Fairy Tales For The Hip Set

Originally posted February 6, 2007

I was less than a month old when my grandfather went out to buy a record of nursery rhymes for my sister, who was turning three in 1953. I’m not sure where Grandpa went to buy the record – that detail has been lost in the family mythology. But he found a 45 rpm record that had “Little Red Riding Hood” on one side and “Three Little Pigs” on the other, read by Al “Jazzbo” Collins. Satisfied, he paid – I imagine – something less than fifty cents and took it back to the apartment where we lived.

Sometime during my sister’s birthday celebration, I imagine, Grandpa produced the record, and my dad plopped it in the record player – one in a black plastic case that played 45s only, the same one on which my sister and I would play our first Beatles record ten-and-a-half years later. There came a riff of jazz piano . . . and then:

“Well now, little ones . . . Once upon a time in the land of Ooh-Blah-Dee there lived a fine chick named Red Riding Hood. One day, Red’s mother said ‘Honey, your grandma is feeling the least . . .’”

What Grandpa had found at the local record store was one of the great novelty records of the early 1950s, a record now fairly obscure. According to the Sept. 14, 1953, edition of Time magazine, Al “Jazzbo” Collins, a Manhattan disk jockey, had found two hip reworkings of Grimm’s fairy tales in Down Beat magazine. The tales, written by TV personality Steve Allen, had been intended, Time said, “only as a private joke for bopsters, told in the latest Tin Pan Alley argot, where ‘cool’ means good, ‘crazy’ means wonderful and anything that is really tops is simply called ‘the most.’”

The tales, Time said, “quickly reached a larger public” when Collins read them over the air, then recorded them for Brunswick. “The record,” Time noted, “has sold a reported 200,000 copies to become a solid popular hit.”

Time quoted the conversation between Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, masquerading as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother:

“ ‘Grandma, what frantic eyes you have,’ said Red Riding Hood.

“ ‘The better to dig you with, my dear,’ said the wolf.

“ ‘And Grandma, what a long nose you have.’

“ ‘Yeah,’ said the wolf, ‘it’s a gasser.’”

The flip side, with the tale of the Three Little Pigs, was more of the same, filled with hip slang and cultural references.

My grandfather, my mother told me once, was unhappy. He thought he’d failed. Well, he may not have come up with the fairy tales that would have suited my sister at the age of three. But he inadvertently left us with a classic relic of the early 1950s, and it’s remarkable that the record survived, given the haphazard handling it received in our basement playroom, where it was stacked with other records – none of which have aged nearly as well – and no doubt dropped on the floor and generally mistreated over the years.

I remember listening to the record over and over again when I was around ten, I guess. I didn’t understand that it was a spoof of a culture that was securely lodged in the decade I was born, but I loved the lingo of the times and the dry wit that I could – being at least a little precocious – grasp fairly well. Still, having listened to the two tales this week for the first time in something around forty years, I know now that as a child, I didn’t get all of Allen’s and Collins’ references. I probably chuckled more while playing the record this week than I did back in 1963.

I don’t know, though. I remember my best friend and I giggling time and again over the ending to “Three Little Pigs,” when the surviving pig lifts the lid off the pot in which he’s simmered the Big Bad Wolf, inhales the aroma of the result and proclaims, “Ah, my favorite soup: Cream of Nowhere!”

Enjoy!

“Three Little Pigs” & “Little Red Riding Hood” – Al “Jazzbo” Collins, Brunswick 9-80226 [1953]

 

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5 Responses to “Fairy Tales For The Hip Set”

  1. ‘Three’ « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] of the first things I ever posted at Echoes In The Wind was the tale of my grandfather and the 45 rpm record he purchased for my sister’s birthday (her third, I […]

  2. Jim Connor Says:

    I try to sing these to my little grandchildren bringing them home from school, but what regales them more than anything else is OO Blah Dee and OO Pah Pa Dow (Sp). I must have made up a hundred stories for them and they all must start with OO Blah (etc). But I thought Steve Allen, himself, recorded these, am I wrong? And PLEASE – if these two songs are available somewhere, tell me where and how to get them. the kids will love me forever.

    Jim Connor

  3. whiteray Says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for your note. As to where to get the recordings, I know that “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs” have been posted at YouTube. If you have the software to convert YouTube videos to mp3s, you can get them that way. (There are a couple of other fairy tales by Al “Jazzbo” Collins there, too – “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Goldilox & The Three Bears” and “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” are the ones I know about.)

    There are also several listings at Ebay for Jazzbo Collins’ recordings, including a CD collection I did not know about until I looked just now. The CD is also available at Amazon. If you want the 45, there are several listings for it at Ebay.

    The recordings are by Collins. I don’t know that Allen ever recorded them.

  4. ‘White’ « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] seven years ago, during the first weeks of this blog’s existence, I told the tale of my grandfather and his buying a birthday present for my sister, a 45 rpm record that turned out […]

  5. Sandra Linn Says:

    When our girls were young my husband us to tell these stories to them. The stories were new to me too. So glad I found more about them. I don’t have a way to get them off the computer, but would love to know if I could purchase them somewhere. Is that possible?

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