Awesome-ness!

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“Egghead” by Jill Corey

jill corey eggheadWe’re pretty up to date around here as far as new music is concerned, but a long ways behind the world when it comes to new books. So we are just now reading Bill Bryson‘s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which was a a best-seller when first published ten years ago. It’s a very entertaining journey through humankind’s scientific endeavors, from early geology and the discovery of the dinosaurs through the physics of space exploration and sub-atomic particles. It’s a lot of fun to read.

And it reminded us of something a friend said recently while visiting the shop. While at night he is a drummer in one of the best bands in town, he spends his day working in a laboratory. When he visits us after work he has the ‘mad scientist hair’ to prove it. “Being a scientist is easy,” he said. “Science just does itself if you let it.”

John D. Loudermilk name-checks Dr. Wernher von Braun and Jonas Salk in “He’s Just a Scientist,” a novelty song he wrote for Connie Francis (her version is about as rare as most Loudermilk records today), reminding us they’re not as famous or celebrated as Fabian or Frankie Avalon. That’s the “father of modern rocket science” and the man who created the first polio vaccine, if you’re keeping score. We have no idea what our friend does in his laboratory every day, but we’re decided to imagine it’s pretty extraordinary stuff. It’s certainly more important than organizing all the Connie Francis records.

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“He’s Just a Scientist” by John D. Loudermilk

jimmy guiffre

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“So Low” by Jimmy Giuffre from this 1956 Atlantic album which was singled out as a favorite by someone selling a record collection this week. We gave it a listen and weren’t disappointed a bit.

The Jimmy Giuffre Clarient opens with this unaccompanied original composition, but he is joined by a small group on the rest of the album. Once a primary symbol of swing, the clarinet today is fairly uncommon in jazz, often relegated to the opposite extremes of traditional New Orleans jazz and to the avant garde.

We in the Twin Cities are fortunate to have so many extraordinary talented instrumentalists, and one of our favorites over the past couple of hears has been Paul Fonfara, who is often heard on the clarinet. As a member of the Bookhouse Trio he most recently appeared on Gabe Barnett‘s new album, Old as the Stars (which we reviewed here). The Bookhouse Trio’s own album is a surreal exploration of Angelo Baldamenti’s Twin Peaks score, but owes just as much to jazz ranging from Thelonious Monk to Steve Lacy. It is a record we highly recommend.

The Bookhouse Trio has a regular late night happy hour gig at Barbette, but they are taking the summer off so you’ll have to wait ’til September. Currently Paul Fonfara is most likely heard with his primary project, Painted Saints, currently on tour and next performing in Detroit on Sunday night. The Painted Saints albums have featured members of the Poor Nobodys, Dreamland Faces, Dark Dark Dark and Polica, in addition Bookhouse Trio drummer Chris Hepola — but the albums are at their core Fonfara’s expressions, and he often performs the songs solo. For those of you who are disappointed when these awesome local releases are only available on CD, the most recent of them was indeed pressed on vinyl.

Songs about escaping from school are as old as rock & roll, part of a grand tradition — here’s a fun one from the local scene…

One of the only things as awesome as the original songs Alex ‘Crankshaft‘ Larson writes are the videos he makes for them.

Hymies RSD Block Party

Join us once again for our annual Record Store Day Block Party! Hymie’s will close off 39th Avenue with an outdoor stage and record sale (along with a beer garden sponsored by Merlins Rest Pub), 14 awesome local bands throughout the day, plus tons of special Record Store Day exclusive releases!

Black Diet
(album release)
Brian Just Band
Chastity Brown
The Ericksons
Martin Devaney
Adam Kiesling & Mikkel Beckman (Corpse Reviver)
Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade
Jake Manders
Pennyroyal
The Poor Nobodys
Southside Desire
Ben Weaver
Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band
The White Whales

Sound provided by Mother of All Sound, in partnership with Radio K and sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon!

