Archive for the ‘John Congleton’ Category


The cover during Phish’s 2014 concert was of this album.

Apparently many people grew up with this record.  I personally didn’t know it, but if you read the comments (don’t read the comments!) on any YouTube clip of the album you will see how popular it is.

Wikipedia describes it as  intended for “older children, teenagers, and adults” released by Disneyland Records (now known as Walt Disney Records). The album was mainly composed of sound effects that had been collected by the sound effects department of Walt Disney Studios. The album was released in several different forms. The album was first released in 1964 in a white sleeve, with a second release in 1973 with an orange sleeve. In both versions, the first side contained 10 stories narrated by Laura Olsher, complete with sound effects. The second side contained 10 sound effects meant for others to create their own stories.

Despite the title, most of the cuts had nothing to do with haunted houses or witches or ghostly spirits. Featured were such situations as an ocean liner hitting rocks, an idiotic lumberjack, a man crossing an unsafe bridge, someone lighting a stick of dynamite and a spaceship landing on Mars. Also, there are tracks with several examples of cats, dogs and birds (similar to “The Birds”) becoming enraged for some reason, as well as a skit about Chinese water torture. In addition, some of the screams were taken directly from the scene where Miss Havisham catches fire in the 1946 David Lean film Great Expectations.

The full track listing is

  • “The Haunted House” 3:00
  • “The Very Long Fuse” 1:28
  • “The Dogs” 1:13
  • “Timber” 1:45
  • “Your Pet Cat” 0:49
  • “Shipwreck” 1:39
  • “The Unsafe Bridge” 1:21
  • “Chinese Water Torture” 2:02
  • “The Birds” 0:46
  • “The Martian Monsters” 1:41
  • “Screams and Groans” 0:57
  • “Thunder, Lightning and Rain” 2:01
  • “Cat Fight” 0:37
  • “Dogs” 0:48
  • “A Collection Of Creaks” 1:54
  • “Fuses and Explosions” 1:11
  • “A Collection Of Crashes” 0:45
  • “Birds” 0:33
  • “Drips and Splashes” 1:18
  • “Things In Space” 0:53

Nothing is especially scary–although maybe for a kid, as many adults claim to have been really frightened by it.  Everything is quite over the top, especially the screams and cat howls and dog snarling.  Even the stories are a little silly, although having them in the second person is pretty genius.

But things like “one night as you lie in your lonely room in your stone hut on the moors…”  (What?).  And the Martian one.  Just keeping with continuity: if “you,” meaning me, went on the trip, then I couldn’t hear the crunching as it ate me.  Or the silly voice saying “I wonder what that was.”

And the less said about the horribly racist Chinese Water Torture the better.  I mean, the opening is bad enough: “The ancient Chinese were a very clever race” but the end of the song is really awful.  But if we can look past that, the rest of the record has fun with sound effects and is generally pretty enjoyable.

During the John Congleton interview, he also talks about this album and says (at 40:28) “the speakers are 180 degrees out of phase to make it sound extremely stereophonic.”  He says now as an engineer it is totally painful to listen to.  Bob says it sounds like it comes from the back of your head.

[READ: October 15, 2017] Half-Minute Horrors.

The premise of this book (edited by Susan Rich) is simple: how scared can you get in 30 seconds?  To me, the answer is actually not very.  I guess for me fear builds over time.  It’s hard to get genuinely frightened over something that just suddenly happens (unless it is just trying to frighten you quickly, of course).

Having said that, I enjoyed this book a lot (look at the list of authors!).  I liked the arbitrary goal of writing a scary story in a paragraph or two (or more).  And some of them were really quite creepy.

I was originally going to point out which ones I felt were the most creepy, but there are so many stories, I kind of lost track.  So instead, here’s a rundown and a brief summary. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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handdrawnSOUNDTRACK: STRAND OF OAKS–Tiny Desk Concert #449 (June 15, 2015).

soaI didn’t know anything about Strand of Oaks when I first heard them last year.  I assumed from the bio info that I’d heard that he, Timothy Showalter, had been in a a band and that this was his solo project.  But no.  His history is actually far more interesting.

The Wikipedia summary is pretty simple and shocking:

While Showalter was on tour, his wife had an affair. Escaping his detrimental relationship, he moved back to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 2003. A couple of months later, he came home to find his house burned down.  [WHAT??].  Showalter spent his nights in hotels and on park benches with a borrowed guitar while working at an orthodox Jewish day school. Despite the turmoil, he was able to find inspiration to continue writing music that would later be released.

He released three self-produced albums and then made Heal.  Which ALSO has a shocking tale attached to it:  On Christmas Day in 2013, Showalter and Sue were driving back to Philadelphia from Indiana when they hit a patch of ice and crashed into two semi trucks. Showalter suffered a concussion and broke every rib on his right side. The near-death experience gave Showalter a boldness during mixing sessions while creating HEAL with John Congleton, just days after the crash.

Yipes.  I don’t know his earlier records, but I really like Heal.  It’s got an interesting sound, with some great guitar work.

