Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Many people, when they hear the word kazoo think of those weird little tin-whistle lookalikes that used to come in Cracker Jack boxes. Or, sometimes you could hook one at the Fish Pond game at your local elementary school fair. If you even remember the Fish Pond, you deserve a kazoo, but unfortunately I don't have any to send. As I recall, kazoos were the great equalizer for those with no musical talent, because they required absolutely no skill to play. To make music on a kazoo, you just need to use your regular singing voice, no matter how bad it might be, and just "sing" into the kazoo, usually with the syllable "doo" and the kazoo would then distort it in a hilariously funny (to 10 year olds in the 1950s) manner. Thus, while the kazoo may look like a whistle, it actually isn't. It's an instrument. Of course, it's not an instrument in the same way that a guitar or an oboe is an instrument, but because of the principles on which it works, you would be technically correct to call it one. Just be prepared for the laughter when you declare yourself a virtuoso. More than likely, the older stoners among us would look at a kazoo and go, "Man, I used to have a pipe just like that!" But, as the famous Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte would have said of his kazoo, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Sorry, I had to put all those Art History classes to use somehow. So, you might be thinking that this is the end of the subject, but oh, no! The kazoo played a much bigger part of our lives than just grade school prizes and hippie era flashbacks. The lowly kazoo was a very important member of our vintage repertoire. It's still in use today, but you can look those songs up for yourself if you want. Here's my list (sure to be incomplete) of Vintage Kazoo Hits.

"Johnny Get Angry" Joanie Sommers
"Little Diane" Dion
"So Long Baby" Del Shannon
"I Love Onions" Susan Christie
"You're Sixteen" Ringo Starr
"I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die" Country Joe (haven't heard this one myself, but am told there's a kazoo in one of the versions. Not Woodstock, though.
"San Francisco Bay Blues" Peter Paul & Mary (check out the video on YouTube with PPM in a kind of "dueling kazoos" segment, not to mention Mary making the "Cher hair flip" her own.

Okay, maybe you're wondering about the picture up top. Like, what does that have to do with the subject at hand? Well, that's me getting a tow on the driver's side, and my roomie skiing shotgun, after a big snowstorm in the winter of '66 in Kalamazoo, Michigan...aka Kazoo. That's the first thing I always think of.

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