Speaking of Radio K, our headline act recently performed “Cry,” a song from their much-anticipated debut album, on Off the Record.

Yes, we will have special Record Store Day releases! Due to their limited nature, we can’t promise you what we will have until they begin to ship. We have put in the largest order for special release we’ve ever sent this year — and there are many exciting things coming out this year.

We are especially excited that Black Diet will be releasing their first album here on Record Store Day — it will not be a limited edition release because once everyone hears this band they’re going to want to take them home!

The Cactus Blossoms performed with the All Star Shoe Band on Prairie Home Companion last night — here’s a video.

We have been posting these guys since the released their first album in October of 2011 (their first appearance on the Hymie’s blog is here). They appeared on Prairie Home Companion for the first time earlier that year, performing “Crazy Arms” after winning the duet competition.

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Of course our favorite Cactus Blossoms recording is their Live at the Turf Club album, which documents their awesome Monday residency that came to an end last year. We were so glad to have been a part of it, spinning 45s from our collection of rockabilly and country once a month between the sets.

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“Yes Sir!”

Here’s hoping their appearance at the Fitzgerald last night earns them new fans all over the country — and that their trip to Austin for SWSX does, too!

absolutely nothing 1Here’s an album that falls into the category of very rare, but not particularly valuable — Joey Ford lent us this album last weekend when he brought his band, Tree Party, into the shop to perform some songs from their new disc, Iced Over (we posted some tracks from that great album here). It’s one of his treasured possessions because it’s an album his Dad made with some friends. It’s from around 1970 or so, guessing from the cover songs that are included and whether or not it has as much collector value as some fancy Beatles 45 doesn’t really matter to us — we loved having a chance to hear this album.

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“Wooden Ships”

Friendship Dues by Absolutely Nothing was recorded live and in a studio (the sides are labeled “Live / Dead” maybe in reference to the Grateful Dead’s awesome Live/Dead double LP released late in 1969). No engineering or production credits are given on the jacket, so we can only guess where or exactly when — the “Dead” side might well have been recorded in a garage or a dorm room. Absolutely Nothing’s address is in beautiful Pipestone, Minnesota (about three and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities). We learned from Joey that the group on the back of the album were students together at Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

This record’s certified hippy appeal was established while we played this album in the shop this weekend: one of our regular customers, a dedicated Deadhead who waited in line last Record Store Day to buy the Phish album here at Hymie’s, came up to the counter and said, “What is this, man? It’s great!”

absolutely nothing 2Friendship Dues is mostly covers of well-known folk/rock standards of the day, with a strong Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young emphasis (the quartet accounting for four of the album’s thirteen tracks) — other covers include Jerry Jeff’s ubiquitous “Mr. Bojangles” and two Elton John songs.

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“Love Song”

The first of those, “Love Song,” is mis-credited to John & Bernie Taupin, but was actually written by Lesley Duncan, who joined Elton for the lovely duet on Tumbleweed Connection in 1970 — it is one of few songs on the classic Elton John albums that he didn’t co-author.

While not as often recorded as “Mr. Bojangles,” there are at least a hundred covers of Duncan’s song from the early 70s — in spite of having problems with stage fright she performed with Elton on several occasions. Duncan also recorded a couple of solo albums, contributed backing vocals to Dark Side of the Moon, and was in the original cast of Jesus Christ Superstar (check out her official website here). Pretty cool.

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“Mr. Bojangles”

Jerry Jeff Walker based “Mr. Bojangles” on a man he met in a New Orleans jail, after being arrested for public intoxication in 1965. Possibly the all-time best song ever written about a dog, it was recorded more times than anyone could count by everybody and his cousin. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took it to the top 10 with a great 1971 recording that also featured a delightful interview with “Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy,” who howls along to a harmonica. Absolutely Nothing’s performance, like most of their album, owes it sound to the big names in folk music of the day, like CSN or John Denver, who recorded the song about the same time, 1970, on Whose Garden Was This?