For the Tiny Desk, he plays three songs.  The first is the single from his album, “Goshen ’97”.  This version is just him on his black electric guitar with lots of echo.  It’s very slow and kind of broody.  I prefer the original, but this is a very interesting version.  And his voice sounds really good in this stripped down style.

After the first song he says how nice it feels to play this gig–just what he imagined it would be like. He says he could play there a long time and when someone says “Ok” he say they’d get sick of him: “Oh that bearded guy is still here.”

“Plymouth” has even more echo on the guitar–this one a hollow bodied steel string guitar.  It sounds lovely and since I don’t know the original as well, I like this slower more meditative version.

“JM” is for Jason Molina and for this track, he switches its back to the black electric.  I love the album version of this song a lot, as the soloing is just fantastic.  This version is quite different.  Again, it’s slow and broody, and really good. I still like the album version (because of the solos) but this is good too.

I’m fascinated by Showalter now, and plan to see what his earlier albums sound like.

[READ: June 15, 2015] Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People

Although I was unfamiliar with Diffee’s name, I was familiar with his cartoons from the New Yorker.  Diffee has three other books out (under the Rejection Collection moniker–he’s great with book titles).  I certainly loved the title of this book.

There are 16 chapters in the book–each is devoted to a particular topic and has a rather amusing introduction in which Diffee goes off on that subject: Medical Professionals, Lumberjacks, Relationships, Pet Owners, Old People, Utensils, Real Jobs, Indians and Eskimos, Food, Sex, Prison, Religion, Wealth, Children, Sports and Tattoos.

What I really enjoyed was that the cartoons that fill the introductory sections look very different from his more “official” style (which I recognized immediately from the magazine).  It’s cool that he has a distinctive style but is not pigeonholed into that style.

matthewOccasional cartoons have an accompanying silhouette (presumably himself) with an extra bonus joke tangentially related to the topic.  Sometimes these are funnier than the original cartoon.  (Does a polygamist refer to his wives as his “better eighths?”).

It’s hard to mention favorite cartoons without describing the cartoon, which is never funny, but there are few punchlines that work with out a visual, like:

“Therapist: “These feelings of inadequacy are common among the inadequate.”

Waitress: “Sorry, we don’t serve the Lumberjack breakfast to accountants.”

Drug sniffing dog: “I’m starting to really like the smell of cocaine.”

And this one which is not from the New Yorker: “Wade Greenberg, wearing his hemp blazer, inadvertently became the life of the party when he stood too close to the menorah.”

He also really loves to hate sporks: (50% spoon, 50% fork, 85% useless).

All of these are funnier with the accompanying cartoon of course, and I really like his drawing style.

By the way, the section on tattoos was capped off by “knuckle tats you’ll never see” like FLAU TIST or ALAN ALDA.

I enjoyed this book a lot and will certainly look for his previous collections.

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hauntThis song is the theme to Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  I’ve been to the Haunted Mansion perhaps a dozen times and I recognized a line from it (when the ghosts appear next to you in the ride), but I can’t say I ever paid attention or even thought about to this song before.

It was brought to my attention by John Congleton during his excellent interview with Bob and Robin on NPR.  The whole interview was outstanding–I learned so much from him–but I wanted to focus on this song because he raves about it (and because it is Halloween).  And because I absolutely wanted to type the name Thurl Ravenscroft.

  He loves the vocals by Thurl (who was also the singer of The Grinch songs) and the bizarre chord progression: Am, B, Am, B♭, Am, F, Am, F7, Am, E7, Am.  And about the song, he says:

When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.

So yes, it’s a goofy song, and if you don’t pay too much attention to it, it’s just a not very scary ghost song, but there’s a lot going on (hand it to Disney for being really into their production values).  Like this note from Wikipedia: “the organist actually played the song backwards to achieve the discord that the composer intended.”

Not bad for a song you only hear if you go on a ride.

[READ: October 19, 2014] Poop Fountain!

I have enjoyed just about everything that Tom Angleberger has written (interestingly, he is famous for his origami Yoda series, which I actually like less than his other books).  This book was actually his first book published.  But he published it under the name Sam Riddleburger and it was called The Qwikpick Adventure Society.  It has clearly been republished since he is now famous.

I brought the book home for Clark but he said he didn’t really like the way it was written (it is typed with handwritten comments).  I actually found it very easy to read and thought it was a super fast read–two hours at most.

So the book starts with a note from Tom Angleberger in which he says that before he wrote books he was a reporter and one of the stories he wrote was about a sewage plant in Crickenburg, Virginia (which is not a real town).  His original article was about how the local sewage plant was getting over-burdened by all the new residents and so it would need to be enlarged.  He went to interview the manager and man did it stink.

He says that many years later a guy called him up to say that he had found a bunch of papers (including his article) in a Qwikpick gas station.  And that’s how he came across this first person account of an adventure to the same sewage plant.

He then tells readers that this was in 2000, before kids had cell phones or the internet, when kids basically just did stuff outside.  And that is how the Qwikpick Adventures Society’s trip to see the Fountain of Poop came about–thre bored kids looking for something to do. (more…)

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