Classic Gold

George Carlin

Eardrum Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


At the height of his career, George Carlin was to the comedy world what Howard Stern is to radio today: the bastard child who had the courage to say what was on his mind, even if it went against what was popular at the time. In fact, Carlin's own battles against obscenity (the classic "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television") mirrors some of the struggles Stern has had with the FCC.

Carlin has always been a master social critic, and a collection of his early work, Classic Gold, is evidence of that skill, as well as his humor.

The two-disc set is a re-packaging of Carlin's first three albums, FM & AM, Class Clown and Occupation: Foole. (I remember that my dad had FM & AM when I was a small child; he had to keep the record on a high shelf in a closet to keep me from it.) You can hear Carlin's reputation grow as he moves from playing a small venue ( FM & AM) to finding out he won a Grammy while on stage in front of a larger audience ( Occupation: Foole). But while his audience grew, so did his caustic wit and criticism of the Vietnam War.

You do have to keep an open mind when listening to some of his bits. "I Used To Be Irish Catholic" tells of his split with Catholicism, though he handles the subject tastefully (being a Roman Catholic, I wasn't offended). And you'll definitely want to keep the kids away for some of the routines, especially "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." (It is interesting to note that, 25 years later, the list still is accurate.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Carlin manages to re-create some of the characters he did on early variety show programs on vinyl, such as the hippie-dippy weatherman Al Sleet ("Tonight's forecast - dark.") It's at monents like this that Carlin can have you laughing uncontrollably. Other characters, like the DJ Scott Lame on "Wonderful WINO", seem to run endlessly, and would have been better had they been shorter.

And while a great deal of the material tends to be tame by today's standards, Carlin was often seen as "the enemy" for saying things that he did in the early '70s. He had the courage to joke about drugs and criticize America's presence in Vietnam - actions which occasionally lost him jobs. As for the language - again, tame by today's standards. Hell, at least Carlin tried to provide some background on the words rather than using them incessantly. But the country in 1971 was just getting over Lenny Bruce; they weren't ready for another aural attack on their sensibilities.

The "Class Clown" routine, to me, is the highlight of Classic Gold, and is part of the album of the same title which won Carlin a Grammy for best comedy album. While you can't see what he's doing, the sounds he makes paint a vivid picture, and will have you teary-eyed with laughter. Carlin stretches it a little too long by continuing it on portions of Occupation: Foole material without providing a smooth segue into it. In fact, there are portions of Occupation: Foole that sound like Carlin is just exhausted with the whole role he was playing.

The only other negative with this album is that some of the material is quite dated. I remember "Let's Make A Deal" quite well; younger listeners may wonder what Carlin is rambling about. However, if you take portions like this with a grain of salt, they're not so bad.

I normally would want to take a CD like this and do three separate reviews - one for each album that makes it up. However, I'll make an exception with Classic Gold and recommend it in the package it's in. The three albums are natural progressions of one another, and are an intregal portion of Carlin's career. After numerous listenings, it's sometimes hard to separate the material into albums. That - and the fact this stuff is still funny 25 years after he performed it - is testament enough to the power of Carlin.

Rating: B+

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eardrum Records, and is used for informational purposes only.