The endless break that follows (only a second or two, in fact) marks a kind of epiphany for the musician. Before the record is out, he has embraced both the demands of the market-place and a new aesthetic, attacking the repetitive, minimalist triplet part with a manic intensity that would be equalled only several years later, by Steve Reich's "Oh Dem Watermelons". "Don't stop me now man," cries the piano man, "I've got to where I like it."
"The Great Pretender" may not be as musically expert (or even as funny) as Freberg's "The Banana Boat Song" or as good a pastiche as his "Heartbreak Hotel", in which an Elvis-soundalike becomes entangled in repeat echo. But this track, and in particular that exquisite pause, may have unwittingly captured a pivotal (almost tragic) moment in musical and cultural history: only a few twists and turns of the globe before the rock'n'roller mutates into all-round family entertainer and the jazzer shaves off his goatee to join Warhol's Factory - or at the very least becomes Philip Glass. Listen and weep.
Does humour belong in music? Frank Zappa asked the question much later without coming to a conclusion that anyone could take seriously. As far as Freberg is concerned, they're inseparable.
John L WaltersReuse content