"A fella in the lobby asked me if we were going to record this album in stereo. I told him absolutely not. Stereo has two loudspeakers, one on each side of the set. The one on the right is OK, but I refuse to listen to anything coming from the left. Seriously though, if I brought home a record machine with a speaker on the left, my wife wouldn't let me in the house. Now there's a patriot for you!"
(from side two of "He's Your Uncle!")
Today we're presenting side two of this bizarre ultra-right-wing album from 1967, luridly written and directed by Vick Knight and voiced with gusto by Walter Brennan, in continuation of the first post on this subject two weeks ago. Since then I've tried to uncover more information about the KEY records label and its strong predilection towards hyper-conservative and inflammatory spoken-word albums. Join me after the jump for this entertaining record (via mp3) and the related facts and pictures that have turned up about this under-documented Los Angeles company.
Always a big fan of interesting-looking spoken word records and a collector of anything by Walter Brennan on vinyl that I can find, this particular lp has always stood apart in my Brennan collection as one of the most outspoken and obscure of the bunch. Compared to the warm, fuzzy, nostalgic glow projected on albums like the first one I ever owned, Dutchman's Gold, this nutty 44-minute rant was the hateful underbelly. A semi-vituperous monologue. A beloved family member who you always make sure not to bring up politics or religion to in conversation when you're visiting with them. For a long time after buying it and DJing it around (it is full of salient vocal 'drops'), and even though I love to study the minute details of album liner notes and credits, I was under the false impression that Mr. Brennan himself had penned this extreme piece of work. Knowing his generation and the overall 'feel' of the guy, it seemed possible, but no, it was quite clear in the detailed album credits that Mr. Vick Knight was the fellow responsible for this no-holds-barred attack on the Lyndon Johnson administration and it's anti-poverty programs in particular. It was rather a relief, really, to know that even if Brennan did espouse most of these ideas, he didn't write the thing. Years passed, and the lp sat in the 'maybe' pile of vinyl that I could write about someday on WFMU. Due to its overall 'extremity', it was a long wait! This year however, with its prolonged and painful wallow in various and sundry forms of political rhetoric brought this record to mind again.
WHO WAS VICK KNIGHT, THEN?
For someone who had as many job titles as he did, and credits in film, records, and books, it's surprising to me that there is so little written about the man that I can glean from the internet. Not even a photograph. Of course, to confuse things, there's another fellow from Southern California by the same name , and a bit younger, who confuses the searching a bit. Let's go over what we CAN find out about Mr. Knight.
Basic statistics: He was born in Moundsville, West Virginia in 1908, the son of "showboat performer Stella Knight" (I'd like to find out more about his folks as well as Vick himself), and he passed away in Los Angeles, California in 1984. He's usually referred to as having been a "composer, songwriter, author, publisher, and advertising agency executive" but it becomes apparent that he worked in even more areas than that, and most likely would only be discussed at a place like the WFMU blog due to his creation of KEY records, which we'll get to directly.
A laundry list of achievements: Knight was educated at "Cleveland Prep.", joined ASCAP in 1940, originated the March of Dimes and Command Performance programs on radio, was research director for a time at the W.G.A. (Writer's Guild of America), and a member of the Screen Actor's Guild as well (which implies that there may well be film of him somewhere).
As well as writing for television shows, such as Bronco and Peter Gunn, Knight kept busy writing or co-writing songs. Gobs of songs. Just a few: Junior Miss, Halls of Ivy, Drink Drink Drink (although he isn't credited with this one where I looked it up, I'll include it because it was on someones list and could be a different song of the same name; seems unlikely though), Tom Tom the Piper's Son, Are You Listenin' Joe?, Melancholy Mood (written with Walter Schumann and recorded by Frank Sinatra), I Love Coffee I Love Tea (again - a conflict appears when I look this up, now I'm questioning anything on this list; where did I find it, anyway?) I Walk Alone, The Only Thing I Want for Christmas (OK - at least THIS one he was involved with), A Moment in Sorrento (which led me to yet another songlist when I looked it up - yay!), Send Me, and Vict'ry Train.
Just how many Vick Knight's could there have been, writing books and scripts for records and songs, anyway? Just take a gander at this list of Vick Knight credits until your eyes cross, or perhaps this shorter list of just songs. And there is also this one, the first I located. Busy man.
Knight began KEY records in 1956 as a music label, perhaps with the idea all along of putting out spoken word material as well, but the earliest records I've seen on the imprint are musical so I'll discuss those first.
An early press clipping dealing with a typical sort of 'goofy' record label promotional package comes from Billboard magazine, April 21st, 1956:
"...The package contained a Chinese fortune cookie and the note contained therein. Knight, a former writer-director for the late Fred Allen, had penned the message, "Please rescue me from this cotton-pickin' Chinese cookie factory so I can go out and buy Murray McEachern's crazy Key album, 'Music for Sleepwalkers Only.'"
