Sunday, May 1, 2011

Benny Bell Rides Again





Granted, unless you are over the age of 50, or listened to the Dr. Demento Show during the mid-1970s, you may have no idea who Benny Bell was.


But we can rectify that.


Bell was a prolific song writer and performer.  He wrote more than 600 songs, many of which were written in Yiddish and Hebrew.   He wrote radio jingles, and novelty songs, and formed his own record company to release his endeavors.


With success fleeting at best, in 1939 someone suggested he write `blue’ lyrics – something he was particularly good at – for the cocktail lounge jukebox trade.


Bell became arguably the king of the risqué party song, the master of the double entendre, during the 1940s.  His stock in trade was the sort of thing that England’s Benny Hill would popularize 30 years later.


His songs were considered slightly scandalous back then – but by today’s standards would scarcely raise an eyebrow.


Except for how cleverly they got their message across without using any of George Carlin’s 7 dirty words you can’t say on TV.


Nevertheless, his records rarely got radio airplay back then.  Instead, his records could be found on jukeboxes in bars, sold from `behind the counter’ in record stores, and played at parties by daring adults. 


His most famous song  – Shaving Cream - recorded in 1946 by Paul Wynn, was `rediscovered’ by Dr. Demento in 1975, and suddenly became a `hit’ again, rising to number 30 on the billboard ratings in April of that year.  



"I have a sad story to tell you
It may hurt your feelings a bit
Last night when I walked into my bathroom
I stepped in a big pile of ...shhhhh . . . aving cream, be nice and clean. . . .
Shave ev'ry day and you'll always look keen."


The setup for each verse uses words like `bit’ and `split’ to infer the rhyme will be an obscenity . . . but instead you get the verse of `shaving cream, be nice and clean . . . ‘


The lyrics used a familiar device utilized by Bell.  It was suggestive, not explicit.  If you found it vulgar . . . well, that was the fault of your dirty mind . . . not his.


The same technique was used in the far milder `Sweet Violets’, which was covered by Dinah Shore in 1951.

His biggest hits included `Shaving Cream’, `Sweet Violets’, and `Go Take A Ship For Yourself’.


His signature song, “Pincus The Peddler”, became a big hit among Jewish immigrants, and led to several less successful sequels.





Sadly, Bell’s career (and finances) suffered during the 1950s and 1960s, and only recovered a bit when his music was `rediscovered’ in the mid-1970s.


Aside from it’s entertainment value (which I find considerable), his records are a little-heard-today example of Yiddish comedy which was popular in the middle of the last century.


I’m pleased that his works are being preserved (and made available to the public) by the Internet Archive and by the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University.


First from Florida Atlantic University, 12 recordings by Bell.



Next, we’ve nearly 3 dozen recordings from the Internet Archive


Collected Works of Benny Bell ()



Bell – who finally achieved national recogniztion at the age of 69 with the re-release of `Shaving Cream’, died in 1999 at the age of 93.


His grandson, Joel Samberg, published and released a biography of Bell in a  book called "Grandpa Had a Long One: Personal Notes on the Life, Career and Legacy of Benny Bell," in 2009.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr Bell's record "To The Bride" was something which my father picked up haphazardly and brought home, eventually becoming a hit in our family as a creole-Jewish wedding style comedy tinted with old age humor. After the record became lost, it was a loss for the family until now it surfaces here on the web.