There are two albums on my list of 52 albums that don’t have any music on them.
Well… three if you include Zero Tolerance for Silence.
I thought about it for quite a while whether I should include these two albums. They didn’t have music on them so, in many ways, they don’t really fit in with the rest but at the same time, they did change my life. The second one (that we will get to later one) involves a musician but weirdly this album, in many ways, is one of the most rock and roll of all of the albums on the entire list and it’s filled with jokes.
Around grade 7, I fell in love with stand-up comedy. A&E would have a number of stand up programs on its roster including Evening at the Improv and Caroline’s Comedy Hour. The Canadian pay tv channel, First Choice (I don’t think it had become The Movie Network yet but I could be wrong) began playing a lot of the stand-up specials from Showtime and HBO in the states. I remember a Dana Carvey special that my best friend Gavin and I watched over and over again for a week one summer.
Now on the long car rides back from the cottage on Sunday nights, there was always a radio station that had a comedy hour. I think the one I used to listen to was on Toronto’s CHFI. It’s where I discovered Monty Python and The Frantics. I would listen on my walkman or a personal car stereo my dad rigged up for me in the backseat of the car and just giggle away.
To this day, I’m not sure why my dad gave me a tape with an old school label maker label proclaiming GEORGE CARLIN on it. I’m still not entirely sure if it was age appropriate but he gave it to me along with tapes of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant and Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love. Maybe it was an effort to connect with me with similar interests at similar ages.
I remember popping in the tape into my walkman and just being amazed at how funny it was, even more so when I found out how old the album was.
Class Clown is a work of genius. Carlin had completed left his clean-cut image and had gone all in with the counterculture of the time. Religion, Catholic school, Vietnam, nothing was off limits. Of course the big take away piece of the album, “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television”.
“7 Words…” is a masterclass on language, how it can be used and the silliness of certain censorships. Interestingly enough, years later, when the album was released on CD, it would have one of those parental advisory labels slapped onto it
And made you think and laugh your ass off at the same time. Maybe it was the sound of the cassette or the subject matter, but whenever I hear The Doors or Hendrix, I instantly think of this album as well, which is weird since this album isn’t even from 60’s, it was released in 1972.
Maybe it’s because Carlin seemed just as fearless and creative as Hendrix was, he just worked in a different medium, that I just automatically attach Class Clown with the classic albums of counter culture. And much like Hendrix, Carlin would go on to be a huge influence on so many comedians that followed him and Class Clown would be the touchstone album, the one they all point to.
For me, I think this is my favorite Carlin. I think he did get much funnier after this but with this album, there’s a sense of hope with the humor that I think disappears with time. It’s also kind of interesting how most of the comedy is still relevant. His thoughts on religion and censorship fit today every bit as much as they did in 1972 if not more so. If you’ve never heard Class Clown before, sit down with. Just sit down with a drink and put it on and see what you think. You may be surprised that you can hear the rock connection too.
Or maybe I’m just weird.
Next week, we go from 70’s comedy to an album from 1994 that you can file under easy listening. Stay tuned.