What a pitch, huh? That was how they did it in those days. By the way, the clipping above was also associated with some research into the earliest common usage of the phrase "fortune cookie / Chinese fortune cookie", of which there was some speculation about a mid-nineteen-fifties origin, which sounds all wrong to me, as I had always thought it was in usage much, much earlier. Anyway, here's what that lp and its tape version looked like:
The liner notes ( for catalog number KEY LP 711) were written by Hoagy Carmichael, with the reel-to-reel tape box package notes by Bill Stewart. Knight produced and also co-wrote one of the songs on it. Of course, it being the 1950s, there are sleeping tablets and capsules on the McEachern (pronounced "MACK-ECK-ERN") cover and there's a fun credit on the back of the record for same: "Sleeping pills courtesy Schwab's Pharmacy".
ANOTHER QUOTE FROM VICK KNIGHT'S SCRIPT FOR "HE'S YOUR UNCLE!" (1967)
"...What about zip codes? Is this really a device to speed up the mails or a deliberate division of the 50 states into the ten administrative districts..? What about those new interstate highways, with the traditional United States shield modified into a symbol that might stand for any country, with the letters "U.S." missing altogether, and with the names of the states completely eliminated? How about those telephone area codes, with cities and states swallowed up in a mass of numerical symbols?"
--------------- Side one, He's Your Uncle! Not Your Dad...
---There are more clever chunks of dialog on the album than this one, certainly, but I like this bit for how it dates the piece. As long as I'm back to "Uncle" again, that brings up the 'dating' issue.
There are many conflicting dates floating around for albums and singles on the KEY label, and in fact the Brennan disc is the only one I can verify, since the date is right on the label of that one. The illustrations for this article sometimes show dates, but they are mostly conjecture. The date is very prominent and plain in the graphics on my KEY label, so presumably those with pressings should maybe get together and at least compare lists of serial numbers and dates and names. There are some interesting lists, such as here and also over here, (where someone has kindly taken the time to transcribe the liner notes from the wonderfully-titled KEY lp Instant Insanity Drugs) but more KEY discs keep surfacing and I wonder roughly how many things Vick Knight put out over 12 or so years. A KEY-wiki, I suppose, would be a start.
Just to stir in a pinch of confusion here, the liner notes for Instant Insanity are credited to "Vick Knight, Jr., The Assistant Superintendent Educational Services, Placentia Unified School District, Orange County, Ca." who appears to be a completely different person from what I can tell elsewhere, or his son, or what? I don't know yet - the trail is muddied by name similarities. And then there's the whole Fred Allen line of inquiry that I haven't fully followed-up on yet. I wouldn't have even caught it if I hadn't found the Billboard fragment, and it isn't mentioned in other Knight biographies.
THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY CONNECTION - HOW STRONG?
Ahhhh, the JBR. It does appear that Mr. Knight was at least a fan of the John Birchers, judging by the text of some of his lps, but he seems somewhat disavowed by them in other ways, insofar as suggestions that his label was 'of or by' them. He did indeed put out the lp Medicine Leads the Way, by JBR founder Robert Welch; I think the first KEY album I ever saw, with its strikingly dada cover.
Listening today to the download I found of Here We Go Again by Tom Anderson, I noticed the John Birch Society was mentioned right off in the first five minutes, so the connection seems regular, indeed. The label does tend towards a sort of dry, yet exploitative sort of propaganda over the years, with titles such as: Red Pipeline to Moscow, Inside a Communist Cell, Bi-Partisan Treason, The United Nations Hoax, and so on. Of course they had several anti-drug diatribes as well. The label definitely vied for the position of 'Squarest and Most Un-Hip of All' amongst many fine and scabrous contenders of its day.
THE MYSTERIOUS KNIGHT TEMPLAR
Radio producer and writer, humorist, record label owner, red-baiter, hard-right propagandist, pop songwriter, Vick Knight would have a good deal to say about the modern summaries of his work. It will take a lot more research to iron out the wrinkles in the patchy quilt of facts that I've tried to roughly bring together here. It always comes back to the fact that even at his most politically 'wrong', his stuff is funny. It's not Mark Twain, by any means, but the discs will continue to be enjoyed as some of them are hilarious.
THE MP3s FOR THE SECOND SIDE OF HE'S YOUR UNCLE! NOT YOUR DAD...
The 20-plus-minute second side of the album (KLP 1080), as in the last post (side one, found here), is broken into four parts which flow together. Enjoy some odd and rare Walter Brennan vocal work.
BONUS VIDEO CLIP
I'll leave you with this video made from a Wini Beatty performance of "Hammers and Sickles - The Y", from the KEY lp Folk Songs for Taxpayers, written by Vick Knight, perhaps produced by him as well.
Some names connected to the story that weren't mentioned in the text: Ronald Reagan, Joe Howard Trio, Rev. Fredrick Becka, W. Cleon Skousen, Dr. Billy James Hargis, Karl Prussion, Lulu Porter, Maj. George Racey Jordan, Tony Dolan.