revealed as inflated, and broadly hard to verify to more than very rough levels of accuracy. Plus they are not truly comparative the way modern charts are (based on actual sales of all similar items in the market).


The Jimmie Rodgers debate is epic in the history of country scholarship. Turns out he sold between 3 and 15 million records, go figure. Or less. Or more.
posted by spitbull at 2:45 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually,, the sales figures for early country and blues are rarely based internal record company figures. Then as now official stats were just as likely to be a lie to drive interest.
posted by spitbull at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2013


entered the Billboard charts in early May, 1923, reaching #8.

I often see chart #'s predating the 1936 "Chart line" and have no idea where people get these numbers. However Billboard the advertising magazine was founded in 1894, and started doing entertainment coverage in 1896, doing advertising for sheet music publishing in 1902. It's possible BB reported sales before 1936. Or the numbers may come from the ad agency lists that supplied mysteriously determined numbers to radio shows like Your Hit Parade. Supposedly based on "readings of radio requests, sheet music sales, dance-hall favorites and jukebox tabulations," those numbers (I'd guess) also reflected early payola. Caveat emptor.
posted by Twang at 2:59 PM on February 13, 2013


Laughing Blues by the Bonzo Dog Band.

(wait for it)
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:18 PM on February 13, 2013


I listened to this decades ago . . . the flip side was the crying record
posted by ahimsakid at 8:33 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember a slew of novelty records around the time of the first gulf war. They existed well into the nineties, maybe their downfall follows that of terrestrial radio?

Or the rise of YouTube.
posted by acb at 11:44 AM on February 14, 2013


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