Everybody from King Curtis to Bob Dylan recorded “Mr. Bojangles” — if one were hard pressed to find the worst version it would likely come down to Rod McKuen or William Shatner.

absolutely nothing 3“Birds” by Neil Young features the voice of Joey’s Dad, Mel Ford. Joey tells us that he was always behind his camera, so there aren’t a lot of recordings of him, making this album very special for his family. That’s a close-up of Mel from the picture on the back cover.

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“Birds”

Joey also tells us that Jeff Rohr, Warren Hanson and his Dad Mel remained good friends — he remembers camping in the Black Hills with the three, their voices echoing off the pines as they sang “Goodnight Irene.”

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“For Whatever Reason”

absolutely nothing 4Absolutely Nothing’s album includes a few great original songs on the second (“Dead”) side, including one attributed to “R. Clown” who we assume is Robo the French Clown listed in the hilariously hippy “special thanks” section on the jacket. That song, “But You Know I Love You,” is great. It reminds us a little of Gordon Lightfoot’s great song “I’m Not Sayin’” which is on his first album.

“For Whatever Reason,” above, is another of those great originals, written by Warren Hanson who also plays guitar and sings throughout. It’s too bad they didn’t make a whole album of their own songs.

“Come Back Home” by Jeff Rohr was one of our favorite song on the album. Maybe somebody will hear it or another here and decide to cover them. In this digital age there’s no reason something should be forgotten simply because there weren’t very many copies of the album to begin with — Last year somebody else out there discovered a copy of Friendship Dues and put it up on Youtube here. We’re always glad to hear more of the awesome independent music tradition here in Minnesota, whether it’s folk or jazz or whatever.

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“But You Know I Love You”

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“Come Back Home”

This album is on the Mark Custom Recording label, which collectors probably know mostly produced amateur recordings for schools and churches. This is who pressed the high school marching bands and such. Here and there amateur folk and jazz records appear on the label that can be really great — probably none of it was pressed in very large numbers. Probably others have special meaning for people like this one does, telling the story of some friends who didn’t want to be rockstars — they just loved playing music together.

absolutely nothing

 

 

Yesterday we posted about Stanley Clarke’s 1976 jazz fusion classic School Days, which is pretty essential listening for electric bassist and the people who love them — today’s post is about another bassist who may seem obscure until you hear a little of his playing — He was surely one of the most influential performers in the instrument’s history. Take a listen to this 1940 song by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra…

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“Concerto for Cootie”

Ellington did not write “Concerto for Cootie” with his new bassist, Jimmy Blanton, in mind — the song was intended to showcase Cootie Williams, the trumpeter who would return the Duke’s favor by leaving for the Benny Goodman Orchestra the following year. Ellington, in turn, re-cast his tune for Cootie as a swingin’ pop number, with Al Hibbler lending his pipes to the cause, which topped the R n’ B chart for weeks. Raymond Scott wrote a a song about it the same summer (“When Cootie Left the Duke”) but whether Duke felt as sad is hard to say — his hit, after all, contained the lyric “Do nothing ’til you hear from me / Pay no attention to what’s said.”

Cootie left the Goodman Orchestra after only a year and struck out as a bandleader himself, never really hitting the kind of commercial success his former employers consistently achieved (he did briefly employee both Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, leading to his only previous appearance here on the Hymie’s blog). So nuts to Cootie — he kinda got what he deserved, being too big for his britches and all.

Jimmy Blanton, on the other hand, was anything but hifalutin — he was only twenty-one when the band recorded “Concerto for Cootie,” and had been with them for only a year or so. Very little is written about him in jazz literature — He is not as famous as he ought to be, for in a couple of short years with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra he completely changed jazz music. Without Jimmy Blanton the string bass might still be little more than a bulky time keeper –  there might have never been a School Days for us to listen to all weekend, which is an ironic thing to do when you think about it.

