This Week on THE AVID LISTENER: Tim Smolko, “Cutting It Up with Dickie Goodman: Communism, Castro and the Wall”

As promised, this week we’re bringing you the third installment of Tim Smolko’s excellent series about Pop Music and the Cold War. This week, Tim focuses on Dickie Goodman, master of the “break-in” technique and political novelty song.

Here’s a teaser: “American record producer Dickie Goodman made a career out of writing novelty songs. From the mid-1950s to the 1980s, his songs poked fun at current events, politicians, dance crazes, films, and especially the Russians. He is best known for creating and popularizing the “break-in,” a technique of inserting brief portions of popular songs into a ludicrous narrative to comically respond to, and comment on, current events. This practice began with his first recording, “The Flying Saucer” in 1956. Using razor blades, adhesive tape, a steady hand, and a hefty dose of patience, Goodman spliced together various portions of reel-to-reel tapes to make these songs. Taking advantage of the spate of alleged UFO sightings in the 1950s, “The Flying Saucer” used hits by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and others to comment on an alien spacecraft landing on Earth.”

I love the connections to experimental music here. (Edgard Varèse, anybody? John Cage? The New York School? Pauline Oliveros? Vladimir Ussachevsky? Good stuff!) And I also love this opportunity to dig a big under the technical surface: “breaking-in” is cool, but why do it? (Does this remind you of discussions about sampling in hip-hop? It should!)

Here’s the point: If you like stroganoff, you’ll love this essay, and you can read the whole thing here. As a reminder: Tim and Joanna Smolko are publishing with Indiana University Press called Atomic Tunes: The Cold War in American and British Popular Music (due out 2018), a project that recently won the prestigious Hampsong Education Fellowship in American Song from the Society for American MusicWe’re absolutely thrilled that IU Press is allowing us to share these excerpts with you!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

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