Stan Freberg

The Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years

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Released in 1961, Presents the United States of America, Vol. 1: The Early Years offered satirist Stan Freberg the opportunity to poke a bit of fun at and embellish American mythology in the same irreverent light that he shone upon pop culture with his parodies of soap operas ("John & Marsha"), rock & roll ("Heartbreak Hotel"), and television ("St. George and the Dragonet"). To animate his tall tales and hysterical history lessons, Freberg employed a talented troupe of voices, many of whom had worked with him on his previous recordings and radio show. His short list of primary players boasted Peter Leeds, June Foray, Jesse White, Paul Frees, and Billy May. They turn in an impressive musical comedy that takes on History 101 as if it were a Broadway smash. Adding to that feel is May's opening "Overture," aptly enough leading into a retelling of "Columbus Discovers America" with Freberg's quelling a potential "mutiny, mutiny, mutiny" from his shipmates on "It's a Round, Round World." The number is a precursor to the 1963 Stanley Kramer film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which Freberg had a bit part in. Frees furthers the plot, weaving the narrative through specific incidents including the arrival at Plymouth Rock on "Pilgrim's Progress" -- with Freberg (Mayor Pennypacker) trying to drum up support for the Indian vote with the feel-good "Take an Indian to Lunch." The signing of the Declaration of Independence ("A Man Can't Be Too Careful What He Signs These Days") and the legend of Betsy Ross and the story behind the first U.S. flag ("Everybody Wants to Be an Art Director") are among the other events of significance augmented with a big production number, while the dialogue of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," "The Discovery of Electricity," and the Revolutionary War are all covered in Freberg's inimitable "theater of the mind." In 1996, after decades of threatening to create a sequel, the artist picked up the story right where he'd left off some 35 years earlier. The result was Presents the United States of America: Vol. 2: The Middle Years, with a cast that included original contributors Leeds, Foray, White, and May along with a new troupe highlighted by Tyne Daly, John Goodman, David Ogden Stiers, Sherman Helmsley, Harry Shearer, Lorenzo Music, and Freberg's children Donovan Freberg and Donna Freberg Ebsen.

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