In 1976, 45-year-old Tiny Tim, who had charmed and amused a nation in the late 1960s with his ukulele and his falsetto renditions of Tin Pan Alley oldies like his signature song, "Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips with Me," had been without a record deal for five years and was reduced to playing venues such as the TraveLodge in Tampa, FL. There, a 16-year-old fan and aspiring musician named Richard Barone tried to get in to see him, but was barred due to his youth. Nevertheless, when Tiny Tim encountered his young admirer in the lobby, he obligingly agreed to put on a private concert for Barone and two friends in his motel room. Barone brought a tape recorder and later convinced Tiny Tim to hold a follow-up session in a local recording studio. Now, fast-forward 33 years, and Barone, a former member of the Bongos and an established solo artist, has cleaned up the tapes and added instrumental and vocal overdubs on several tracks to create I've Never Seen a Straight Banana: Rare Moments, Vol. 1, enlisting the research and annotation support of Tiny Tim biographer Justin A. Martell. Barone and Martell take a different view of Tiny Tim from the one audiences did in the '60s, a view that may be easier to appreciate in the early 21st century than it was earlier. Rather than considering the singer simply a bizarre comedy act, they see him as a musical historian of the acoustic era of recording (i.e., from Edison's invention of the phonograph up to the introduction of the electrical microphone in the mid-'20s). At the time Tiny Tim earned national exposure, the stars of that era, such as Henry Burr, Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, and Billy Murray, were long forgotten, making his renditions of their songs, sometimes performed in impersonations of their voices, so unfamiliar as to seem like a joke. But scholarship and CD compilations have made them more available, and on this album, with Tiny Tim singing whatever he wants, his invocations of them make more sense. He also ranges up to the '20s and the work of slightly better remembered figures like Eddie Cantor and Rudy Vallée, and even includes some of his own compositions, in the style of the Tin Pan Alley era but touching on such subjects as his admiration for the '60s starlet Tuesday Weld. Certainly, the novelty aspect of Tiny Tim is still here. His effeminate manner and tendency to warble in a vibrato-laden falsetto remain, making his overall effect humorous, especially when he introduces Vallée to Bob Dylan in a medley that combines their signature songs "Vagabond Lover" and "Like a Rolling Stone." But Barone and Martell succeed in reclaiming Tiny Tim as an exuberant performer whose love for a lost period of American popular music is at least as notable as his own ingenuous strangeness.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann