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The Red Blues

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May 2, 2003

Now that the government is being run by refurbished Cold Warriors who have dusted off Joe McCarthy's old playbooks and replaced the word "Communist" with "Terrorist", I thought it would be amusing to take a look back at a time when the Communist Empire consisted of more than North Korea and Cuba and May Day was an occasion for The Evil Empire to demonstrate its commitment to international peace with parades featuring tanks and missiles. We had our share of laughs at the expense of the Commies back then, which is why this week's show is heavily weighted towards the humorous.

Selection Source Performer(s) Comments
The Red Blues Silk Stockings (OS 1957) Company Silk Stockings started life in 1939 as the literate comedy Ninotchka in which Parisian sophisticate Melvyn Douglas seduces straight-laced Commissar Greta Garbo in an effort to prevent his Russian èmigrè friends from being sent back to the Soviet Union and Siberia. Cole Porter turned it into a 1955 stage musical starring Don Ameche and Hildegarde Neff, who Hollywood replaced with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. All three versions get considerable comic mileage out of the conflict between bureaucratic Soviet Puritanism and Western frivolity.
Siberia Silk Stockings (OS 1957) Jules Munshin, Joseph Buloff, Peter Lorre The luckless émigrés try to make light of what awaits them upon a return to the Workers' Paradise.
Stalin Wasn't Stallin' Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition (1977) The Golden Gate Quartet We weren't always enemies of the Soviet Union, of course. For a relatively brief period during World War II, in fact, popular songs could even be found that lionized a man who would later become the Great Satan of the 1905s, Joseph Stalin. From January of 1952, this song is subtitled "A Modern Spiritual". The group is largely unknown now, but in the '40s they were fairly successful and appeared in the films Hit Parade of 1943 and Stage Door Canteen.
Communist Cooking The Rutland Weekend Songbook (1976) Eric Idle and Neil Innes Bonzo Dog Band alumnus Neil Innes and Eric Idle of Monty Python's Flying Circus teamed up to produce the satirical Rutland Weekend Television series for BBC2 in 1975 and 1976. The premise is that RWT is Great Britain's smallest and cheapest TV station. The show spoofed programs offered by more well-heeled networks such as the BBC, Thames and London Weekend Television.
Communist Love Song TV or Not TV (1973) Phil Procotor and Pete Bergman This solo (duo?) effort by half of the Firesign Theatre is a typically hallucinogenic depiction the broadcast of Channel 85, which appears to be a bizarre mix of local and international cable programming, periodically interrupted by a "pirate signal" from some hackers.
Peter and the Commissar (excerpt) Peter and the Commissar (1964) Alan Sherman, Boston Pops conducted by Arthur Fiedler While bureaucracy is perfectly at home in the capitalist USA — as anybody who has ever worked for a big corporation can attest — there's not much doubt that it reached giddy heights in the Soviet Union. In 1964 Alan Sherman put together an extended piece called Peter and the Commissar that used music from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf to lampoon bureaucratic excesses. We didn't have time for the whole piece, so I dropped in at the point where the Cultural Commissars are offering examples of how they have "improved" some musical classics (e.g. "Pete Tchaikovsky's Blues", "Beethoven's Fifth Cha-Cha", "Aida in Dixieland").
Russian Bandstand Dr. Demento's Greatest Novelty Records of All Time (1985) Spencer and Spencer "Spencer and Spencer" were actually Micky Shorr and Dickie Goodman (of "Flying Saucer" fame). This rather heavy-handed anti-Communist broadside only made it to number 91 on the 1959 hit parade, but is frequently requested on the Dr. Demento show. Go figure.

Acronyms and other mysteries defined:

OC: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Cast recording of a Broadway show, along with the date.

OS: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Soundtrack recording of a film, TV show, etc.

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