56ec6ea19836e4a85f1bbfbd7d242Blanton took it upon himself to solo a little on “Concerto for Cootie” even though it wasn’t named for him (his own song would come later and appears further down in this post). And in doing so, he found himself playing a little more than just the steady quarter notes that kept time in jazz arrangements up until 1940. While still moving the beat forward, his backing on “Concerto for Cootie” is filled with brief runs of eigth and sixteenth notes.

Here’s a more remarkable example of Blanton’s singular, amazing contribution to the Ellington Orchestra. On “Jack the Bear” Blanton take on the role of a soloist in the great romantic concertos of the 19th century (think Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor, or Grieg’s in A Minor), where a single performer is said to be battling the entire orchestra. If the opening of “Jack the Bear” sounds decidedly modern for a recording from 1940, that’s because it is one of the very first of its kind.

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“Jack the Bear” by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra

Duke Ellington was always one to recognize talent, and he loved writing arrangements that featured specific members of the Orchestra. He was clearly excited about Blanton, giving the bassist unprecedented prominence, especially considering that his only previous work had been with the University of Tennessee’s jazz band and the short-lived Orchestra of James Jeter and Haynes Pillar (Blanton recorded on a couple of sides with them for Vocalion before joining the Duke’s Orchestra). The clearest evidence of Ellington’s enthusiasm is that he recorded a series of duets with the young bassist, something he rarely did in his seventy-some year career.

duke blantonThe Ellington/Blanton duets are legendary jazz recordings, but awfully difficult to find for collectors. Our own personal copy of the 45rpm EP RCA/Victor put out is in pretty poor shape, and doesn’t even have the jacket. Still, as Ellington fans we’re glad to have any copy at all — especially as Blanton was honored with his own song in the Ellington book, “Mr. JB Blues.”

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“Pitter Panther Patter”

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“Mr JB Blues”

The Duke Ellington Centennial Collection (an extraordinary 24-disc box set) includes all four of the duets originally released, plus two more (“Plucked Again” and “Blues”) previously only on an oddball collection. There is also a live recording that features Blanton playing slap-style and quoting from his solo at the beginning of “Jack the Bear.” These are, of course, just a few of the treasures in this set which includes more than 450 tracks — If only we had the hundreds of dollars to purchase one!

Jimmy Blanton was diagnosed with tuberculosis around a year after recording the duets with Ellington, and he left the Orchestra. He lived briefly in a sanatorium in California, but died at the age of twenty-three.

duke ray brownEllington surely never forgot Blanton, recording a beautiful tribute album to him just over thirty years later. He is joined by bassist Ray Brown, who is probably best known to jazz fans for his work with Oscar Peterson. He also played in Dizzy Gillespie’s band when they recorded “Manteca,” a song that we featured here on the blog just last week.

In the notes to the 1973 Pablo album This One’s For Blanton, Brown writes: “I can remember clearly as a young buy standing outside a neighborhood bar, listening to ‘Things Ain’t What the Used to Be’ and always wiaint to the end to hear those last two bass notes … I found myself continually playing Duke’s records because you could hear the bass clearly. This brings up two salient points: (1) that Ellington knew how to record the bass, (2) that Blanton could play it like no one had before.”

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“Do Nothing Til You Hear from Me” performed by Duke Ellington and Ray Brown

Barcelona, 1890. Pablo Casals is fourteen years old, enjoying a walk with his father along the old waterfront district. Together they step into a secondhand shop to explore, and young Casals discovers sheet music for forgotten works by J.S. Bach — a series of suites for cello relegated to the practice room. His father buys it for a few pesetas, what today is known to be the Grützmacher edition, and the music within becomes the young cellist’s passion.

