Tiny Tim: I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana

TinyTim_IveNeverSeenAStraightBananaAstonishing collection of early 20th century song

This is an astounding collection on a number of levels. First and foremost, it’s a brilliant anthology of early American song, sung with love and introduced with learned background by Tiny Tim. The set’s liner notes provide additional information on the songs and details of how they fit into Tiny Tim’s career. These recordings capture Tiny Tim singing songs of his own choice, with no record label breathing down his neck for a novelty release that would reignite memories of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Instead, Tiny Tim picked tunes that range from the dawn of the Edison cylinder (1878’s “Mr. Phonograph”), early twentieth century tunes in their original style, 1960s Tiny Tim originals, and a medley that sandwiches Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” between a pair of songs from the late 1920s. The latter includes an imitation of Rudy Vallee singing Dylan, and Dylan singing Vallee.

Equally incredible is the genesis of these tapes in 1976 sessions, recorded by a 16-year-old Richard Barone (of Bongos fame) in a Florida hotel room and a ramshackle studio. Having discovered Tiny Tim playing a gig at a local hotel, Barone made his acquaintance and was treated to a personal after-show performance. He quickly parlayed this into an opportunity to record Tiny Tim in his room, and then more formally in a local studio. The tapes sat on Barone’s self for 33 years awaiting release. There are a few artifacts of the informal recording circumstances (e.g., a bumped microphone here and there), but the sound quality is generally superb. More importantly, the performances are casual and heartfelt, without the artifice of a clock ticking away a label’s dollars.

Tiny Tim sang solo to the accompaniment of his ukulele, but for the title track Barone post-produced a magnificent backing arrangement that includes additional ukuleles, accordion, percussion, bass and a happy chorus of backing singers. Tim’s performance is so effervescent as to feel like it was feeding off the energy of the backing musicians and vocalists. What’s revealed in all of these performances is that while Tiny Tim and the songs he loved may have been novel, they were a lot deeper than novelties. His comedic persona often obscured the seriousness and deep respect with which he approached early American music and its performers, and though his falsetto vocals were played to the public as a gimmick, they were of a piece with the music. Tiny Tim was a greater musician than the public typically saw, and it took a wide-eyed 16-year-old to get it down on tape. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Tiny Tim Memorial Site

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