50 Skidillion Watts of Slightly Dated New York Weirdo Hipster Novelty Humor

Bongos Bass & Bob - Never Mind the Sex Pistols 05-09-2020 sm

I have a decent collection of novelty records, from the first “break-in” 7-inch, Buchanan and Goodman’s “Flying Saucer Pts I & II,” to a fish-head-shaped picture disc of Barnes & Barnes classic, “Fish Heads,” to the full-scale replica of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s accordion housing vinyl remasters of his entire 40-year career in the industry. (I even had the good fortune of getting Dr. Demento, himself to sign my 1953 debut 10″ of Songs By Tom Lehrer!) So when I discovered that the hilarious Bongos, Bass, and Bob had put out a record featuring many of my favorite Demented hits, I tracked down a copy right away.

The band recorded one album with Penn Gillette and produced by Kramer in 1988 titled, Never Mind The Sex Pistols, Here’s Bongos, Bass, and Bob (What Were They Thinking???) on Jillette’s label, 50 Skidillion Watts, (written out as 50,000,000,000000,000,000,000 Watts Records), Catalog # 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,003.

The album includes favorites like:

  • Oral Hygiene
  • Walkin’ in the Park
  • What’s Your Name, Babe?
  • Clothes of the Dead
  • and Thorazine Shuffle (a cover of the single by Modern Entertainment)

The album is a comedic mishmash of genres, including folk, world music, country, jazz, rock, doo-wop, punk, and calypso, as well as lo-fi, noise, and avant-garde musical styles. 

The trio is a self-proclaimed “speed Mariachi” band composed of Penn Jillette on bass, Dean Seal on bongos, and Rob Elk on guitar. Several tracks were featured on The Dr. Demento Show, and an alternate sans-Jillette take of “Oral Hygiene” recorded under the name “Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal” was featured on WITR’s Friggin Here radio show in the 90s. It also appeared as track #2 on Dr. Demento’s Basement Tapes Volume 01.

I’d spent those halcyon summers painstakingly taping 27 weeks worth of broadcasts of Friggin Here and entering the complete set lists into a word processor to print on my dot matrix printer, (this was 1995 after all), so it was a real treat to claim the songs I so fondly remembered on wax.

It’s offbeat, humorous, and original stuff.

From Allmusic:

The bongos come courtesy of Dean J. Seal, the bass is via Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame), and the Bob is derived from guitarist Rob “Running” Elk on this funny, eclectic record overseen by producer Kramer. There are 16 songs on Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here’s Bongos, Bass, Bob! (What on Earth Were They Thinking?), and about as many musical styles, including punk, calypso and doo-wop; the acute and amusing lyrics target oral hygiene, Thorazine, girls with guns and thrift shopping (“Clothes of the Dead”). Much more musically competent than expected, this is a superior musical-comedy record, and one that holds up to repeated listenings.

And Wikipedia notes:

Kramer is a musician, composer, record producer, and founder of the New York City record label Shimmy-Disc. 

Kramer played on tour with Butthole Surfers, Ween, Half Japanese, The Fugs, and John Zorn and other improvising musicians of New York’s so-called “downtown scene” of the 1980s.

Kramer produced Galaxie 500’s entire oeuvre, and discovered and produced Duluth slowcore band, Low. He also produced for White Zombie, GWAR, King Missile, Daniel Johnston, and Urge Overkill.

Rutlesriki.fandom.com adds that the group also recorded a cover version of The Rutles’ “Number One” for the tribute album, Rutles Highway Revisited, released in 1993.

Of “Thorazine Shuffle,” G Zahora writes:

“Thorazine Shuffle” is a Modern Entertainment piece, but BB&B’s rendition is particularly brilliant; the bass and bongo arrangement is ultra-spartan jazz-via-Velvet Underground, the vocals quiet and businesslike (except for the freakout choruses, where Penn goes a bit nuts himself). 

Zahora closes their review noting:

It’s not for everyone, but if you dig slightly dated New York weirdo hipster novelty humor, are a rabid Penn and Teller fan or just a colored vinyl lover, Never Mind the Sex Pistols…Here’s Bongos, Bass and Bob is worth tracking down.

There’s an incredibly exhaustive write-up on the record archived on Popsike here for anyone interested, which includes transcripts of articles on the album from Playboy in 1996 and the rest of G Zahora’s album notes. 

Related projects of note include John S. Hall & Kramer (Hall is the vocalist from King Missile)’s Real Men LP and Captain Howdy (Penn Jillette w Kramer) who produced “The Best Song Ever Written” b/w “Dino’s Head” which I own on 45. But Bongos, Bass, and Bob remain a stand-out favorite from the best of the Dr. Demento era.

There is a playlist of a vinyl-rip of the album on YouTube, though a few tracks are cut in the wrong places, (track 2, “Clothes of the Dead” for example is mistakenly cut short at a moment of silence before the final chorus which resumes at the beginning of video #3). Still, it provides a taste of the comedic madness and irreverence of this record. 

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