Often Mendelssohn’s production of The Passion of St. Matthew in 1829 is held as the great apex of the “Bach revival,” the overdue (by nearly a century) warm welcome of Bach into the concert hall, but in fact many of his most rewarding works remained overlooked, forgotten or misunderstood for years to come. The Bach revival was, in fact, a very slow process. Nietzche’s famous statement that Bach “stands on the threshold of [modern] music, but he looks back from there to the Middle Ages” was all too relevant when Pablo Casals was a young man.

In the case of the Six Cello Suites, historical uncertainty played a role: no autograph manuscript exists (meaning there was no edition of the scores in Bach’s own hand), and those like the Grützmacher edition discovered by young Pablo Casals offer little insight into Bach’s expectations as to how the suites should be played.

The Six Suites are shrouded by mystery, adding to their enchanting lure. It is uncertain when Bach wrote them, let alone why. Composers in Bach’s time were still supported by patrons, but there is no name attached to the earliest manuscript for the Six Suites. One, the fifth, is also found in a version for solo lute, dedicated to a man otherwise unknown. All may have been intended for an entirely different instrument, say scholars today, one played more like a violin than the cello we know. The sixth for certain was written for an instrument with five strings. Eric Siblin’s delightful book, The Cello Suites: In Search of a Baroque Masterpiece, follows the mystery through the centuries, inevitably landing on the Catalan boy destined to become one of the most famous musicians in the world.

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Suite No. 1 in G Major “Prelude”

casalsWith a young man’s fervor, Casals invented the Six Suites as we know them. He played them regularly (all his life Casals practiced his cello, quipping in his 90s, when asked why he still practiced three hours a day, that he was ‘beginning to hear some improvement’). He performed the suites as early as 1901, while touring with pianist Harold Bauer — but he did not begin to record them until 1936, long after he had introduced so many of his own idiosyncrasies into the performances that the Six Suites would be forever marked by his personality.

Before Casals finished recording the Six Suites he would leave his homeland, Catalan, never to return — one of thousands of exiles driven away by the Spanish Civil War. Casals was an ardent supporter of the Second Spanish Republic, even after they were defeated by the Nationalists — for many years he refused to perform in any country that recognized General Francisco Franco’s government, finally making an exception to perform at the White House for John F. Kennedy in 1961.

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Suite No. 2 in D Minor “Allemande”

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Suite No 4 in E Flat Major “Allemande”

The long siege of Madrid sat like a cloud over the years Casals recorded the Six Suites. He was in EMI’s then-new Abbey Road Studio recording the second and third suites at the same moment Emilio Mola was marching some 20,000 troops supported by German and Italian tanks into the city, and made his final recordings, of suites four and five, in Paris in June 1939, just months after the city had finally fallen to the Nationalists. In the interim thousands died under Franco’s savage aerial bombardments.

Casals’ Six Suites are of a war-torn world as surely as is Picasso’s Guernica. It is difficult to hear anything less in the aching “Sarabande” of the second suite, or the angular, striking “Prelude” and “Courante” of the fifth, which seems at times a call to arms. Picasso, like Casals, never returned to Spain — exiles, in their own way, are the secondhand goods of the world.

PicassoGuernica

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Suite No. 5 in C Minor “Prelude”

Casals’ Six Suites clocks in around two and a half hours. They were originally issued on England’s HMV label, and today clean copies fetch a fair price — Angel Records’ reissues of the recordings are fairly common and rarely expensive. In one format or another (from 78rpm discs to CDs) they have never fallen out of print.

In the context of Casal’s life, of the Spanish Civil War, of their near-death in obscurity, the Six Suites for Cello remind us of the fragility of everything we create. How different things may have been if Casals and his father had not stopped into a secondhand goods shop that bright morning. How differently would the suites have been received if he had recorded them years earlier, during peacetime, perhaps even in Catalonia.

The music itself came close to being lost before its revival. With Bach’s original manuscripts long gone, perhaps it came down to a single copy that was reproduced, creating the Grützmacher edition Casals found. Perhaps some error was reproduced with it. And what of the mysterious five-string instrument for which the sixth suite was composed? Perhaps it sat on a secondhand goods shelf but was never purchased — or perhaps it was a victim of wartime, just as the tens of thousands who lost their lives during the long siege of Madrid.

