Musical MAD-ness

When I kicked off this new bloghome over three years ago, I offered a post where I mentioned a comic that had a musical connection for me. That comic was Defenders #37 and the song that I connected it to was “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney (well, technically by Wings). It’s an odd and totally random phenomenon and I can’t explain it, but it’s happened a couple of times, my connecting a comic to a specific song (or two). Now, for no particular reason, I’ve decided to blog about another one of those times.

It was Mad magazine #203, cover date December 1978—which means it likely hit the stands between September and October of that year. I bought this one at a newsstand store called Davidson’s (later re-christened DJ’s, iirc) on Springfield Avenue in Maplewood. During the less-than-ten-minute ride there (or the ride home, or perhaps both), I can distinctly recall hearing two songs on the radio—one was “Reminiscing” by the Little River Band, and the other was “Whenever I Call You Friend” by Kenny Loggins (in a duet with Stevie Nicks).

Why do I have such a distinct memory of this? Again, I can’t explain. Maybe because the Star Wars characters dancing on the cover evoked music…? Whatever the reason, all I know is that every time I see or picture this cover in my head…

I hear this…

and/or this:

As mentioned, I’m pretty sure I bought this in late October of ’78 (I remember it being chilly outside). A little Google-Fu reveals when these songs peaked on the Billboard singles chart and… holy crap, they both peaked on the exact same date: October 28, 1978. Once again, while my short-term memory may be turning to mush, my long-term memory remains damn near perfect.

The MADdest of Times

I’m an old timer now, but I was a young’un when I bought this issue of Mad. It was my third proper issue (after #200 and #201… I had somehow missed #202), in addition to Mad Super Special #25 and a Mad paperback or two I’d gotten. Before I started buying issues of Mad for myself, I was introduced to the mag through my old friend Ed’s copy of Mad Special #24 (the last Special not to be labeled “Super”), which had a “Nostalgic Mad” insert that reprinted one of the classic Kurtzman Mad comics from the 50s.

I loved the magazine and got a lot of laughs out of it, but the old timers back then would often scold me for getting taken in by the then-contemporary Mad. “You want something REALLY funny?” they’d say. “You should track down the original issues that Kurtzman did.”

And in hindsight they were right. Those original Mads overseen by Harvey Kurtzman were genius and trailblazing. The modern issues had a more paint-by-numbers, formulaic feel to them. Even as an inexperienced, know-nothing kid, I could recognize that those “Nostalgic Mad” inserts were funnier, had a sharper bite to ‘em, than the newer issues.

A few years earlier, National Lampoon had done their own Mad parody and really shined a (somewhat vicious) spotlight on where the mag had gone wrong. Some of this was a bit over the top, but some of it was spot-on and pretty damn funny—particularly the “Citizen Gaines” bit.

…Of course, this doesn’t mean that Mad was completely devoid of humor by this time. There were still many bits that were downright hilarious. There were even a few odd occasions when it could get deep; maybe even dark. Just take this issue, for example—how do you beat Darth Vader singing his own twisted version of “My Way”?

It should be noted that this was the second time Mad had spoofed Star Wars. They had done a more conventional send-up less than a year earlier in Mad #196 (Jan. 1978), which speaks to the popularity of Star Wars by that point, I suppose. This time around, they turned the film into a musical entitled “The Force and I.”

Feel compelled to note here that despite the popularity and inescapable omnipresence of the movie, they still somehow manage a major screw up at the end when they put Luke in Darth Vader’s custom tie fighter instead of his own X-wing when he blows up the Death Star. How did nobody catch this?

The issue also had a satire of Fantasy Island and several other fun articles, the best of which was their Sesame Street spoof, “If Sesame Street Branched Out into Specialized Avenues of Education.” These avenues included Medical Street, Athlete Street, and, the best of ‘em all, Mafia Street.

Not only was this funny, it’s an example of how the strip could still get dark, even at this late date. Just take a gander at the mafia version of Big Bird interacting with Mr. Hooper.

There was also one featuring Ernie and Bert wherein Ernie takes up loansharking and demands to be addressed as “Don Ernie.”

Now is this as great and as groundbreaking as classic Kurtzman? No, but there’s still a lot of good stuff in this era—and a lot of great memories for present-day old timers like myself.

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