Ernie Kovacs

Ernie Kovacs

The Ernie Kovacs Record Collection

Varese Sarabande

Ernie Kovacs is a legendary figure in television comedy, having pioneered an off-beat brand of comedy that resonates in the work of pretty much every sitcom, talk show (most notably David Letterman’s), or sketch comedy troupe that dares call itself “offbeat,” “cutting edge,” or whatever term it supposes implies derivation from the norm, which was also influenced by Kovacs. The Ernie Kovacs Show originated in Philadelphia, circa 1952, and was later picked up by ABC, where it ran until Kovacs perished in a car accident on January 13, 1962. The show was like nothing of its kind, before or since: even the most straight-ahead material was slightly askew — literally so, as in one famous episode. At times it resembled surrealist performance art more than any orthodox tomfoolery. Take, for example, the Nairobi Trio, clad in derbies, trenchcoats, and gorilla masks, beating each other across the noggin with mallets and vases to the tune of “Solfeggio,” which would be a standard lounge number if not for the utterly incoherent vocal chorus.

Kovacs loved music, and made a point of incorporating his favorite songs into the show. His theme song, “Oriental Blues,” is a lovely bit of stride piano with a drummer that sounds like Gene Krupa. Two versions bookend the disc. Though he often used the tunes as accompaniment for his skits, he also featured live performances on his show. Kovacs’ widow Edie Adams (they duet on “The Wrong Man”) has kinescopes of the old shows, but this compilation includes only the original versions, which is probably better for the fidelity. Let’s see, you’ve got Leona Anderson, whose work was unironically released on Horrible Records; the manipulated-piano duo Ferrante and Teicher, who appear three times on this album; Wolfgang Neuss’ “Moritatensanger,” “Mack The Knife” in kraut-speak; and others, including Kovacs himself, who performs “Indian Love Call” with Adams, as well as his own “Hot Cakes and Sausage.”

Taken as a whole, The Ernie Kovacs Record Collection is perhaps the finest assemblage yet of Kitsch Pop, the “Incredibly Strange Music” that eventually mutated into insipid lounge culture. Kovacs held this sort of thing in high regard, unlike those who seek to relegate this music to cornball compilations. He was an early proponent of Juan Garcia Esquivel, adopting E’s arrangements of “Jalousie,” “Sentimental Journey,” and “Cherokee” for 1961 videos featuring kinetically choreographed furniture, and a dancing roast turkey.

Music Scholars (ultra-pretentious hacks who are best never trusted) might argue about the legitimacy of the music on this CD, but fuck ’em. One may listen to the entire thing without having to skip anything, which tells me that Ernie Kovacs had better taste in music than anyone on television today. Varese Sarabande Records, 11846 Ventura Blvd, Suite 130, Studio City, CA 91604;

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