Many recordings of the Six Suites have been made in the years since, as each great cellist approaches the challenge — Rostapovich waited until he was sixty-eight, Yo Yo Ma recorded them at thirty. All offer greatly improved fidelity over the recordings Casals made nearly eighty years ago, but little else. That audiophiles continue to dismiss the Casals recordings, mono of course, for their analog hiss, is further proof they know a great deal about stereo equipment and very little about music.

There is always something missing: it’s a spark, the confidence of a Catalan and the defiance of an exile. The certainty that while we may all be secondhand goods, there is always a hope we will be discovered.

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Suite No. 6 in D Major “Gigue”

Leo Welch’s first album is named for the Mississippi town where he was born in 1932, and where he has lived for his entire life. Although he has been playing the guitar and singing for friends for most of his eighty-one years, he never performed or recorded professionally.

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“Praise his Name”

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“The Lord will make a Way”

Sabougla Voices is a collection of gospel blues, because Church is where Leo has primarily been performing for years. The gospel blues tradition is ofter overlooked by blues collectors and fans, maybe in part because the touring circuit is outside the music mainstream. Up here in Minnesota we might take for granted that we have guys like Charlie Parr and Mike Gunther, who are doing an awesome job of carrying on that tradition.

Leo has a short tour of Minnesota, and a little bit of Wisconsin, starting tomorrow, organized  by Mikkel Beckmen, the washboard player and percussionist best known for his work with Charlie, with the Brass Kings and with Corpse Reviver. Hopefully he has a good pair of warm boots. Here’s the dates:

Wed. 1/15 – Bayport BBQ – 8pm w/ Javier Matos on drums
Thu 1/16 – The Dubliner w/ Mikkel on Washboard 5-7 pm
Thu 1/16 – Hill Library 8pm
Fri 1/17 – Treehouse Records in-store 6pm
Fri 1/17 – Palmer’s Bar – 10pm
Sat 1/18 – Hell’s Kitchen brunch 10am- 1pm
Sat 1/18 – Harriet Brewing – 7pm
Sun 1/19 – Hell’s Kitchen Brunch w/ Charlie 10am–1pm
Sun 1/19 – Hymie’s Records In-store w/ Charlie 1:30-2:30
Sun 1/19 – 331 Club w/ Corpse Reviver & Charlie 3-5pm

We’re excited to welcome Charlie and Mikkel back to the shop, but especially excited to welcome Leo Welch to Minnesota. We hope you’ll be able to make it to one or more of these performances.

Our last post celebrated the occasional Billboard chart success of Sesame Street, and today we thought we’d share a beloved song by the Muppets that was not as successful. Everybody loves this silly song, making it the perfect start to a new year of posts here on the Hymie’s blog.

“Mahna Mahna” was originally written by Piero Umiliani for an Italian documentary Svezia, Inferno e Paradiso (Sweden, Heaven and Hell) — we are not making this up. Umillani was best known for his light jazz scores to spaghetti westerns and softcore porn.

The song was first performed by Henson’s Muppets on Sesame Street on November 27th, 1969. It became famous (nearly a decade before the debut of the Muppet Show) after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show three days later. It was credited to Mahna Mahna and the Snouths.

mahna mahna

The popular number was revived on the first episode of the Muppet Show, which aired September 13, 1976. It was featured in the “first ever no money back guarantee Muppet Show cast album,” and released as a promotional single by Arista (which reached #8 on the UK singles chart in May 1977).

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“Mahna Mahna” by Mahna Mahna and the Snouths (credited to The Muppets on the single)

We’ll be open 1-6pm today, by the way. After listening to Peter Mayer’s “Jamma Day” we decided to wear our PJs as long as we can.

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