The lost art of megaphone awesomeness
April 29, 2006 12:15 AM   Subscribe

I would like to locate video or audio for sale of those crazy megaphone crooners...the originals, not modern-day imitations.

I'm talking about the ones that Mr. Show paid tribute to in a skit (it was something like Monsters of the Megaphone. I'm having a really hard time googling for this because it's hard to figure out the right terms to Google for. Please hope me.

Example lyrics of the genre that my abortive Googling dug up:

my baby loves my automibile
she's driving it all over tooooown
posted by evariste to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I'm not saying that I would object to free mp3's or anything, by the way. Just get me something.
posted by evariste at 12:16 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: ...I do realize video is probably a tall order for something that was all the rage in the 1920s or 1930s. Audio is also unlikely but there are better odds on it. On the off-chance that some-crazy-how, video recordings exist, I would love to see them though.
posted by evariste at 12:19 AM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: Rudy Vallee is the name that immediately comes to mind when I think megaphone crooner. In fact it's the only name; I wasn't aware there were others. Amazon has some stuff.
posted by TimeFactor at 12:55 AM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: Uncle Neptune's Song Factory is an MP3 blog that obsessively covers this era. Song samples are usually kept up for a few weeks, during which you can download them, but the archives are full of deep trivia about the music.
posted by zaelic at 4:52 AM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: I feel like I might be able to help you if you could provide a better example of what you're looking for. I have quite a collection (and a little knowledge) of American popular music, but I don't know what you mean by "megaphone crooner"; it sounds like a modern label applied to some old style of singing. I'm googling, and coming it with Rudy Vallee, but no actual definitions of the genre. I see that the wikipedia article on Vallee talks about his megaphone, but doesn't mention if anyone else used one. What I'm saying is: I don't think this was "all the rage" in the twenties (or thirties), and that I'd like to help, but don't know exactly what you're after.

That said, here are some resources that may help:
  • Wikipedia definition of crooner.
  • index of 78rpm records, with downloadable mp3s -- you'll have to work to find what you want, but it might be here.
  • For other mefites in the past, I've uploaded a few vintage songs to my server. They're straight from iTunes, so mostly in m4a format. I can re-rip in mp3 if needed. Some are stilly copyrighted, some are not. Please do not hotlink to them. Download them and then re-upload to your own server if you're going to use them.
  • I've also posted a text dump of those songs I've tagged "vintage" in iTunes. Again, most of these are in mp4 format. Some are still copyrighted, some are not. (This era is right on the cusp, and a lot depends on whether copyrights were renewed.)
I'm willing to share in order to promote this great music. But, I'm just not sure what to share because I don't really know what "megaphone crooner" means (as a genre)! If you can provide a clearer indication of what you're after, I can try to help. Actually, I may get out of bed and go to my main computer and try to upload some sample mp3s as test cases...
posted by jdroth at 8:53 AM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay, I've created a new (typoed) subdirectory where I'm placing sample songs. I don't know if these are what you're after, though.
posted by jdroth at 9:11 AM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: jdroth, zaelic and timefactor-thanks, but that's not what I'm thinking of. (I listened to a few of your mp4s, jdroth-good charming old stuff, but what I'm thinking of is completely different). I curse my inability to describe this genre well, or remember what it was called :-(

I've seen examples of it exactly twice on TV: once on Mr. Show, and once on one of the educational cable channels, maybe it was History Channel.

It's not so much musical as rap-like. The performers (usually two of them?) would improvise these little rap-like little ditties, three or four lines long, and sort of chant them. At the end of each one they would typically say "thank you", and then the it would be the other guy's turn. Back and forth like that. The "automobile" one I quoted above was a whole song.

