Born Stanley Victor Freberg, 7 August 1926, Los Angeles, California
Died 7 April 2015, Santa Monica, California

Satirist / comedy writer / radio and TV performer / impersonator / actor, etc.

Stan Freberg was a satirist who experienced great popularity during the '50s in the USA. Freberg pioneered the style of satire and parody later used on such television programmes as "Saturday Night Live". He performed on radio and television, acted, wrote books as well as his own comedy material, worked in advertising and was even an accomplished puppeteer. The son of a Baptist minister, Freberg had his first showbusiness experience at the age of 11 as an assistant to his uncle, a magician. He became enthralled with the radio during his youth. As well as performing, he wrote and produced student shows and became his high school's speech champion, going on to win a statewide competition. He was awarded a drama scholarship but turned it down to work with Mel Blanc, who provided the voices of Warner Bros cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Freberg provided voice-overs for other characters. In the mid-40s he appeared on radio for the first time and soon became a regular on such programmes as the Jack Benny Show and on the Armed Forces Radio Network. After two years in the army, he and actor Daws Butler (later the voice of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound) wrote and performed for the cartoon show "Time For Beany", an Emmy-winning programme which served as inspiration to Muppets creator Jim Henson.

In 1950 Freberg signed to Capitol Records and recorded "John And Marsha", a spoof of soap operas in which the only lyrics were the two names of the title, repeated dramatically throughout the record. The record became a # 21 hit in February 1951and was followed by parodies of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin", Johnnie Ray's "Cry" and others. In 1953 Freberg scored a # 1 record with "St. George And The Dragonet", a parody of the Dragnet television series. The record sold a million copies in just three weeks time, making it the fastest selling disc ever at that time. A lover of jazz and swing, Freberg hated rock 'n' roll and R&B and lampooned such hits as "Sh-Boom" and "The Great Pretender" (where he does both voices, the singer and the frustrated cling-cling-cling pianist). In 1956 Freberg took on Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" ("That's too much echo") and Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line", while the following year found him satirizing Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat (Day-O)". Other Freberg targets were Lawrence Welk, Mitch Miller and the television medium itself. In 1957 Freberg was given his own 17-week radio programme, some of which was collected on the Grammy- winning album "The Best Of The Stan Freberg Shows".

His controversial 1958 single "Green Chri$tma$" attacked the commercialization of Christmas. Freberg's final chart entry (1960), "The Old Payola Roll Blues" (parts 1 & 2), was the culmination of his one-man crusade against rock 'n' roll, missing its target by being far too explicit on side 2. Even in 1960, Freberg still seemed to view rock 'n' roll as a passing fad, which it wasn't. Still, it created an immortal character in the shape of Clyde Ankle, the teenage idol with the pretty face and the pompadour.

This was not only Freberg's final musical satire, it was also his last single. Freberg thought that pop music was so bad it could no longer be satirized and found a new challenge in releasing a concept album, "Stan Freberg Presents The United States Of America" (1961). A wildly ambitious satiric history of American life, the album won widespread acclaim, and remains a pivotal landmark in the evolution of recorded comedy. A sequel was finally released in 1996. In the time between, he worked in advertising, still lending his voice to the occasional cartoon and returned to broadcasting in 1990. He is still active today.

More info :
("John And Marsha" was recorded on November 7, 1950, not February 10, 1951, as Wikipedia claims.)

Autobiography: Stan Freberg, It Only Hurts When I Laugh. New York : Times Books, 1988. (Out of print.)

Discography (vinyl) :
CD discography :
Annotated discography :

Unofficial homepage:

CD recommendations : Tip Of The Freberg : The Stan Freberg Collection, 1951-1998 (Rhino). 4 CD-set plus videotape.

If that's a bit too much Freberg for you, try to find the Stan Freberg CD (1989) in Capitol's Collector's Series (CDP 7916272), though "The Old Payola Roll Blues" is absent from that compilation. It was reissued as "The Very Best Of Stan Freberg" in 1998. A possible alternative is this more recent release, which also has a few omissions, but features the original versions in spite of the strange "Live" tag on Amazon's website

YouTube recommendation : Ragtime Dan (flip of John and Marsha) :

Acknowledgements :
Colin Larkin (ed.), The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Fifties Music, 3rd ed. (2002), page 152-153.


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