Norton's Stone Age Woo: The Zorch Sounds of Nervous Norvus is a long-overdue collection of the novelty songs and song-poem demos of "Singing" Jimmy Drake, whose wilder moments were ascribed to Nervous Norvus. The album features not only his best-known songs, the "Dot Six" (including the million-selling novelty classic "Transfusion"), but many, many other songs, including some that existed only as single-copy or small-pressing acetates. Most excitingly for die-hard Nervous Norvus fans, Stone Age Woo also includes the original demos that Drake sent to his inspiration and eventual mentor, novelty radio DJ/performer Red Blanchard. Drake's admiration for Blanchard even pops up in a few of the songs here: set to the tune of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "I Listen to Red in Bed" is an homage to Blanchard that follows a fan who listens to Red on a radio hidden in a teddy bear as a little boy to avoid the wrath of his parents, and switches to a shortwave radio concealed in a jug of booze as a grown man to avoid his nagging wife. "The Bully Bully Man," meanwhile, sings Red's praises more generally, and appeared on Drake's initial demo tapes; indeed, Drake sent Blanchard the tapes with the intention of becoming a songwriter for him. However, Blanchard liked Drake's shaky, appropriately "nervous" (which also meant cool or hip in Blanchard's distinctive radio lingo, which he called Zorch) delivery of his own songs so much that he helped Drake develop the Nervous Norvus sound with the use of some well-timed sound effects, which became the trademark of virtually all of Drake's best songs.
Their collaboration was most spectacular on 1956's "Transfusion." The audio equivalent of the gory driver's-ed films of the '50s, the combination of Drake's one-liners like "Put the crimson in me, Jimson" and Blanchard's car crash sound effects (which, according to Stone Age Woo's extensive and colorfully written liner notes, were also used on the Shangri-Las' "The Leader of the Pack") make the song impossible to forget. The rest of the Dot Six are nearly as good, particularly the lusty "Ape Call," which boasts Tarzan-like yodeling, and "The Fang," a tale about a lady-killing Martian backed with jet-like sounds. Even when Drake tackled themes and motifs used by other novelty songwriters in the '50s and early '60s, his music still managed to stand out as particularly weird. "Stoneage Woo" itself is a nonsense-language caveman love song, but it's much rawer and looser than, say, the Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop" or David Seville's "Witch Doctor." However, many of these songs are uncharted territory, even in the realm of novelty music: "The Clock Shop" traces the growing insanity of a clerk in a clock shop surrounded by ticking, tocking, and chiming all day. Still other songs, like "Wild Dogs of Kentucky" and "When I Hear the Honkin' of the Diesel Train," have a mutant folk feel, which could be a holdover from Drake's years riding the rails as a hobo in the '30s.
Most of the collection, though, is '50s through and through, from song subjects like sci-fi creatures, dance crazes, and daddy-os to tracks like the gleeful "Elvis You're a G.I. Now." These glancing references to the world of pop culture make Drake's work that much more surreal, especially considering the fact that he was well into his forties by the time he stumbled into being a novelty songwriter. Drake's day job during this time was recording demos of songs by amateur lyricists, some of which are also included on Stone Age Woo. "I Like Girls," for example, could almost pass for innocuous '50s pop, were it not for Drake's charmingly creepy vocals, kissing noises, and a harpsichord and banjo breakdown. Though this is a generous collection at 33 songs long, it's just a drop in the bucket compared to Drake's overall recording career, which numbered into the thousands of versions of other peoples' songs. In some ways, Nervous Norvus could be seen as Drake's very creative way of blowing off steam about work. A thorough -- and thoroughly entertaining -- set, Stone Age Woo is a must for anyone with a serious interest in one of the best performers of highly unserious music.