I've gotten good use out of the "Activity and Funny Songs" album over the years. It was volume eleven of "My First Golden Record Library," a twelve record set that I got shortly after it was released in 1962. I had the whole thing committed to memory before I was five years old. Later, as a pot-smoking punk rocker, I used to party with it at 45 RPM speed. Now in my later years, it serves as the perfect fodder for a blog post. Listening to it all these years later, it evokes as many memories of intoxicated adolescence as it does early childhood. As you can imagine, this makes for a potent combination.
My original copy is in such tatters that not a single track plays all the way through. Luckily, I found a fresh copy several years ago during a sweep of thrift stores in Miami-Globe. For a forty-year-old children's record, it was incredibly clean, and offered a happy reunion for me with the sections my phonograph needle had been skipping over.
I was reminded of "Activity and Funny Songs" recently, after I discovered the album, "The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop." Reissued under the title "Stark Reality -- Now," the album had its genesis as part of an early seventies public television television show in which a group of jazz-rock musicians re-contextualize songs from a 1957 children's album, "Hoagy Carmichael's Having A Party."
Listening to Monty Stark and company's fuzzy abstract aural sketches, I realized I recognized several of the melodies. Turns out, about half of the tracks on "Activity and Funny Songs" are from Carmichael's album, and a couple of those made it to the "Music Shop special. Not surprisingly, I prefer the originals to their more contemporary versions. Not only does the jazz group manage to bleed the charm from the children's recordings, they don't even pick the best tunes. Material such as "Rocket Ship and "Shooting Stars" may lend itself better to wooly psychedelic arrangements, but I tend to gravitate towards the more sentimental songs, like "Merry Go Round" and "Swing High Swing Low."
There are also plenty of treats among the tracks not by Hoagy Carmichael. My personal favorites are "There's A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea", "Icka Backa Soda Cracker", "Thousand Legged Worm" and of course, "The Toothbrush Song," which used to send me into spasms of hilarity during my stoner years. Readers are free to draw their own conclusions.