I really wish I could maybe find a torrent of the Mr. Show skit that pays tribute to this, because my description of it does not do it justice. I'll look around.
posted by evariste at 11:50 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: It's season 2, episode 6 of Mr. Show, and the skit is called "Megaphone Madness".
posted by evariste at 11:58 AM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: Unfortunately, I can't find a clip for watching online.
posted by evariste at 12:05 PM on April 29, 2006

Hm. I'm not going to be able to help. As I say, I have hundreds of mp3s from the era, but have never heard anything similar to what you're describing. Are you sure this isn't just something that the Mr. Show made up? I'm not saying that it is -- I'm just asking.
posted by jdroth at 12:07 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: jdroth-no, they were definitely paying tribute to something that did exist. They had real footage interspersed with their own stuff. Beside the fact that I've seen this in a non-Mr. Show context as well.

Thanks. I've been semi-obsessed with this for a couple of days now so I'm going to keep trying to hit on the magical search query.
posted by evariste at 12:11 PM on April 29, 2006

Be sure to post if you find what you're looking for. I'd love to hear/see examples.
posted by jdroth at 12:13 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: I can't figure out how to play Windows Media stuff on my MacBook, but I think this is probably a clip from the Mr. Show episode in question.
posted by evariste at 12:20 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: I'm pretty sure that "megaphone crooning" was a satirical construct invented by Mr. Show to make fun of a type of song from that era. I've come across several songs of the sort you're looking for:

The Aeroplane Slide, by the Peerless Quartet, which is about "aeroplanes".

Going Up with the Elevator Man
, by Maurice Burkhardt, which is about the excitement of riding an elevator.

Come Josephine in My Flying Machine (from jdroth's site), also about airplanes.

There's one on there somewhere about how great it is to ride in a car, but I can't find it right now.

Anyway, searching the 78s collection for various seemingly everyday items yields good results. Please let me know if you find anything interesting!
posted by interrobang at 12:32 PM on April 29, 2006

Evariste, here are some random thoughts after watching that clip:
  • Hey! It's that guy from Arrested Development!
  • I still don't think this is an actual genre of music. Rudy Vallee did use a megaphone, it's true, but I don't know if he used it for all recordings (I doubt it) or performances (it's possilbe). And I've certainly never heard any songs like these in my collection. Seriously. They sound more like snapp jingles you might hear on Turner Classic Movies, not songs of the 1920s.
  • Even if this were an actual musical genre popular in the 1920s, you wouldn't find any music videos. Why not? No "talkies" until 1929 or so.
  • Keep searching. I'm still keen on hearing/seeing what you find.
Good luck!
posted by jdroth at 12:34 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: LOL. That stuff is pretty terrible, interrobang. I was definitely hoping for more in the snappy Mr. Show style, and not long songs.
posted by evariste at 12:38 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: I'm telling you, I don't think those things exist, evariste.
posted by interrobang at 12:39 PM on April 29, 2006

That stuff is pretty terrible, interrobang.

You're breaking my heart! I love this music! I'd listen to "Come Josephine in my Flying Machine" a hundred times before I'd listen to junk like "My Humps". Ah well... To each his own.
posted by jdroth at 12:40 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, jdroth, interrobang, and everyone else. I guess maybe I'm searching for something that doesn't exist outside of the imaginations of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk...I swear to god that I saw a tv show about it too, but maybe I hallucinated it.
posted by evariste at 12:41 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: jdroth-I don't know what My Humps is, but I hate to break your heart, mate. I'd probably like it if I listened to it with a mindset to appreciate it for what it is, but clicking on it in interrobang's comment while expecting the kind of stuff I linked to above was a letdown :-) I'll give the other stuff you linked to a fair chance, I promise. I'll download it now and add it to iTunes. It just wasn't what I was expecting.
posted by evariste at 12:45 PM on April 29, 2006

It's okay evariste -- you don't have to like it. My wife doesn't! And it probably is an acquired taste. It reminds me of the music my grandparents used to sing to each other. And I know that my father used to sing some of the songs from the twenties (Vernon Dalhart's "The Prisoner's Song" was a favorite). I just like the simple arrangements and pleasing melodies. I know it sounds antiquated, but for some of us, it's nice. Feel free to dislike it. My broken heart will mend.
posted by jdroth at 12:47 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll try to acquire the taste. I'm a bit of a musical omnivore :-)
posted by evariste at 12:49 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: jdroth-no, they were definitely paying tribute to something that did exist. They had real footage interspersed with their own stuff.

