Martin Mull

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Robert E.A.P. Ritholz

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[Martin Mull has] made some of the funniest, but most neglected, records around.

The problem seems to be that Mull's field is musical parody, and the record-buying public does not appear to be ready for him yet. (p. 25)

It is too bad that music is taken so seriously now. Satirists like Mull help to define and clarify musical styles by condensing and exaggerating them through the very act of parody. For example, on his first album (cleverly entitled Martin Mull), Mull presents a parody of country and western music called "Livin' Above My Station." Were one to listen to it casually, it would probably sound like just another of the countless C and W songs. However, if one listens more closely, one realizes that Mull has selected most of the essential elements of country music and lyrics and exaggerated them, while at the same time keeping them within the limits of recognition. Consequently, this cut is not simply a C and W song. Instead, it is so quintessentially country and western that it becomes absurd.

Mull, however, does not limit himself to country music. In "Do the Dog,"… Mull offers a sharp parody of disco dance music.

The same album, Days of Wine and Neuroses, also has "Jesus is Easy" (by the Moron Tabernacle Choir) which satirizes traditional black gospel music. In a similar vein, soul music is also parodied in "Blacks Keep Giving Me the Blues," on the Normal album. Finally, the blues themselves are satirized in "Ukulele Blues," on In Your Living Room….

These musical parodies are not always easy to listen to. They require some concentration and a good deal of familiarity with a variety of musical styles. Perhaps this is asking too much of most people.

Still, although Mull is an excellent musical satirist, he does not confine himself entirely to this area of humor. Instead, he also follows in the very old tradition of simply writing funny songs. This is a somewhat less demanding form of musical humor, both for the writer and the listener. In songs like "Noses Run in My Family," and "Dialing for Dollars," Mull either deals musically with humorous situations, or uses the music to help him tell a joke. Although these efforts are often funny, they do not really measure up to the standards set by Mull's more satiric work.

Perhaps therein lies one of the major problems with Mull. His work is very erratic in quality. With the exception of one album, In the Soop, (which is uniformly dreadful, not a single guffaw on either side), each album has cuts which range from the incredibly funny, to those for which even Jimmy Carter could not muster a smile.

But at his best, Mull deserves a good deal more attention and recognition than he has thus far received. Perhaps what the public needs is a Best of Martin Mull album. (p. 26)

Robert E.A.P. Ritholz, "'Days of Wine and Neuroses'," in New Guard (copyright 1976 by Young Americans for Freedom; reprinted by permission), Vol. XVII, No. 9, December, 1976, pp. 25-6.

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