I think that "real" footage was created for/by Mr. Show. I base this on the fact that Dave and Bob are the singers in all of the clips.
posted by agropyron at 12:52 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: agropyron: d'oh!

jdroth, nabbed all of 'em. I'll give a listen, thanks.
posted by evariste at 12:57 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: Another vote here for "made up". The Mr. Show thing wasn't a tribute to a real genre, it was a spoof. A lot of music from the 1920s and 1930s sounds like that, mostly due to the quality of the sound recording and reproduction equipment.

For a recent example of someone else spoofing this kind of music, check out Da Vinci's Notebook's song The Ballad of the Sneak (link to download page at Homestar Runner site). You'll even hear them do the same stereotyped thing on the last word, like in your example "she's driving it all over tooooown".
posted by attercoppe at 1:05 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Ballad of the Sneak is pretty funny, thanks attercoppe.
posted by evariste at 1:09 PM on April 29, 2006

Forgot, there's a video too. Select "Shorts" on the remote, then scroll down in the TV Guide.
posted by attercoppe at 1:12 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh man. The video's even better!
posted by evariste at 1:15 PM on April 29, 2006

Response by poster: jdroth-I added all the stuff I downloaded from you to an iTunes playlist and I'm listening to it while I write code. It's pretty good for that, in fact :-)
posted by evariste at 1:37 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: Mr. Show is doing a takeoff on Rudy Vallee, who used a megaphone in an age where microphones weren't always available. The crowd scenes are real stock footage, but the singing scenes are all Bob and David.

This was a real style: Max Raabe has a minor career covering modern songs in the megaphone-crooner style, most notably Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again." But the idea of improvising the songs in a short rap-style is an invention of Mr. Show.
posted by commander_cool at 2:57 PM on April 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This was a real style:

I'm not convinced.

I finally found a page that sheds some light on this whole topic (I've bolded a couple bits):
Born Hubert Prior Vallee, Rudy Vallee was born on July 28, 1901 in Island Pond, Vermont. He became one of the most popular vocalists of the 20's and 30's. With his megaphone, Vallee is generally regarded as the first "crooner" and one of the first entertainers to create hysteria among his audiences.

Vallee was brought up in Westbrook, Maine, and learned to play the saxophone in his teens, taking the name "Rudy" because of his admiration for saxophonist Rudy Weidoft. He attended the University of Maine and then Yale, where he formed his own band, the "Yale Collegians" and later the "Connecticut Yankees." During this time, Rudy began to sing using a megaphone to enhance his soft, slightly nasal voice and to be heard over the hysterical female audiences. The megaphone quickly became one of his trademarks and in those days before amplifications, was later copied by other vocalists. One of his first hits was "The Vagabond Lover," which later became his nickname and the title of his first movie in 1929. He enjoyed a successful career on radio, in movies, in Broadway musicals and as a solo nightclub act. Vallee died July 3, 1986 in Hollywood, California.
So, basically, there were some singers who used megaphones, but I doubt they were all the same style of singer. It sounds to me as if they were simply using the megaphone for voice amplification. They wouldn't have used this in the studio, but only in front of live audiences. The advent of microphones would have obviated the need.

I would wager that the term "megaphone crooner" is purely a modern invention, one used to lump together some dissimilar things that look similar to us through the blurry lens of time.
posted by jdroth at 5:37 PM on April 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am very sad. Eventually I will accept this.
posted by evariste at 10:59 PM on April 29, 2006

Best answer: Here is a youtube clip of the skit in question, for ask metafilter browsers of the future.
posted by interrobang at 7:04 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

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